Film Review: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Release Date: July 24th, 1946 (New York City)
Directed by: Lewis Milestone, Byron Haskin (uncredited), Hal B. Wallis (uncredited)
Written by: Robert Rossen, Robert Riskin (uncredited)
Based on: Love Lies Bleeding by John Patrick
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas

Hal Wallis Productions, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I missed a bus once and I was lucky. I wanted to see if I could be lucky twice.” – Toni Marachek

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a damn fine film with a weird title. I mean, the title makes sense but Love Lies Bleeding, the title of the book this was based on, sounds more fitting. But maybe it was too harsh for the time and conjured up ideas of horror.

The film stars Barbara Stanwyck at the height of her fame and she made no bones about her status while on set with the other actors. She didn’t want anyone trying to upstage her performance and she had control over how she was lit and captured on film. She even took issue with Van Heflin’s coin trick, which he learned for the film in an effort to make his gambler character more authentic. Regardless of her diva attitude, Stanwyck still gave an incredible performance and Van Heflin was there to match her.

This film is also the debut of Kirk Douglas and only the second film for Lizabeth Scott, an incredibly beautiful actress with serious chops.

Like most film-noir pictures, this one has a plot with a lot of layers to it and it all just sort of develops when it is good and ready. It’s a movie that takes its time but it isn’t boring by any means. In fact, the movie is engaging and captivating.

The plot summary on IMDb reads, “A ruthless, domineering woman is married to an alcoholic D.A., her childhood companion and the only living witness to her murder of her rich aunt seventeen years earlier.” However, it is so much more than that and the summary is really just sort of a framework.

Most of the stuff I have seen Van Heflin in, he’s played either a really despicable character or a carefree Don Juan, usually both at the same time. This is the first time I can recall, where he plays a character that is mostly a good guy. He makes a few selfish mistakes, here and there, but in the end, his moral compass wins out. This was also his most complex character that I have seen and it is a role where his performance really impressed me.

Barbara Stanwyck was perfect as a ruthless and cold business shark. Really, she was the matriarch of her town. Her husband, played by Kirk Douglas, was the town’s district attorney but unlike his normal macho roles, in this he is a drunken pushover. Their chemistry as a married couple full of bitterness towards one another was well played. The tension between them felt real.

Lizabeth Scott was the scene stealer, even though she didn’t have as much screen time as the other three stars. She was charming and despite her checkered legal past, felt like the only real embodiment of innocence in the picture.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this. It caught me by surprise and really impressed me. Every actor was truly on their A-game, especially the newcomers Douglas and Scott, who both were able to hang with the more experienced Stanwyck and Heflin.

This doesn’t fall under my favorite kind of noir, which are the private dick stories, but it is a solid melodrama with the right amount of twists and turns to keep it moving briskly in a way that keeps one engaged.

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