Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

In John Stahl's brilliantly saturated, Technicolored melodramatic noir (told in flashback) - it was one of the few noirs shot in color; the script by Jo Swerling was based on the best-selling novel by Ben Ames Williams; this unsettling psychological noir thriller and lush Technicolored melodrama from director John M. Stahl told about a menacing, father-fixated, unstable, and deranged, darkly alluring femme fatale. Themes of the film, even in the 1940s, included murder, obsessive jealousy, compulsive love, abortion and blackmail, hinted in the film's tagline: "For love she would give anything...even her life...or destroy anything... EVEN THE LIFE OF ANOTHER!"

It received four Academy Award Nominations including Best Actress (Gene Tierney), Best Color Art Direction/Interior Decoration, and Best Sound Recording, and won the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography. Tierney lost her sole career Oscar nomination bid to Joan Crawford, for her title role in another acclaimed film noir Mildred Pierce (1945).

  • in the opening sequence, author-writer Richard "Dick" Harland (Cornel Wilde) returned home after serving a two-year prison sentence to his lakeside lodge ("Back of the Moon") in Deer Lake, Maine; he was greeted at his arriving boat dock by his defense attorney, Glen Robie (Ray Collins); as Dick transferred over to a canoe and rowed away to his lodge, Robie commented: "Well, of all the seven deadly sins, jealousy is the most deadly"

Richard "Dick" Harland (Cornel Wilde)

Glen Robie (Ray Collins)
  • in the film's lengthy flashback (provided by Robie) set a few years before Richard's prison term, 30 year-old bachelor and novelist Richard Harland was invited by Glen Robie to travel by train to his ranch in Rancho Jacinto, in Jacinto, NM; on the train, he described how he met beautiful and exotic-looking socialite Ellen Berent (Oscar-nominated Gene Tierney) who she happily claimed resembled her late father ("a most remarkable resemblance"); she was still mourning over his loss and obsessively attached to his memory

Ruth Berent (Jeanne Crain)

Mrs. Margaret Berent (Mary Philips) - Ellen's Mother
  • Richard became her captivated, soon-to-be future husband after a brief stay with her at the Robie's ranch, also accompanied by her mother Mrs. Margaret Berent (Mary Philips) and adopted half-sister/cousin Ruth Berent (Jeanne Crain) ("Mrs. Berent adopted me"); the occasion of the Berent family's visit was to gather for her father's funeral - to scatter the cremated ashes of her beloved father up in the mountains
  • early the next morning, Richard followed on horseback after Ellen into the New Mexico hills, and watched with a fascinated look from afar as she dramatically rode over a ridge scattering her father's ashes (dumping them from a large urn that she moved from side to side at her waist) at his favorite place he had called "the front lawn of heaven"
  • during one afternoon, Ellen engaged in a swimming race with the Robie children, and self-declared herself as the "Winner!" - Glen noted: "Ellen always wins"
  • it was revealed to Richard that Ellen had recently jilted her fiancee, district attorney Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), and broken off their engagement via telegram; after being dumped, Russell hurriedly flew by plane to visit the ranch but could not dissuade Ellen from her steadfast decision; in fact, he was encouraging of her new marital plans - Quinton was there to congratulate Ellen on her upcoming marriage to a new fiancee
  • instead of pursuing Russell, the psycho-insanely-jealous, father-obsessed, neurotically-possessive, and heartless femme fatale Ellen expressed her strong intent to marry the deceived Richard, to his great surprise when she called him her new "fiancee"; she fanatically vowed that she would stop at nothing to make the man she loved her exclusive possession: ("I'll never let you go. Never, never, never"); the marriage ceremony was held off-screen, in New Mexico
  • after celebrating a brief honeymoon in Taos, NM, newlyweds Richard and Ellen immediately traveled to Warm Springs, GA to be with Richard's beloved, younger teenaged brother Danny Harland (Darryl Hickman) who was recovering from polio; in a rented cottage, Ellen prepared an elaborate lunch for them to prove she was the perfect "domestic" wife; completely sublimating herself as a bourgeois housewife, she revealed her extreme, almost-pathological and fanatical devotedness to her new husband, clinging jealousy, and her ideal view of insular wedded life - without any hired household help
  • meanwhile, Richard spent much of his time writing a new novel and encouraging Danny to walk with crutches; Danny was offered the prospect of joining them at the lodge in Maine: "Now we can, all three of us, go to Back of the Moon." Ellen listened with a concerned look - knowing that this would cause competition for Dick's attention; the manipulative Ellen disguised her selfish disdain of the boy whom she detestedly called a 'cripple' to his physician Dr. Mason (Reed Hadley)
  • once back in Maine, the disturbed Ellen immediately resented the presence of Danny (who was interrupting her privacy and marital fulfillment with Richard), became frustrated by Richard's old family friend and resident caretaker Leick Thome (Chill Wills), and detested the time Richard devoted to his writing and his clackety typewriter; she groused: "If only it weren't so crowded"; she felt resentful, frustrated and overwhelmed in the cabin by Danny's and Thorne's presence, whom she called "chaperones"
  • during an unexpected visit of her aloof mother Margaret and her adopted half-sister Ruth, Ellen again expressed her possessiveness and hostility toward anything that disrupted her time with Richard; Ellen's cold reception for her family members didn't go unrecognized, and later in their room, Ruth and Mrs. Berent spoke about leaving soon to return to their home in Bar Harbor, Maine
  • in private, Richard reprimanded Ellen for being rude, and for becoming accusatory and jealous toward Ruth - and for her fears that Richard was falling in love with her: (Ellen: "Maybe you're in love with her....Maybe that's why you invited her up here"); he became worried about her cool rigidity and hostile attitude toward everyone except himself, and was increasingly disillusioned about his marriage to her: "What's happened to you? You're deliberately whipping yourself into a fit of hysterics....Ellen, what's got into you?"
  • Ellen apologized for her single-mindedness about possessing him all for herself and her extreme, obsessive behavior: "Oh, darling. Forgive me. I'm sorry. I can't help it. It's only because I love you so. I love you so, I can't bear to share you with anybody"

Richard's Upset at Ellen's Bad Behavior During Unexpected Visit of Ruth and Mrs. Berent to the Lodge

Ellen's True Obsessive and Possessive Character Revealed to Richard

An Apology For Her Single-Minded Obsession: "It's only because I love you so"
  • in a conversation with Richard before leaving to return home, Mrs. Berent theorized why Ellen's behavior was so unusual - her beliefs confirmed Ellen's over-the-top, all-consuming love for Richard ("It's just that she loves too much") - repeating the pattern of her obsessive love for Ellen's father
  • in the film's most-frightening murder scene orchestrated by Ellen on a bright and sunny day near to the Maine lakeside's lodge, she was calmly and passively watching from a rowboat as her novelist husband Richard's younger paraplegic brother Danny (her own brother-in-law) went swimming; she cheerfully assisted Danny in applying suntan lotion before he slipped into the water from the boat. He asked: "Can I swim all the way across today?" When she asked: "Do you think you can make it?", he assured: "Why sure? I made it three-quarters yesterday and I wasn't a bit tired." She followed in the rowboat, and promised he didn't have to worry about his direction: "I'll keep you on your course." She steered him into the middle of the lake and noted: "You're not making very much progress, Danny. Are you alright?"
  • when Danny became winded and had a kink in his side, he admitted he was getting tired. She told him to "take it easy," but then pushed him further: "You don't want to give up when you've come so far." When he became exhausted and distressed in the water from severe stomach cramps (after eating a large lunch), Ellen passively watched as he floundered and called out: "Help me!" He submerged twice and then disappeared under the surface directly in front of her. She registered no reaction on her heartless face as he sank below the water and never reappeared. She pretended to assist him by diving in, but it was obviously too late
Ellen's Heartless Drowning-Murder of Her Younger Brother-in-Law Danny
  • by the fall, the couple had moved to the Berent home in Bar Harbor, Maine; to offset Richard's depression after Danny's death and to try out another strategy to regain Richard's interest, Ellen became pregnant; Ellen became miffed when Richard, without consulting her, converted her beloved father's lab-study into a nursery; she under-handedly accused Ruth of taking advantage of her immobility during pregnancy, and began to compare their contrasting relationships with Richard
  • Ellen detestfully felt she was losing her figure as she looked at herself in a mirror: "Look at me. I hate the little beast. I wish it would die"; she told her foster sister Ruth that she loathed the coming addition to the family: "Shocked, aren't you? If you were having the baby, you'd love it. Well, I never wanted it. Richard and I never needed anything else. And now this." Ruth replied: "How can you say such wicked things?" to which Ellen admitted: "Sometimes the truth is wicked. You're afraid of the truth, aren't you, Ruth?"

Ellen: "Look at me. I hate the little beast. I wish it would die"

Ruth: "How can you say such wicked things?

Ellen: "Sometimes the truth is wicked..."
  • Ellen plotted to rid herself of her problem (her unborn child that would rival her love for Richard) - she changed into a longer blue robe and high-heeled blue slippers, emerged from her bedroom, and stood at the top of the long flight of stairs; she realized she could choreograph and fake a tripping fall by deliberately catching her left blue slipper under the loose rug - she flung herself forward with a scream to purposely abort her unwanted child by miscarriage; Mrs. Berent was suspicious of Ellen's complicit involvement in two back-to-back murders
Ellen Plotting Her Own "Accidental" Miscarriage - Tripping Down the Stairs
  • after Ellen recovered in the hospital, relations between Ruth and Ellen became unbearable; Ellen became infuriated that Richard's newest published novel "The Deep Well" was dedicated to Ruth: ("To the Gal with the Hoe"), even though her mother-in-law had cautioned Richard about not dedicating the book to Ellen; Ruth made plans to depart to New Mexico because she couldn't bear to be in Ellen's malevolent and damaging presence any longer: ("The whole place is filled with hate. Your hate...You're the most pitifuI creature I've ever known")
  • Richard suspected Ellen's deadly schemes and wrong-doings, including Danny's deliberate drowning murder - and the forced miscarriage of their child; the spiteful Ellen remorselessly admitted that she had murdered both Danny and their unborn baby - both figures who were close to Richard: ("Yes, I did, I let him drown and I'd do it again. I didn't want him around. I didn't want anyone but you"); she dropped to her knees and tried to explain away the murders as examples of her extreme love for him: ("I wanted to be just with you. I couldn't stand having anyone between us. Oh, I love you so, Richard. I love you so"); Ellen's exasperated husband threatened to leave her and divorce her (but refused to press criminal charges)

Ellen's Remorseless Confession to Richard of Two Murders

Ellen on Her Knees: "I wanted to be just with you"
  • Ellen plotted further - a final jealous two-headed scheme: (1) she sent a letter to Quinton to alert him to Ruth's premeditated murder plot, and (2) she planned to suicidally poison herself by mixing up, in her adoptive sister Ruth's bathroom, a deadly potion of powdered poison (arsenic), in order to frame and implicate Ruth Berent as her killer, and to blame her husband as a two-timer
  • at a beach picnic lunch (off-screen) after deliberately ingesting arsenic in sweetened coffee, Ellen was hospitalized and on her deathbed where she breathlessly requested that Richard scatter her ashes and intermingle them with those of her father: ("I'm going to die...And you mustn't feeI sorry for me. I'm not afraid. Only, only, promise me one thing. I-I want to be cremated. Like my father, and my ashes scattered in the same place. Remember?....Richard! I'll never let you go, Richard. Never. Never. Never")
  • in the subsequent scene, a trial hearing was held regarding "cold, brutal premeditated murder"; recently elected Boston-area district attorney Russell Quinton, Ellen's previous jilted and vengeful fiancee and ex-lover, was serving as the state's DA prosecutor in a case against the defendant Ruth Berent - ("The State will prove that on the afternoon of September 5th at a picnic attended by Ellen Harland, her mother and her adopted sister, that Ellen met death as a result of poisoning. The State will prove that the sugar with which Ellen that day sweetened her coffee was mixed with poison and that she met death by reason of that poison. The State will prove that the defendant had both motive and opportunity to commit this dreadfuI crime. And the State will prove that the defendant, Ruth Berent deliberately and maliciously plotted and carried through the murder")

Richard Forced to Read Ellen's Incriminating Letter
Ruth on Trial for Murdering Ellen - Prosecuted by Ellen's Ex-Fiancee Russell Quinton
  • pretending to be a victim before her death, Ellen had written a letter and sent it to Russell Quinton; it clearly stated her fears that Ruth was threatening to kill her; in a dramatic scene during the trial, Richard was forced to read it outloud:

    (Dear Russ, I am writing this letter to you because we once meant a great deaI to each other and there is no one else to whom I can go for help. Richard is leaving....It was after I left the hospitaI I first began to sense a change in my husband. At first I thought it might be due to the loss of our child and then the truth, the awfuI truth, began to dawn on me. The reason for the change was Ruth. Russ, they love each other, and want to get rid of me. When Richard suggested a divorce, I went to Ruth and begged her to give him up. She said she intended to have him and would stop at nothing. I told Ruth I would never give Richard a divorce, and it was then she threatened to kill me....Russ, I know she means it, and is capable of it. She will kill me the first chance she gets (read twice)...I'm afraid to stay in the house, but I can't leave without Richard. I'd rather die than give him up. I don't know what to do or where to turn, except to you, Russ. Please help me. Ellen"

Ruth's Confession: "Yes, yes, I am in love with him. I think I've always loved him."

Richard's Denouncement of His Monstrous Wife Ellen for Committing Two Murders
  • during the trial, Quinton viciously questioned Ruth on the stand about her love for Richard with a series of rapidly-fired questions: "Just when did you fall in love with Richard Harland? Did you love him after his brother Danny was drowned? Did you love him after the death of his stillborn child? After his wife died? Did you love him last week? A month before? A year before? Are you in love with him today?"; his assertion was that Ruth guiltily plotted to kill Ellen in order to be with Richard, and that her calculated cremation of Ellen was to prevent an autopsy (that would reveal the cause of her death)
  • Ruth did confess to innocently loving Richard (but not with evil intentions toward Ellen), and then fainted as she left the stand
  • Richard testified to the extreme depths of Ellen's insanity and depravity, and her dual confession that she had committed two murders: ("My wife was not murdered. She killed herself...Ellen was capable of anything....Yes, she was that sort of monster...Who, by her own confession to me, killed my brother, killed her own unborn child - and who is now reaching from the grave to destroy her innocent sister. Yes, she was that sort of monster")
  • as the flashback ended, Richard's lawyer Glen Robie told a friend at the dock about the result of Ruth's trial --- she was found innocent, but Richard was sentenced to two years in prison as an after-the-fact accessory to murder because he had not reported the extent of Ellen's depraved crimes to authorities
  • the film concluded with Richard paddling up to the "Back of the Moon" lodge where he lovingly embraced Ruth on the dock

Opening Sequence - Ex-Con Richard "Dick" Harland (Cornel Wilde) with Lawyer Glen Robie After His Release From Prison, and On His Return Home

Flashback: Richard's Introduction to Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) on Train to New Mexico

Ellen Speaking of Her Love For Her Beloved, Deceased Father

On Horseback, Ellen Spreading Her Father's Ashes in New Mexico Mountains

Ellen Swimming at the NM Ranch

In New Mexico, Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) - "Jilted" by Ellen, Who Announced Her Engagement to Richard

Marriage Promise Between Ellen and Richard: "I'll never let you go. Never, never, never"

Ellen's Attempt to Be the Perfect "Domestic" Wife in Rented Apt. in Warm Springs, GA

Richard Promising Danny That He Could Live at the Maine Lodge With Newlywed Ellen and Himself

Ellen's Obvious Disappointment That Danny Would Be Living at the Maine Lodge With Them

Ellen's Denouncement of Danny: "He's a cripple!"

Ellen's Concerns About Lack of Privacy and Interruptions For Herself and Newlywed Husband

'Back of the Moon' Resident Caretaker Thorne (Chill Wills)

Richard's All-Consuming Writing Work on Typewriter at the Lodge

Mrs. Berent Warning Richard About Ellen's Obsessive Love Pattern

Richard's Deep Depression at Bar Harbor Following Danny's Death

Ruth's Attempt to Comfort Ellen

Ellen's Objections to Turning Her Father's Lab Into a Nursery

Ellen's Growing Jealousy Toward Richard With Ruth

Richard's Dedication of His New Book (The Deep Well) to Ruth ("To the Gal with the Hoe")

Ruth to Ellen: "You're the most pitiful creature I've ever known"

Ellen's Additional Plot to Suicidally Poison Herself and Frame Ruth as Killer

Deathbed Scene - Ellen's Final Wishes to Richard: "I want to be cremated...I'll never let you go!"

Quinton at Ruth's Trial

Quinton's Vicious Questioning of Ruth About Her Love for Richard

Ending: Richard Embracing Ruth at the Back of the Moon Lodge's Dock


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