Monday, 23 September 2013

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) - ★★★★

Director: Lewis Milestone
Writers: Robert Rossen (Screenplay), John Patrick (Story), Robert Riskin
Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas, Judith Anderson, Roman Bohnen, Janis Wilson, Darryl Hickman

I think Barbara Stanwyck is possibly the coolest actress that has ever graced the silver screen. She has played some pretty detestable women over the years, which has made me love her more than almost any other actress. In The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, we get to see some of the best acting she's ever done. Not only that, we also get to see the screen debut of Kirk Douglas, one of the coolest actors that ever lived. On top of all this, we get to see Van Heflin play one of his coolest roles. Most importantly, this is the film that showed me the tremendous talent of Lizabeth Scott, a fairly unknown actress that has all the beauty of Bacall and Garbo. These four brilliant actors and the engrossing story make this a film that leaves you wondering what's going to happen next.

Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) is a very interesting character indeed. The film starts off with her as a teenager, trying to run away from home with a precocious young boy named Sam Masterson. This is because she wants to escape from her domineering and wealthy aunty (played by the great Judith Anderson). Things turn sour, leading to Martha murdering her aunt in front of Sam, and a fellow student named Walter O'Neil. 17 years later, she is married to Walter (Kirk Douglas), and the return of Sam (Van Heflin) shakes up the past and threatens to rock their world. It's a very dramatic story of past and present love, murder, and even insanity. 

The plot thickens further along, which ends in a really shocking and awesome climax. It's a very well made film, which is what you'd expect from Lewis Milestone, the director of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Seeing this black and white film made me realise how much I love old movies. I long for modern cinema to produce more black and white films, and I long for the film industry to look back on the golden age of cinema, which made simple stories into masterful films. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers had some truly beautiful cinematography, a great score to accompany the scenes, and great pacing and suspense. 

Look at the ferocity in their eyes. A perfect match in my opinion!
Now let's talk about the performances! Barbara Stanwyck gave a flawless performance as a woman who appears to have lost the sense of right and wrong over the years. There was a scene where she truly looked heartbroken, which is something many actresses cannot do. She raised the quality of the film substantially, mainly because she had electric chemistry with everyone on-screen. Kirk Douglas was marvellous as an alcoholic, deeply disturbed husband that is madly in-love with his wife. For a debut, man did Douglas look like a seasoned veteran. His monologue at the end of the film with Martha was delivered perfectly, packing a punch that truly made me realise exactly what was wrong with Walter and Martha. 

Lisabeth Scott, a long-lost treasure.
Van Heflin is a cool-cat, that's for sure. He played your average tough-guy and slick gambler, who is great with the dames and the smooth talkin'. Sam was also a really nice guy that got sucked into the twisted world of Walter and Martha. For a long while, the most interesting aspect of the film to me was the beautiful Toni Marachek (Lisabeth Scott). She's an ex-jailbird and the love-interest of Sam, and man did these two have great chemistry. Her voice, her expressions, and her sheer beauty had me entranced, transfixed with her character. She truly reminded me of a mixture between Lauren Bacall, Greta Garbo and even Mila Jovovich. Scott gave a really strong performance that held its own against the great actors in this film, which is why she so far has my vote for Best Supporting Actress 1946. 

I think the thing that will always stay with me is that fantastic monologue by Douglas at the end of the film. It's pretty much the big reveal of a secret we weren't really wondering about. That is, why Martha and Walter are the people they are. Yet, I found it shocking enough to drop my jaw in wonderment and say "Wow". Any fan of 1940s noir and melodrama should like this film. I happen to love it, for many reasons! It's a film that deserves to be recognised by all lovers of cinema, not forgotten like so many others. 

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