Iverstown has seen it all. And its secrets will come back to slap you in the face.
In 1928, a young Martha Ivers (Janis Wilson) tries to run away from her domineering aunt (Judith Anderson), and is helped by her friend Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman). After a while, she’s brought back and the two of them have a row. Later that night, Martha strikes her aunt with her own cane and she falls down the stairs and dies. Walter O’Neill (Mickey Kuhn) witnesses the event, and his father promises to take care of Martha. Eighteen years later, Sam Masterson (Van Heflin) is back in his hometown by accident. He crashes his car and when he goes to have it fixed, he stops by his old home, now a hostel, where he meets Toni Marrachek (Lizabeth Scott). She tells him she’s just been released from prison and needs to get home. When she fails to return, she gets arrested for violating probation. Sam decides to go to Walter (Kirk Douglas), now a district attorney and married to Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), the most powerful woman in town, and he asks him to use his influence to get Toni released. A love triangle (or square?) begins to develop, and Sam is torn between his old love for Martha and his new-found love for Toni.
The first time I saw The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (dir. Lewis Milestone), I thought of doing a review, but I was so mesmerized by it, I couldn’t took away for two seconds to write something down. It’s such a compelling film. It’s the type of story that will never grown old, but it’s so much more than that. Sam Masterson is great character, and the whole film feels like a constant power struggle between his old life and his new life – and they’re actually not that much different -, and the two of them intertwine with each other wonderfully. For us anyway. Toni and Martha are almost like a metaphor for good vs evil, past vs future, and it’s great seeing him try to work it out. For me personally, Toni is the heart and soul of the film. She represents Sam’s future, she’s his way out of Iverstown for good, and she’s almost like a ray of light. I find myself drawn to her every time and I think this is one of Lizabeth Scott’s best performances.
I’m not sure if The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a melodramatic noir, or a noirish melodrama, but it’s definitely a combination of the two and it’s absolutely fantastic.