Monday, November 20, 2017

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

In the opening moments of Lewis Milestone's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, the titular character tries unsuccessfully again to escape from her domineering aunt (Judith Anderson). Shortly after being returned home, she gets into a scuffle that results in the aunt falling down the stairs to her death. And she manages to get away with least at the time.

Years pass and Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) has married Walter O'Neil (Kirk Douglas), who had witnessed the aunt's death. She runs the one-sided marriage with steely precision, her demeanor unflappable. But she starts to let her guard down when Sam Masterson (Van Helfin) -- who Martha tried to run away with that fateful night -- returns to town.

Boy, the names attached to The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. All four leads (Stanwyck, Douglas, Heflin, Martha Scott) are familiar faces of film noir, both before and since this. And they're in roles that are par for the course with the genre: the tough broad (Stanwyck), the alcoholic (Douglas), the gambler (Heflin), and the convict (Scott).

This being Douglas' film debut, it seems strange now to see him in a role where he's constantly viewed as weak. Here's an actor who's practically synonymous with passionate acting style so to see him as a pushover is disconcerting, to say the least. Still, it's good that Hollywood realized Douglas was a star in the making.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers isn't particularly top-tier noir (at least in comparison to other ones starring Stanwyck) but boy, does it drip with post-war cynicism. The quartet of its lead actors shows why they're practically synonymous with the genre, Stanwyck and Scott in particular. (Certainly a change of pace for the director of All Quiet on the Western Front, that's for sure.)

My Rating: ****

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