The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

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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.

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Summer…

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Summer’s great, but because I live in a big city, sometimes it gets a little too hot and you just don’t know what to do with yourself. I mean, usually, I’d be going back to my hometown for a week or two, go to the beach and all that, but it’s going to be a very hectic summer for me here, at least for a few weeks, so I’ll just have to make do in the meantime. And one of the things I love to do, that gets me all summer-y is watching summer-themed movies, or at least movies that remind of summer anyway. I think I’ve created a sort of tradition with La Piscine (1969), as well as To Catch A Thief (1955). I love those two movies, especially Thief. It’s one of my favorite Hitchcock films, and it just screams summer to me. La Piscine, on the other hand, is incredible and so very European (and I mean that in the very best way possible). Hot and cool, it’s pretty much a summer movie with a story in it, rather than the other way around, if that makes sense. I also love Summertime (1955), which I can watch pretty much anytime, but it’s just especially great to watch it in the summer. Hmm, I feel a marathon coming on…

DOUBLE BILL #4 All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956)

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Boy, was Douglas Sirk great! I’ve always admired how unapologetically soppy and melodramatic his films were. He was probably the most underrated and misunderstood of all directors, but I stand by him. I think he was fantastic. Rock Hudson was one of his greatest leading actors and the two of them gave us two of the best melodramas of all time: All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Written on the Wind (1956).

In All That Heaven Allows, Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a middle-aged widower living in the suburbs. Her two children are grown and she socializes with her group of friends on a regular basis. Her life isn’t massively exciting but she is quite content with it. She strikes up a friendship with her gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) and the two of them fall in love. He’s younger than her and when their relationship comes to light, her friends are quick to judge (it’s 1950s suburbia, what’d you expect?)

Written by Peg Fenwick, based on the story by Edna L. Lee and Harry, All That Heaven Allows is a product of its era but curiously ahead of its time. The small-town mentality and attitudes are dealt with in a way that almost feels like satire. There’s the detestable characters, especially Mona (Jacqueline De Wit), the instantly recognizable ‘judgemental frienemy’, there’s the whole thing about caring about what people think and then standing in the way of your own happiness in the process, and of course the standards and stereotypes that a 1950s society held dear. All of these and more are always made to feel like they’re being mocked. Cary is our main character and we’re totally, completely, almost devotedly on her side. In fact, she is so prominent that the light is never too far from her. There are hardly ever any moments or scenes in which her face is not lit. I’m not sure if that’s subconscious or not, but it works wonderfully. And then of course there’s Ron Kirby, the character we all want to be. He’s the only one who truly doesn’t care what anybody thinks. He’s true to himself and his love for Cary and that’s all that matters. All That Heaven Allows is beautifully understated and a stunning piece of romantic drama.

Written on the Wind is the more dramatic of the two films. Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) is a hard-drinking playboy and heir to the Hadley empire. When he meets Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), he pursues her and asks her to marry him. Little does he know that she’s actually in love with his best friend Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) and that the feeling is mutual. On top of that, there’s also Marylee (Dorothy Malone in an Oscar-winning performance), Kyle’s sex-crazed younger sister, who’s been in love with Mitch all her life.

Written by George Zuckerman and based on Robert Wilder’s novel of the same name, Written on the Wind is over-the-top, melodramatic and fantastic. This is, to me, the quintessential Douglas Sirk movie. This is what he does best. Melodramas are usually frowned upon, and maybe with good reason, but if it’s a Douglas Sirk film, you know you’re in good hands. And once again, we turn to Rock Hudson for comfort. His performance as Mitch is a breath of fresh air, an unfazed character in an otherwise crazy world, and I think that’s what Sirk understood. This type of character is badly needed in melodramas. And that was the beauty of Rock Hudson’s partnership with Douglas Sirk. In their movies together, he always seems to play the most likeable characters, the ones we hold onto for security and comfort, because that’s what we need. Truly a great director/actor duo and one that should be more appreciated.

Decoy (1946)

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Dr Lloyd Craig (Herbert Rudley) hitchhikes his way to San Francisco in order to murder Margot Shelby (Jean Gillie). He walks into her apartment, shoots her and as she lies dying, she narrates her story to us. In the flashback, we see that she is the girlfriend of Frank Olins (Robert Armstrong), a gangster who is about to be executed. Along with Jim Vincent (Edward Norris) and Dr Craig, they conduct a plan that will culminate in them getting all of Frank’s money. Everything looks peachy, if it wasn’t for the fact that Sgt Joseph ‘Jojo’ Portugal (Sheldon Leonard) keeps standing in their way.

Directed by Jack Bernhard, Decoy (1946) is great because of how strange it is. The coffin scene in particular has got to be the most bizarre scene in a noir ever, and there have been quite a few (Lloyd Nolan’s fate in The Chase (1946) comes to mind), but it simply has to be seen to be fully appreciated. And that goes for a lot of moments in the film. However, the standout aspect for me is Sheldon Leonard’s performance. I so wish he could have played more roles like that! Full of cynicism and one-liners, he is not to be played with. Well, almost.

I like Decoy and I like the fact that it has achieved a cult status over the years. Weird and brilliantly surreal, Decoy is, in many ways, the perfect cult classic.