Leave her to Heaven 1945 –
John Stahl’s classic noir movie Leave her to Heaven, stars possibly the best dressed ever femme fatale – Gene Tierney. It was recently restored with the help of director Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation and has been rightly claimed as a forgotten masterpiece. It’s a feast for fans of 1940s clothing, hairstyles and makeup looks and it’s shot in sumptuous eye watering technicolor!
Costumes are officially by Kay Nelson ( with purportedly some input on night attire from Tierney’s then husband designer Oleg Cassini ).The marvelous make-up is by Ben Nye, who had come to fame as a makeup artist on Gone With The Wind. The cinematographer was by the great Leon Shamroy. His use of color in this movie is on a par with the work of Jack Cardiff. Both men captured the 1940s woman beautifully on screen.
Never has beauty and cruelty been caught so perfectly on screen. Those unblinking gazes of Tierney’s Ellen Berent – one of the great screen psychotics, with her pillar box red lipsticks , quite simply jump off the screen at you.
Unlike just about any other 1940s noir movie, usually filmed in moody black and white and set in exclusively urban settings – Leave her to Heaven lulls you by its beautiful color landscapes and sunsets into thinking you are watching just another pleasant romantic story. Ah ha but you are so wrong. After a chance meeting on a train between Richard (Cornel Wilde) and Ellen ( Gene Tierney) the couple start up a romance.
When former beau played brilliantly by Vincent Price arrives on the scene, the story takes a twist and we begin to see that the beautiful Ellen has a sinister side. As time passes Richard begins to realize he has hooked up with a psychotically jealous and highly unstable person.
There are many wonderful opportunities for screen grabs in this picture. Gene Tierney and Jeanne Crain‘s costumes range from pretty sheath dresses and puff sleeves to stunning broad shouldered suits and luscious fur coats. Worn along with dark wavy hairstyles and vivacious makeup, the styles typify the classic mid 1940s American look. For older women’s styles, there’s the wardrobe of Ellen’s mother played by Mary Philips.
Kay Nelson’s costumes provide a stark contrast between their color and beauty and the selfish cruelty of their wearer Ellen Berent. Notably the predominant color is white starting with a short sleeved dove white dress, coat, fox fur and turban, when we first meet Ellen on the train. The color white takes on a new meaning at the end of the film.
When she turns creepy in her scene with Vincent Price, Ellen is wearing a jaw dropping one piece white suit with her initials EB monogrammed on her chest.
Wait for the movie’s most significant scene on the row boat, with Ellen’s expression almost hidden but for those dark sunglasses and red lips. I won’t spoil it, but you won’t forget that scene in a hurry.
The other principal woman is Ellen’s sister Ruth played by the beautiful Jeanne Crain. Though more understated than Gene Tierneys wardrobe, we see Ruth in several beautiful ensembles from smart suits to a memorable gorgeous white sheath dress near the films conclusion; that specific color choice having a poignancy that you may understand after watching the film.
Finally some more beautiful examples of mid 1940s fashion and style.
Check out the movie. It’s regularly to be found on YouTube.