The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Dir. Lewis Milestone
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, Van Heflin
Genre: Drama, Film-Noir, Romance

Screening Time: Monday, July 17th at 8:30 p.m.

Storyline
In this hard-edged drama, a woman is haunted by memories of a murder long past. Stanwyck gives a bravura performance as a wealthy neurotic and Douglas is equally fine as her bitter, weak husband.

4 Comments

  1. IMDBReviewer

    March 24, 2017 at 10:21 am

    "Don't look back, baby," says a man who knows his Gideon Bible, "You know what happened to Lot's wife." But her fate is mild compared to the torments of two people—and a third they draw into their web—who can never stop looking back to something that happened when they were children. What connects this melodrama with noir films like the perfectly named OUT OF THE PAST, THE KILLERS (in which the hero explains that he is doomed because, "I did something wrong, once"), and many others is the theme that one mistake, one "reckless moment," can seal your fate forever.

    The three children are Sam Masterson, a streetwise kid from the wrong side of the tracks; Walter O'Neil, a timid, obedient boy whose father is ambitious for him; and Martha Ivers, the orphaned heiress to a steel mill, who lives miserably with her aunt (Judith Anderson, in Mrs. Danvers mode). On the fateful night, all three are in the house when Martha, driven over the edge (her aunt both insults her dead father, a mill hand, and beats her kitten!) whacks her aunt with her own cane and sends her tumbling to her death at the foot of a grand staircase. Walter's father sees his chance, and holding the threat of exposure over Martha's head, takes control of her fortune and later forces her to marry Walter. When, eighteen years later, Sam (who ran away night of the killing on a circus train) blows back into town, Martha and Walter fear he has returned to blackmail them with his knowledge; Walter also fears, rightly, that Martha and Sam still carry a torch for each other. The highly-charged triangle becomes a quadrangle with the addition of Toni Marachek, a young woman just out of jail whom Sam picks up and befriends.

    THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS is a conventional studio product, lacking the expressive camera-work or atmospheric settings that noir usually offers. Bombastic music deafens each emotional climax; women go to sleep with their glossy masks of makeup intact; obvious back-projection and poorly staged action sequences make the film look like a staged play. None of this really diminishes the movie, however, since its power comes from a smart script, especially from the complexity of characters and relationships. There is a strong affinity between Sam and Martha, both tough and poised and hard to read, while Toni and Walter are more vulnerable and obvious, driven by the simple motivation of love. But by the end it's clear that Martha and Walter have become twins, warped by their shared guilt (they both took part in prosecuting an innocent man who was hanged for the murder), while Sam and Toni share a fundamental decency and the capacity to look ahead to a fresh start.

    Nice girl Toni is there to provide eye candy and a potential happy ending for Sam, but she gets a lot of screen time, too much in fact for her one-note character. Fans of Lizabeth Scott won't agree, but unless you find her particularly alluring, her scenes get a little tedious. Van Heflin is easy-going as Sam, the self-confident gambler who thinks he's seen it all, until he encounters Martha and Walter's toxic marriage. Heflin, though rather homely, brings a likable raffishness to the part, and his casual opportunism keeps you guessing about what he'll do next.

    Kirk Douglas was never cast as such a weakling again (this was his debut film) but the mismatch works brilliantly. His intensity and powerful presence make his abject character fiercely compelling, instead of merely pathetic. A less imposing actor would come off as just a milquetoast; Douglas's manliness adds an interesting touch of perversity to his plight. His weakness is inside. Douglas captures perfectly Walter's insecurity and helpless jealousy, his cowardly use of his power (through Martha's influence, he has become District Attorney), his lame attempts to project confidence, his dependence on alcohol to salve his humiliation. He's not dumb; he knows that Martha would never have married him without the threat of exposure, but he clings to his feeble hold on her because he loves her desperately. You can't help feeling sorry for him, especially when Martha accuses him and his father of coming after her money like leeches, and he cries out, "All I wanted was you!"

    Then there's Martha, the mysterious center of the film. Barbara Stanwyck has an amazing ability to draw the audience to her side and at the same time make one's blood run cold. She's in her prime here as a glamorous businesswoman (with steely satisfaction she shows off the improvements she made to the factory, "all by myself") who conveys total control, yet feels trapped in a life she loathes. Her hardness is at once glorious and chilling; she controls her husband like a cruel hypnotist. When she breaks down in tears and tells Sam that she has been the victim all along, powerless and frightened, like Sam you're moved but not quite sure you believe her. Even at the end, the ambiguity is unresolved: how much is Martha the victim, how much the villain? Walter says it's no one's fault; it's just the way things are; it's what people will do to get the things they want. The scenes between Martha and Walter are the highlight of the film, saturated with a poisonous mixture of love and hate, tinged with sado-masochism ("Even pain at your hands…" Walter sighs when she puts iodine on his cut hand). This pact with desire, fear, greed and guilt is the spectacle of ruin–the Sodom and Gomorrah–that prompts Sam to warn Toni, "Don't look back, baby; don't ever look back."

  2. IMDBReviewer

    March 24, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Knowing absolutely NOTHING about this movie (apart from it being the screen debut of Kirk Douglas) I thought it was going to be a potboiler, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. It veers between Noir and melodrama, and I gotta say I was hooked from the get go. I’m not the biggest Barbara Stanwyck fan in the world, but she was well cast as the ruthless matriarch of a small town, and Douglas really pulled off an unusual role for him (basically a drunken wimp). Van Heflin (‘Shane’) plays the "hero" and holds his own against those two, and I also really liked Lizabeth Scott, an actress I’m not familiar with, who plays Heflin’s love interest (sorta). ‘The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers’ will please fans of 1940s Noir. It deserves to be better known than it is.

  3. Anonymous

    March 24, 2017 at 10:21 am

    A powerhouse cast is assembled for "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers." It’s a treat to watch this able quintet at work, making for an engrossing film experience.

    Barbara Stanwyck is at her peak–sure, confident, and unfailing. Van Heflin’s natural talent makes everything he does seem effortless. Kirk Douglas offers a most impressive film debut in what, in retrospect, is an uncharacteristic role. Lizabeth Scott (who seems to me a fascinating cross between Lauren Bacall and Rosemary Clooney) is constantly engaging. Long after her part has faded, Scott’s image remains indelibly fixed in the memory. And finally, the great Judith Anderson is on in a strong character role.

    Miklos Rozsa’s compositional style is remarkable in its adaptablity. Close one’s eyes, and the film could well be set a thousand years earlier–or any point in between. Which is to say, it’s general, while at the same time, specific.

    The writing team headed by Robert Rossen created a slick and saucy script, which holds interest throughout, and Hal B. Wallis was sharp enough to retain this productional team formula for many years. Were the film to have been given a perhaps more poetic–less Gothic–title, it might have enjoyed even greater stature in the annals of the genre.

    As it is, "Ivers" is a worthy member of the noir film family.

  4. IMDBReviewer

    March 24, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Martha Ivers, a young girl under the guardianship of her grandmother played by Judith Anderson, tries often to run away, but is brought back every time. Grandma is one powerful autocratic and twisted old woman. One night after Grandma kills the girl’s cat, she kills her. Her tutor’s son sees the deed and now has blackmail power. Young Martha also thinks someone else has seen the deed, young Sam Masterson who she has a yen for. He actually skedaddled before witnessing anything.

    Flash forward several years. Now everyone is grown up. Barbara Stanwyck is Martha and she’s married the tutor’s son played by Kirk Douglas in his film debut. He’s also the District Attorney. And the main action of the film begins as grown up Sam Masterson who is played by Van Heflin comes back to his home town. He’s treated rather strangely and it takes him a while to figure out why.

    Life has a funny way of working out and Stanwyck has essentially turned into Anderson. Heflin is no real hero here either, he’s quite willing to engage in some blackmail. But he’s redeemed somewhat by the love of another girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Lizabeth Scott.

    The film is memorable for two reasons, the power packed performance of Barbara Stanwyck and the debut of Kirk Douglas. This is a choice Barbara Stanwyck role, a powerful ruthless woman who’ll do anything to keep and protect what’s hers.

    It’s odd that Kirk Douglas makes his debut as a weakling, but even stranger that the dynamism that is his screen trademark is so well hidden in this portrayal. This part isn’t exactly Spartacus. But Kirk is one capable player.

    Heflin and Scott do well in their respective parts, but even though she’s only on the screen for the first 15 minutes the one you won’t forget is Judith Anderson. Seeing Stanwyck with her machinations later on, you wonder what must have made Anderson such a twisted human being.

    The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers is a well plotted melodrama that does credit to all involved.

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