Review of movie Leave Her to Heaven, based on a book by Ben Ames Williams

Here’s another example of a fictional psychopath in the movie “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945) which was Fox’s highest-grossing film of the 1940’s.

The movie is about a beautiful socialite Ellen Behrendt (played by Gene Tierney, nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award).   Ellen is the former fiancé of the recently elected county district attorney, Russell Quinton (played by Vincent Price).  When she meets Richard, she quits Russell without any explanation.

Novelist Richard Harland (played by Cornel Wilde) is invited to her parents’ house for dinner.   Ellen leaves their house for 12 hours until Richard comes looking for her.  A clue to her personality, her father refused to go looking for her.  Unfortunately, Richard marries Ellen and becomes the male in her life who must give his full attention to her at all times after her father’s death.

Husband Richard soon realizes that Ellen is jealous of his writing, his adopted sister-in-law, his brother—anything or anyone that takes attention away from her.  Unfortunately, Richard was too gullible to see that his wife was dangerous until she herself told him so.

Ellen’s character fits the characteristics of a psychopath.  She possesses “a lack of empathy and feeling for others, selfishness, lack of guilt, and a superficial charm that manifests exclusively to manipulate others”. (See my essay, “Are You a Psychopath?” published in WordPress).  But, the romance changes into a horror movie when Ellen takes it to the dark side of psychopathy by drowning her husband’s disabled brother Danny (played by Darryl Hickman) in the lake, killing their unborn child, and committing suicide to frame her husband and adopted sister, Ruth (played by Jeanne Crain).

The most unbelievable part (Oh, forgive them Perry Mason) is the laughable trial scene highlighting Vincent Price.  Vincent Price’s prosecutor/anguished boyfriend as well as Richard’s defense lawyer/friend, Glen Robie (played by Ray Collins) were the worst lawyers.   Ray Collins was cheated out of the role he could have played.  His character Robie and the judge were asleep at the wheel.

The prosecutor badgered the husband unendingly without one objection from Richard’s lawyer/friend for the last third of the movie.  The prosecutor should have recused himself from this case because of a conflict of interest and lack of impartiality, knowing his romantic background with Ellen before her marriage to Richard.   I guess the filmmakers wanted to create more horror by adding Vincent Price to the horror abounding in the movie.

Normally, I stop watching a movie that loses its senses which this movie did by then.   But I had to see what was so Oscar-worthy.   Gene Tierney’s performance was Oscar-worthy.  She made me believe she was a killer.   However, Cornel Wilde wasn’t given much to work with in this part.  His character was clueless most of the movie as people can be when they are in love.  He sat still and looked handsome.

The other thing that I didn’t like about the movie was the title, “Leave Her to Heaven”, because it implied that Ellen should go to heaven because she was so good.  But, the book author, Ben Ames Williams, drew the title from Shakespeare’s quote in Hamlet, “leave her to heaven, and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her.”  The title should have been: “Send her straight to Hell!”

This was the second movie in which I saw Gene Tierney as a murderous psychopath, but in the movie, “Razor’s Edge”, she killed people emotionally, not physically.   Otherwise, she was usually the epitome of innocence in her film roles.

Sources:  Wikipedia,

Written by Rosa L. Griffin





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