Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

It’s that dastardly wonderful time of year when  Speakeasy* Shadows and Satin & Silver Screenings host The Great Villain Blogathon 2017! featuring an endless array of diabolically cunning, insensate evil, down right nefarious and at times psychotic adversaries that Cinema has to offer!

Now in the past several years I’ve taken a long look at Gloria Holden & Gloria Swanson: When the Spider Woman Looks: Wicked Love, Close ups & Old Jewels -Sunset Blvd (1950) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936).

Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: for 2015’s The Great Villain Blogathon! I focused on the extraordinarily passionate Vincent Price in Dragonwyck 1946 and the ruthlessly sublime Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall 1937—in a twisted nail biter by director Walter Graumen who puts the lovely Olivia de Havilland in peril at the hands of a sociopathic animal James CaanLady in a Cage (1964) for the spectacular Blogathonian lady’s hosting the 2014’s —The Great Villain Blogathon and once again last year for 2016’s event, I featured True Crime Folie à deux: with my take on Truman Capote’s true crime drama In Cold Blood (1967) & the offbeat psycho thriller The Honeymoon Killers (1969).

I was tempted to do a double feature tribute to the two masterful, despicably loathsome characters brought to life by Robert Mitchum. First his superb manifestation of the crazed preacher Harry Powell in Charles Laughton’s expressionist masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955). And then as the animalistic psychotic Max Cady in director J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962).

I might not wait until The Great Villain Blogathon 2018, and just do a special feature “Robert Mitchum’s Alpha Madmen” because he & these two films are just too good not to write about before next go around! And I’m simply mad about Robert Mitchum, not to worry, not mad in the same way as Angel Face’s Diane Tremayne!

The Great Villain Blogathon is perhaps one of my favorite blogathons because the possibilities are devilishly deliciously endless. My mind began to wander around all the delightfully deadly possibility of dastardly dames…

Beautiful Anti-Heroines with a psychological underpinning as in THE DARK MIRROR 1946 starring Olivia de Havilland playing twin sisters one bad, one good, de Havilland also embodies that certain dangerous allure in MY COUSIN RACHEL 1952.

THE STRANGE WOMAN 1946 features a very cunning and mesmerizing Hedy Lamarr, and then there’s always Anne Baxter who portrays a deeply disturbed woman in GUEST IN THE HOUSE 1944. All would be excellent choices for this bad ass… blogathon! BUT…!

This year, I find myself drawn to two intoxicatingly beautiful antagonists who’s veneer of elegance & delicate exquisiteness is tenuously covering their obsessive shattered psyches. Jean Simmons and Gene Tierney both manage to create an icy austerity and a menacing malignancy within the immediate allure of their physical beauty and wiles. 

Also significant in both these films, the characters of Diane Tremayne and Ellen Berent flip the male gaze and conquer it for themselves, being the ones ‘to look’.

In both these films the two deadly women are father-fixated! Both are pathologically jealous. And both women will not go “easy” Diane won’t put the car in gear “Easy!” and Ellen will not leave Dick alone and go away “easy.” These two killer psycho-noir ladies are a great pairing of deadly damsels!

DEFINITION : beauty |ˈbyo͞odē|

noun (pl. beauties)

1 a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight: I was struck by her beauty | an area of outstanding natural beauty.

DEFINITION : CRIMINALLY INSANE

criminally |ˈkrimən(ə)lē|

adverb

1 in a manner that is contrary to or forbidden by criminal law:

psychosis |sīˈkōsəs|

noun (pl. psychoses |-ˌsēz| )

a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

DEFINITION: OBSESSION

obsession |əbˈseSHən|

noun

the state of being obsessed with someone or something: she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession.

  • an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind:

DEFINITION: FREUDIAN

Freudian |ˈfroidēən| Psychology

adjective

relating to or influenced by Sigmund Freud and his methods of psychoanalysis, especially with reference to the importance of sexuality in human behavior.

DEFINITION:PATHOLOGICALLY JEALOUS

pathological |ˌpaTHəˈläjək(ə)l| (also pathologic)

adjective/noun

the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes.—• mental, social, or linguistic abnormality or malfunction—compulsive; obsessive

jealous |ˈjeləs|

adjective

*feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages:

*feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship:•

*fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions:

• (of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.

From Mary Ann Doane’s book “The femme fatale is the figure of a certain discursive unease, a potential epistemological trauma. For her most striking characteristic, perhaps, is the fact that she never really is what she seems to be. She harbors a threat which is not entirely legible, predictable or manageable. In thus transforming the threat of the woman into a secret, something which must be aggressively revealed, unmasked, discovered … Her appearance marks the confluence of modernity, urbanization, Freudian psychoanalysis…The femme fatale is a clear indication of the extent of the fears and anxieties prompted by shifts in the understanding of sexual difference in the late nineteenth century… “

Doane goes on to say that it’s no wonder cinema was a great place for the femme fatale of 1940s noir with the femme fatale representing a sign of deviant strength. That could be said of both of highlighted q!

ANGEL FACE (1952)


She loved one man … enough to KILL to get him!

Directed by Otto Preminger written by Frank Nugent, Oscar Milland, Chester Erskine and an uncredited Ben Hecht.

Jean Simmons stars as the antagonist Diane Tremayne Jessup, Robert Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, Mona Freeman as nice girl Mary Wilton, Herbert Marshall as Diane’s beloved father, Mr. Charles Tremayne, Barbara O’Neil as stepmother Mrs. Catherine Tremayne, Leon Ames as attorney Fred Barrett, and Kenneth Tobey as nice guy Bill Compton, who is also Franks ambulance jockey partner. Cinematography by Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire 1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs 1960, Gypsy 1962, My Fair Lady 1964) and haunting score by great composer  Dimitri Tiomkin.

Angel Face is a bit of a reserved psycho-drama/noir directed by Otto Preminger who also produced. Quite striking in it’s few brutal moments scattered throughout as the murders play out at the hands of the extremely poised Jean Simmons, (So Long at the Fair 1950, The Big Country 1958, Spartacus 1960) which is what gives the film it’s nasty ironic burn in the end.

Jean Simmons was absolutely mesmerizing as Charlotte Bronn, a tormented woman who suffers a nervous breakdown, who leaves the institution and tries to make sense of her life with her austere husband Dan O’Herlihy, sister Rhonda Fleming, and sympathetic Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in director Mervyn Leroy’s Home Before Dark 1958.

In Angel Face, Simmons plays it almost perfectly chilling with her refined beauty that displays no affect, a few obvious inner demons behind those dreamy eyes, not so much bubbling passion underneath as there is bursts of fervency out of necessity. She stunningly floats through the scenes with ice water in her veins, determined to possess, first her father (Herbert Marshall) and then Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum).

As an actor Robert Mitchum possesses an enormous range, and many layers to his film & real life persona– although he always exudes that smooth yet brawny exterior, he can either play it self-possessed, a coolly determined hero or visceral anti-hero and at times he’s been quite effective as a sicko. In Angel Face, Mitchum while still the usual rugged beast and cocksure fella, this time he is foolish and unsympathetically led by his pants, right into our anti-heroine’s trap…

Frank should have stayed with nice nurse Mary, a nice fella for a girl.

Herbert Marshall as Charles Tremayne tries to explain to the doctor and the ambulance drivers what might have happened when the gas valve was left on in his wife’s bedroom.

Robert Mitchum plays former race car driver Frank Jessup, and ambulance jockey who becomes drawn into Diane Tremayne’s (Jean Simmons) psychotically woven web of obsessive love. Frank and Bill are called to the wealthy Tremayne family’s hilltop mansion, when Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil) is almost asphyxiated when the gas valve on her bedroom fireplace is stuck on. In reality Diane’s attempt to gas her stepmother fails. It seems that Diane is insanely jealous of the woman who took her dear doting father Charles’ (Herbert Marshall) attentions away.

Catherine Tremayne insists that someone has tried to kill her, and that the gas inhalation was not a suicide attempt. Catherine Tremayne is looked after by the doctor, given a sedative and tucked into bed. Frank wanders down the great staircase, lured by haunting piano playing.

Frank wanders into the parlor when he hears the refined and innocent doe eye looking Diane playing a classical melody on the grand piano. He is immediately struck by the beautifully delicate young woman. As soon as Diane sees Frank who tells her that her stepmother is okay, she becomes hysterical. He tries to calm her down in his gruff manner, “Look take it easy I told ya she’s gonna be fine.” Diane continues to sob, “Leave me alone.” He grabs her arm forcefully and yells at her to stop it, but Diane acts as if she is inconsolable, while Frank is getting more frustrated with her. So, the big guys slaps her, slaps her hard. Some sort of awareness washes over her face, in fact she might have rather liked getting smacked in the face and so, she slaps him back, just as hard. Frank laughs, “Now look, the manual says that’s supposed to stop hysterics, it doesn’t say a word about getting slapped back.” “I’m sorry”, “That’s alright forget it. I’ve been slapped by dames before.”

We can see that there is something definitely off about this strange young woman and it should have raised the hair on the back of his neck but Frank is a bit of a dog you see.

Frank and Bill drive back to the hospital where they are set to get off from work. Frank says goodnight to Bill and walks over to the cafe, because Mary is waiting on his call. Bill tells Frank he’s a lucky guy, and he agrees- “You know it!”

What Frank doesn’t realize is that Diane has jumped into her little sportscar and has followed the men in the ambulance all the way back to the hospital. She watches as Frank enters the cafe. Harry the cafe owner says, “Well if it ain’t the dead body jockey” “Sure Harry that’s why I come here it looks like the morgue.”

Frank puts a coin in the phone and begins to call Mary but he gets a busy signal. He turns around and voilà Diane is standing there. She floats out an innocent sounding,“Hello.” Frank pleasantly surprised says “Well hello, you do get around fast don’t ya.” Diane answers, “I parked my broomstick outside” Frank-“Beer Harry… what do witches drink?”

Now… This is why Frank is a dog, it doesn’t trouble him that this young woman has followed him to work. He was supposed to have dinner with his girlfriend Mary who is a nurse at the hospital and a wonderful person.

Naturally one busy signal and Frank’s attention span is switched to this young stalker whom he finds intriguing. He finally gets Mary on the phone and tells her that he’s too tired to get together and goes off into the night to dine and dance with Diane. He is now ensnared in her web.

Frank-“I’ll see you tomorrow” Mary-“Tomorrow… was it a rough call?” Frank staring at Diane- “Yeah, rough.”

Diane asks Mary to lunch… she’s got a plan you see

What makes Diane even more conniving is that the next day she meets Mary for lunch and tells her about her evening with her boyfriend. She puts it under the pretense of helping the couple out with Franks plans on owning his own sports car repair ship, Diane having the means to offer financial support. But the seed is planted and Mary gets the heavy hint dropped that Frank is a dog and feels betrayed by Frank’s lie about being too tired. Mary is no dope and she let’s Diane know that she won’t be a fool. She tells Diane that she would have rather not known about their evening together and knows that Diane has brought her to lunch to try and shake her faith in Frank and to “find out how stupid” she was. Mary isn’t the typical good girl in noir—she’s more streetwise than that and a bit jaded by the ways of the world. She’s the good girl, but not a dumb girl.

That night Frank is about to go out on a date with Mary and he continues to lie about the previous evening “I was so beat last night I hit the sack as soon as I got in” Mary tells him “That, I can believe.”

Diane walks into the diner and tells Frank that she met with Mary for lunch.

Diane-“Go ahead hit me.” Frank-“First I’ll buy you dinner then I’ll hit ya.” Diane -“When I tell you what I did you probably won’t want to see me again, ever.” Frank-“sounds pretty grim.” Diane-“I had lunch with Mary I told her about last night… oh not everything just that we went out together.” Frank gripes-“Well why did you say that, I told her that…” Diane-“I just told her that I wanted to help you get the garage.” Frank-“Oh yeah you’re a big help.”

Later that evening while dropping subtle barbs at each other about the price of Diane’s spending, she lays the groundwork for getting Catherine to hire Frank as her new chauffeur.

Diane to Catherine complaining about her expense account-“Don’t you know it’s the simple things that cost the most!”

Diane tells Catherine that she could really use a chauffeur…

Now that Frank and Mary’s relationship is strained Diane moves in for the kill, she initiates a passionate kiss, she tempts him with the idea of a race coming up, tempting him with “pebble beach” and that she will loan her car to him, also luring him with the security of a better paying job.

He decides to take a job with the Tremayne’s as her stepmother Catherine’s chauffeur, though he tells Diane he’s just “not the type” even moving into an apartment over the garage. Diane tells Frank about her father, how he is a widowed writer, who has been wasting his talent, marrying into money for it’s comfort with the rich Catherine whom Diane despises for the way she treats him.

Part of Diane’s diabolical plot to draw Frank into her web, she pretends to be nice to Catherine asking her to invest in Frank’s desire to open up his own garage that caters to sports cars.

This is also a way for Diane to ingratiate herself into Franks life by appealing to his love of fast cars, as an extension of her own dangerous mind, she drives a sports car that Frank seems to be dazzled by and covets as he was once a race car driver. This is just an example of one of Diane’s manipulative powers as she seduces Frank with the illusion that he will be in control. Race cars are vehicles that represent freedom and freedom of movement as they are capable high speeds and risk taking. Both Diane and Frank seem to want to move at their own speed and of their own volition with no one interfering. In that way they are suited. Frank wants to do his own thing, opening up his own garage and Diane is looking for someone new to possess and control since her father is now a little more out of her reach.

But this is where the bait, or point of attraction leads Frank down a dangerous spiraling road led completely by Diane’s calculating will— where he will ultimately and literally crash and burn.

And so Frank meets with his employer who is receptive to him. Catherine actually thinks he’s a very nice young man and calls over to her lawyer to look over the papers, feeling fine about lending a great deal of money for him to open up his own garage, though she must wait for her attorney to look over the financial details of the transaction. Frank believes the deal is going to happen, until Diane sabotages the whole thing by insinuating herself using deception once again, pretending to show Frank a crumpled paper from the waste pail with the figures for the investment, that her stepmother supposedly trashed. Frank seems surprised that Catherine decided not to go ahead with it, as she appeared keen on the idea.

“Oh Frank I’m so sorry.” Frank-“Don’t take it so hard. You had a nice idea it just didn’t work that’s all.” Diane-“I’m so sorry for you.” Frank-“She changed her mind forget it, we’ll make a big night of it.” Diane– “Not tonight.” Frank slightly annoyed-“Now why?” Diane warns him, “It would be safer not too. We have to be careful for a few days. More than ever now.” Frank-“What do we have to be careful of now?” Diane-“Well if she finds out she’ll dismiss you and I couldn’t stand to lose you now…” Frank-“So she fires me and I get another job. Maybe it’s better that way. At least we won’t have to play around like this. Hiding like kids.” Diane-“You don’t know her Frank. She’d lock me in.” Frank laughs-“How could she lock you in?” Diane-“She could do anything to me because of my father. If I try to fight her, she makes him pay for it, she knows I can’t stand that, please try to understand.”

Of course Diane has constructed this lie as Catherine was very interested in going through with the deal. She wants to poison Frank’s mind against Catherine, and Frank doesn’t go straight to Catherine and merely ask if this is true, he just takes Diane’s word for it.

Once he is working for the Tremayne’s, and the prospect of his garage will not materialize-Frank gets antsy.

While Diane plays chess with dear old daddy, Frank gets bored playing chauffeur above the garage and tries to call Mary but he can’t reach her. Diane says goodnight to father laying out his milk, biscuits and cigarettes by his bedside, like the loving daughter, he can’t do without.

While Diane sits at the piano and plays her lamenting melody, in her eyes she appears like a black widow knowing that she has a juicy fly trapped above the garage, planning her next strategy which comes in the middle of the night.

She comes to Franks room crying and frightened claiming that Catherine had been in her bedroom looking down at her. Diane says with her most delicate voice-“It was so strange I wanted to speak but I couldn’t.” Diane tells Frank that Catherine had closed the window and put the gas on in her room, that she heard that awful hissing sound. She didn’t dare leave the room. Frank wants to tell her father and the police, but Diane quickly gathers her composure, “No Frank we mustn’t do that.” 

Diane’s pretense of paranoia about Catherine’s trying to kill her emerges more clearly for Frank who is now taking notice of it.

An exercise in frustration, Frank begins to realize that he is in love with a lovely yet quite homicidal head case! but he fails to untangle himself from this deadly beauty.

Frank  [of Diane’s supposed ‘evil’ stepmother] … “If she’s tryin’ to kill you, why did she turn on the gas in her own room first?”

Diane  “To make it look as though somebody else were guilty…”

Frank  “Is that what you did?”

Diane  “Frank, are you accusing me?”

Frank  “I’m not accusing anybody. But if I were a cop, and not a very bright cop at that, I’d say that your story was as phony as a three dollar bill.”

Diane “How can you say that to me?”

Frank  “Oh, you mean after all we’ve been to each other?… Diane, look. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind that pretty little face of yours – I don’t *want* to. But I learned one thing very early. Never be the innocent bystander – that’s the guy that always gets hurt. If you want to play with matches, that’s your business. But not in gas-filled rooms – that’s not only dangerous, it’s stupid.”

Diane tells him that she’s very tired. He says “Yeah, that I can believe.” When she tries to kiss him, he pulls away from her.

Meantime Frank visits with Mary, who is on her way out to meet up with Bill for a date. She is surprisingly nice to Frank which is more than he deserves. She tells him Bill was sure he’d show up for last night’s bowling tournament he tells her –“I’ve been busy.”

Frank asks how Bill did in the tournament, she tells him “wonderful.” Frank answers, “He’s been making out alright with you too huh.” 

Mary says, “Bill was very sweet to me after you walked out.”

Frank-“I took a job that pays better than being a lousy ambulance driver, is that a crime?” Mary- “Is taking the bosses daughter to the Mocalmba (club) part of the job?” Frank-“They got a good band there, remind me to take you there sometime.” 

You just can’t blame Mary for trying to move on, Bill is a much more dependable and a very likable guy who has worshiped Mary from the beginning. She asks about Frank’s new life, and he tells her that he’s thinking of quitting.

He tells her, “I’ve been thinking about quitting, it’s a weird outfit, not for me.”

Frank asks-“What’s the score Mary, has Bill taken over or do I still rate?”

Mary-“That’s a hard question to answer and I don’t think a fair one to ask” Frank-“A very simple question, yes or no, Bill or me? Can’t you make up your mind?” Mary tells him, “Yes, but I want to be sure you can make up yours. Can’t we let it go at that for a while” Frank-“Oh, I’m on probation, okay, how bout tonight, we got a date?” Mary laughs- “Why not” Frank says, “You know something you’re a pretty nice guy… for a girl.”

The next day Frank is going to leave, but Diane has packed her bags, and stumbles onto Frank packing his own bags. She asks him where he is going. He tells her that he’s quitting, when she asks why, he tells her, “well maybe it’s the altitude. Living up here makes my heart pound.”

Of course Diane collapses onto the couch and begins to weep. Frank tells her, “Now let’s face it I never should have taken this job. You shouldn’t have asked me… you know I’m right. You have your world I have mine. You got beautiful clothes a big house, someday you’ll come into a lot of money. I got a pair of big hands and not much else.”

“But all I want is you. I can’t let you go now… I won’t.”

He tells Diane that he wants to quit his job and she becomes upset as her plaything and the object of her second fixation is now slipping away from her. Frank doesn’t want to be involved with the whole package anymore. “It’s no good I tell you, I’m not getting involved.” She asks “Involved with what?”

“How stupid do you think  I am –You hate that women Someday somehow you’re gonna hate her enough to kill her. It’s been in the back of your mind all along.”

Diane says coldly-“So she’s fooled you too! Just like she has everyone else.”

Diane reminds Frank about her father’s book. That one day she went into his desk to hide a present for him, just “something between him and me…”

And that she found inside the drawer where he was supposed to keep his manuscript, there was nothing but a stack of blank paper. He hasn’t written a line since he married Catherine. At first Frank just blows this off, “So he got tired. Writer marries a rich widow what’d ya expect him to write… checks.”  This touches on a nerve, “Don’t joke about my father!” She tells Frank that Catherine has “humiliated and destroyed him.”

Frank tells her that there’s no law that says she has to stay, she could move out and find work the way other girls must do. She tells Frank that she would leave if it weren’t for her father. “That’s where I came in. I guess that’s where I leave.”

“Frank please will you tell me one thing. Do you love me at all? I must know…”

“I suppose it’s a kind of love. But with a girl like you how can a man be sure.” Diane quietly asks, “Will you take me with you?” 

Frank-“You had it all figured out didn’t ya. You mean you’d really leave your father and everything here.” Diane-“If I have to, to keep you.” Frank-“I could be wrong about you.”

Diane begins to tell Frank how she can sell her jewels and the fancy car and he can get a small garage at first. He wants her to be sure what she is getting herself into. She tells him that she’s sure. They hear Catherine’s car pull around. He tells her to think it over for a few days. Her kisses and sympathetic story about her poor father has worked perfectly on Frank. And she makes sure that he promises that he won’t leave until then. Diane’s maneuvering has worked.

Diane leaves Franks room, and walks passed Catherine’s car. Tiomkin’s score plays fervently, feverishly as she looks down the steep cliff and seems thoughtful about the car that is framed behind her. Finding an empty package of cigarettes stuck in the hedge, she holds it out and watches it as it drops down the deep cliff side. Shades of darker things soon to follow.

Diane is so sinister she even loans Catherine a pair of her new driving gloves, just for the irony of it all. Sometimes she can be so sweet.

Catherine needs to go to her bridge game looking for Frank to drive her, Diane makes the excuse that he needed to go to Santa Barbara, having loaned her sports car to him. Diane offers to drive her instead, knowing all too well that she’ll refuse. And of course Catherine does in fact decide to drive herself to her bridge game. At the last minute, Charles decides to tag along for a ride to Beverly Hills.

Diane languidly floats as if in a psychotic trance and sits at her piano performing the same melody she played the night she failed to asphyxiate Catherine. We can hear Diane playing her melancholy ‘death song’ on the grand piano as her stepmother and father proceed to drive. But…

Diane has figured out how to tamper with the gear shift. She’s been watching Frank tinker with the mansion’s cars, and learns how to reconfigure the brakes and the shift.

Catherine starts up the car, put the gear into drive AND the car shoots backwards rather than forwards –it has been rigged to go into reverse, as her stepmother and father are propelled over the steep cliff’s edge.

Of course the convertible car goes careening over the jagged cliff, rolling over and over and smashing against the rocks, the crash dummies used are quite effective as they (Catherine and Diane’s father) seem to become crushed under the twisted fiery metal…

here’s a nifty gif to illustrate

It is one horrific scene indeed. A scene that truly rattles me!

Diane is successful at the second attempt on her stepmother’s (Barbara O’Neil Stella Dallas 1937, Gone with the Wind 1939, All this, And Heaven Too 1940, Secret Beyond the Door 1947, Whirlpool 1950) life. The problem with Diane’s almost ingenious perfect murder unbeknownst to her is that dear daddy wasn’t supposed to be a passenger in the car so he also dies in the fiery crash, a casualty in the wreckage of Diane’s unbridled psychotic scheme of stepmother machine meddling.

The police think there is something strange about the accident and Frank is charged with murder after Diane’s packed suitcase is found in his room.

The a cop on the case knows Frank from driving the ambulance, and he brings Frank in for questioning. Detective Lt. Ed Brady asks how Frank came to work for the Tremaynes, and Frank tells him that he sort of just fell into it, after they had gotten the call about Catherine’s near asphyxiation. Ed tells him he knows. He’s got the report right there on his desk, Detective Lt. Ed Brady (Larry J. Blake)-“probably accidental, sure makes you wonder, don’t it.”  Frank asks,“What da ya mean?” Ed “She claims somebody tried to murder her” Frank laughs it off-“She was hysterical, why would anyone try to murder her?” Ed-“Are you kiddin’ a woman with her kind of money. Oh by the way Frank, what sort of a girl is this step daughter er… Diane?” Frank tells him, “Very nice girl, very pretty girl.” Ed-“Any boyfriends?” Frank-“None that I ever saw. She and her father were very close.” he puffs on his cigarette some more. Ed mentions “But didn’t get a long with her stepmother eh” Frank- “I didn’t say that.” Ed-“Okay okay, when was the last time you drove the Tremayne car?”

Ed shows him the packed suitcase and then tells Frank he should get himself a lawyer.

Attorney Fred Barrett (Leon Ames), Diane’s lawyer comes to see her in the prison hospital ward.

“She idolized the man Fred it’s no wonder her nerves are cracked!”

Diane suffers a breakdown as she had only wanted to kill her stepmother, she never intended on killing her beloved father when she tinkered with the car. It looks like Frank is involved because he was the last known person to handle the car. He was known to have worked on the cars at the Tremaynes.

The Tremayne family lawyer hires one of L.A’s best defense attorneys, Fred Barrett a master at playing on a jury’s emotions.

Barrett tries to tell her that it won’t serve either she nor Frank to shoulder the blame because the jury would believe them both guilt. In a moment of honesty she tries to save Frank’s neck. Seeming less like a crazy girl and in more control of her powers now in the aftermath of what she has done, inadvertently killing her father, she wants to take responsibility for the murders herself, not wanting anyone to defend her and that she acted alone.

Diane confesses to the crime-“But I’m telling the truth.”

“The truth is what the jury decides…not you, not me, not Frank.”

At first Frank doesn’t want to go along with Barrett’s plan.

Barrett-“To be perfectly blunt Mr. Jessup I’m not particular invested in saving your neck. The concern is with my client Diane Tremayne” Frank-“Yeah that’s what I figured” Barrett tells him, “But the point is you have a much better chance together than separately. And the evidence actually points much more to you than it does to her. The fact that an automobile was involved” Frank interrupts, “If she thinks she can get away with that she’s lost her mind.”

Frank and Diane are married at the hospital…

The ladies at the prison bake the bride and groom a wedding cake-“Kids we sure hope you beat the rap!”

Barrett concocts a scheme to have Frank and Diane married in the hospital jail ward where Diane is spending her time while first catatonic, she is then convalescing after the break down. Diane’s legal team insists that she marry Frank so that it would seem like the couple were just innocent young people who intended matrimony and not having a sordid affair. They want Diane to keep her honest revelations to herself. A morally distasteful strategy that might guarantee a good outcome for them at the trial.

This scheme tries to offset any more scandal for the headlines framing it as two innocent people in love. And that explains them leaving the Tremayne house that day with plans to elope.

Another bad choice, Frank goes along with it, hoping to save his own skin not wanting to be convicted of the murders himself. He allows yet again an outside influence to manipulate his life. The idea of Frank and Diane getting married seems to push Diane further into the delusion that they will remain married and that she will have a future with Frank.

But Frank now wants nothing to do with the obsessive murderous Diane. D.A. Judson (Jim Backus) brings in the car’s mangled motor and drive shaft to demonstrate his theory how the transmission was jimmied to stay in reverse. The defense attorney Barrett manages to create a measure of reasonable doubt, supplied by with his own specialists who does create doubt in the minds of the jury and the trial ends with an acquittal. And the couple is now free to go. Frank wants a divorce.

Returning to the mansion Frank tells Diane he’ll go visit Mary to see if she’ll take him back. If she won’t he’ll leave for Mexico. Diane is devastated and in desperation makes him an offer. She’ll loan him her jaguar to go see Mary. If Mary takes him back, he can keep the car. If not he’ll bring the car back.

Here we are not sure whether Diane’s psychosis has broken up a little like a dark cloud getting clearer, as she appears more genuine at this point or is she is still manipulating Frank?

She shares a little history about her childhood and where her fixations might be coming from. She tells him that she was only ten years old when her mother was caught in an air raid in England, after which her father “became everything” to her. But once he married Catherine, Diane says she used to fantasize about what she and her father would do if her stepmother were dead.

She tells Frank that now she realizes that Catherine never meant any harm and she wants him to believe her when she says that she would give her life to bring them back. This is why she tells Frank that he cannot leave her because she wouldn’t know what to do without him. Now appearing just desperately lonely than viciously psychotic. But Frank isn’t ready to stay married to her, not even try at staying close, though he doesn’t hate her, he is “getting out all the same.”

After Frank leaves she closes up the house, dismisses the servants and wanders around the estate alone, before she goes to Frank’s room where she spends the night curled up in the armchair wrapped in his jacket.

Diane believes that she’ll never see him again. She goes to Barrett’s office, wanting to confess, and Barrett reluctantly agrees to take her statement. Diane details how she unwittingly got Frank to show her while giving the car a tune up how to rig the car to go in reverse. But he tells her she can’t be tried again due to double jeopardy. Her admission shows that she might not be totally delusional, just a regretful psychotic.

When Diane returns to the lonely mansion, Dimitri Tiomkin’s dark score swells dramatically around Diane as she appears to drift bereft with grief through the empty halls and rooms. But Diane’s hopes are sparked when Frank returns, Mary has by right rejected him, preferring the kind and loyal ex-partner Bill and Frank decides to leave for Mexico.

Diane pleads with him to let her go along. He says no way. Even though he’s called a cab, he decides to let her drive him to the bus station. They get in the jaguar, and Diane brings champagne and two glasses.

It might not be necessarily clear when the idea came to Diane, If it was the final realization that she’d be driving him to the station never to see him again. Maybe she thinks she can change his mind over that glass of champagne. But something clicks in her brain when Frank criticizes the way she puts the car in gear, as he exclaims. “Easy” that seems to spark her reaction…

He pours the champagne as she starts the engine. Then looking at him, she floors the car in reverse as the two go frighteningly backwards over that scary steep cliff…

And rockets them down the same cliff that killed her father and stepmother, the car smashing against the rocks mangled into the same kind of twisted metal sculpture.

Irony-a few minutes later the cab arrives…. Frank you idiot.

The scene is given it’s moxie by cinematographer Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire  1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957)

Angel Face dramatically embraces the darker implications of noir.

I admit, I’d have a hard time saying no to Jean Simmons too… but Franks stupidity and Mitchum’s ability to play a tough guy (who smokes a cigarette sexier than any man I can think of) a guy just floating where the wind blows his pants is aptly described in Silver and Ursini’s book—FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS– on Otto Preminger

“One of the big achievement of Preminger his writers his cast and composer Tiomkin is to create a tone of amour fou in Angel Face that is realistic, poignant, delirious and suspenseful in equal doses. Frank is not the smartest guy, but he’s not a dummy, either. His lackadaisical attitude about life is embodied in Mitchum’s languid body language. Slow on the uptake about how dangerous Diane is, his problem is one of the noir anti-hero most common:thinking with his balls and not his brains. If he hadn’t given Diane a second chance, if Mary had taken him back;and if he’d realized Diane was willing to sacrifice her own life to be with him. A lot of ifs. Frank is always a half-beat behind trying to get in rhythm and he pays for it dearly. Preminger actually generates some sympathy for Diane when she tries to make up for the murders by confessing, only to realize the state will never punish her. Barrett’s assertion she may end up institutionalized if she presses the issue is more unpalatable to her than the gas chamber. When she comes home before seeing Frank for the final time, the romantic delirium builds to fever pitch, culminating in a bittersweet shot of her curled up in the shadows in Frank’s room. Frank’s coat wrapped around her. It is one of the most moving sequences… the character is completely self-aware of her own psychosis. Angel Face is Preminger’s finest noir.”

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945)

“Hers was the deadliest of the seven sins”

Directed by John M. Stahl (The Keys to the Kingdom 1944, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim 1947) with a screenplay by Jo Swerling (The Whole Town’s Talking 1935, Blood and Sand 1941, Lifeboat 1944) based on the lurid novel by Ben Ames Williams published in 1944. From the very tip of the film Alfred Newman’s powerful score summons the film’s epic melodramatic mood…

Leave Her to Heaven stars… those eyes, those cheekbones, that sexy overbite–yes the incredible– Gene Tierney (Tobacco Road 1941, The Shanghai Gesture 1941, Heaven Can Wait 1943, Laura 1944, Dragonwyck 1946, The Razor’s Edge 1946, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir 1947, Whirlpool, Night and the City & Where the Sidewalk Ends 1950, The Secret of Convict Lake 1951) as the soft-spoken, icy calculating Ellen Berent-Harland.

Image courtesy of The Red List

The film co-stars Cornel Wilde as the object of Ellen’s fixation Richard “Dick” Harland. Jeanne Crain co-stars as Ellen’s younger adopted cousin/sister Ruth. Vincent Price is the master of a mesmerizing brand of masculinity that is subtle and urbane. Here reunited with Tierney since they acted together in director Otto Preminger’s ultimate film noir masterpiece Laura 1944, and then the following year they manifested great chemistry opposite each other in Writer/Director Joseph L Mankiewicz’s Dragonwyck 1946 which I covered for 2015’s Great Villain Blogathon!

In Leave Her to Heaven Price plays the part of spurned love interest Russell Quinton. Mary Philips plays Ellen’s wary mother, Ray Collins is Glen Robie, the wonderful Gene Lockhart plays Dr. Saunders and Reed Hadley plays Dr. Mason. Chill Wills plays caretaker Leick Thorne.

Leave Her to Heaven also features a very young Darryl Hickman as Dick’s very young frail brother Danny who is disabled from childhood polio. The lush and painted cinematography by Leon Shamroy (The King and I 1956, South Pacific 1958, Cleopatra 1963, The Cardinal 1963, The Agony and the Ecstasy 1965, Planet of the Apes 1968, ) won him an Oscar for his work on the film.

Though the film is presented in gorgeous Technicolor, Leave Her to Heaven is considered film noir, within the framework of it’s bustling stylish melodramatic plot. Considered ‘limit work’ referring to rare noirs filmed in color of the mid 1940s- 1950s it brings to mind some of Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery/noir masterpieces from 1948 Hitchcock’s Rope and from the early 50s such as Read Window and Dial M for Murder both released in 1954. One could argue that there is a conflict between style and genre with director Stahl’s lavish Technicolor noir, but given the fact that some of Ellen’s most disturbing acts take place in the bright light of day amidst a lush backdrop, the use of rich color does not take away from the deeply looming-disturbing, and ominous narrative.

And in fact, it’s one of the most terrifying and shocking ‘domestic’ noir of it’s type in which the psychopath is not an unstable insecure man but a homicidal possessive woman who possesses an intoxicating beauty.

Gene Tierney inverts her charming, engaging persona and manifests the enigmatic Ellen Berent who isn’t afraid nor shies away from destructive impulses committing a cold-blooded murder to get what she wants, to attain her control over all she desires. A women who would in the words of Darryl Zanuck “deliberately kill her unborn child, drowns the cripple brother of her husband and endeavors to send her own adopted sister to the electric chair.”

According to Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward a “Strong mythic element runs through Leave Her to Heaven, from Ellen Berent’s Electra -like adoration of her father, her Hippolytean stance as she scatters her father’s ashes on horseback, and the Medea-like murderer of her husband’s younger brother and unborn child. This mythic aspect of the story is emphasized by the smooth marble planes of Gene Tierney’s face and the straight line, classical clothes she wears. Her face during the most frightening scene, as she watches her husband’s crippled brother drown only a few feet from her, is as impassive as any statue’s. She commits murder by ration rather than violence. Ellen goes into a trance, becoming for one moment a pure object; and without her support, acceptance and love, the male must drown… Ellen’s expression is made more blank and statue like by her heart shaped sunglasses. They hold an almost cosmic significance as she uses them to conceal her spirit as well as her eyes.”

From More Than Night as James Naremore writes “One of the most notable and uncharacteristically flamboyant of the “limit works” was Leave Her to Heaven (1945), a quasi-Freudian melodrama starring Gene Tierney as a beautiful but murderously jealous heiress. Photographer Leon Shamroy won an Academy Award for the film, chiefly because of the way he combined, “mysterious” elements -lamp lit rooms, extreme deep-focus compositions, low angles that brought ceilings into view-with spectacular Technicolor scenery from locations such as Monterey, California, and Flagstaff, Arizona. His Dominant color…{with its symbolic contrast between cold and hot colors}…as Meredith Brody and Lee Sanders have observed , was an orange or amber hue that suggested ‘the same sickness and corruption as the high contrast photography of black-and-white film noir’ (Silver and Ward).

From a review in Time Magazine by James Agee, he complained about the disconnect between film noir’s typified B&W oblique shadow frames and the brightness of Technicolor against a story about a murderous femme fatale. “The story’s central idea might be plausible enough in a dramatically lighted black and white picture but not in the rich glare of Technicolor.” As writer Todd Berliner explains Agee’s trouble with the dissonance Technicolor just seemed to set “the wrong mood, evoking thoughts and emotions antipathetic to the film’s premise.”

Either way, Leave Her to Heaven went on to make Fox a lot of money, as it was one of it’s highest-grossing pictures of the decade.

Leave Her to Heaven opens at the end with Dick Harland coming back to his cabin in Deer Lake, Maine after serving time in prison and flashes back to the beginning of the story and how he came to meet his ill-fated circumstances.

Cornel Wilde plays writer Richard “Dick” Harland who meets an enigmatic young woman on a train heading for New Mexico. She happens to be reading one of his books, which tickles him right off the bat. While napping, the book falls to the floor and Dick instantly rushes over to hand it back to this beauty. She thanks him, then proceeds to hold an intense long almost provocative stare at him, commanding control of the female ‘gaze’ rather than the other way around for a change. This makes Dick a little nervous at first when he realizes it.

But, there is an immediate chemistry and he already starts falling in love with the intoxicating allure of Ellen Berent, performed with an icy reserve she manifests through her limpid blue eyes. At the very moment Tierney is on screen she exudes an undercurrent of intensity. Ellen is not afraid to get what she wants, as she illustrates while staring unblinkingly at Dick on the train.

Ellen-“Oh, I’m sorry I was staring at you wasn’t I. I didn’t mean to really, it was only because you look so much like my father. When he was younger of course, your age. The most remarkable resemblance. For a moment I thought… if you’d forgive me.”

Dick-“Well to tell you the truth I was doing quite a bit of staring myself, and I assure you it’s not because you look like my mother.”

Dick-“As a matter of fact I can’t say that you look quite like anyone I’ve ever met before.” Ellen-“Then why did you stare?” Dick-“Do you really want to know?” Ellen-“If it’s not too unflattering.” Dick-“Now you know perfectly well that nothing I could ever say about you, the way you look I mean, could be anything but flattering. Of course if you don’t like flattery.” Ellen coyly-“Oh but I do.” Dick tells her-“On second thought it won’t be flattering, it’ll be the truth and nothing but the truth. Any resemblance to flattery will be sheer coincidence. Shall I proceed?” She tells him to proceed. Dick continues, “While I was watching you exotic words drifted across the mirror of my mind, as summer clouds drift across the sky.” Ellen smiles, “Couldn’t you be a bit more specific.” “I’ll try. Watching you I thought of tales of the Arabian Nights, or Myrrh and frankincense.” She adds, “And patchouli?” “Patchouli, that’s it.” Ellen goes to a page in his book Time Without End, “Wait a minute. I knew it, here it is” Ellen quotes the exact line back to him. She has been the one in control the entire time. “Unquote, so that’s where it came from” She slams the book shut. Dick is taken off guard. She derides him about the book not being impressive and agrees that it’s sloppy, though he hasn’t had the chance to tell her that he’s the author. She hears her destination -Jacinto being announced and abruptly gets up to depart the train. Dick sits for a moment until he realizes that it’s his stop as well, having lost the upper hand in the flirtatious repartee. Dick gets up and runs for it. The scene is threaded with gorgeous frames by cinematographer Leon Shamroy. Doesn’t this look like an Edward Hopper painting…

As Mary Ann Doane points out about Ellen’s behavior in her fascinating book Femme Fatales:Feminism, Film Theory, Psychoanalysis she writes— “a certain excessiveness, a difficulty associated with women who appropriate the gaze, who insist upon looking.”

“In Leave Her to Heaven (John Stahl 1945), the female protagonist’s (Gene Tierney) excessive desire and overpossessiveness are signaled from the very beginning of the film by her intense and sustained stare at the major male character, a stranger she first encounters on a train. The discomfort her look causes is graphically depicted. The Gene Tierney character is ultimately revealed to be the epitome of evil– killing her husband’s crippled younger brother, her unborn child, and ultimately herself in an attempt to brand her cousin as a murderess in order to insure her husband’s future fidelity.”

Ellen gets off the train and meets her mother, stepsister and friend Glen Robie who just happens to also be meeting Dick. Glen asks about his brother Danny who couldn’t make the trip because his doctor thought it would be too much for him. Dick is suddenly struck still as he sees Ellen on the platform.

Glen introduces Dick to the the family, “We met rather briefly on the train.” Dick shakes Ellen’s hand, “Too briefly.” Ruth looks at Dick as if she has just been struck with a tremor of love, while Ellen’s mother looks curiously suspicious at first.

“Did you say Harland?” “Richard Harland.” Suddenly it occurs to Ellen that he is the author of the book, she looks genuinely embarrassed and apologizes, while Dick tells her “I doubt if I’ll ever forgive you.” Boy, if that were the only thing he’d have to forgive her for.

They all head out to Rancho Jacinto. Mother Margaret Berent, Ruth, Glen Robie, Ellen and Dick are met by Louise Robie (Olive Blakeney) who asks about Danny, who is still convalescing at Warm Springs. They all dine at night, arguing about the trout in New Mexico versus the Boston cod. Ellen comments that her mother just doesn’t like New Mexico, which she argues that point considering this is her first time there. Ellen proceeds to insist it’s true, the first sign that there is discord in the family dynamic. Later it is revealed that Jacinto was a special place between she and her beloved father. With everyone sitting around the table, Ellen still commands the group with a certain presence that Dick takes notice of.

“Father and I used to come here every Spring, year after year. And occasionally Ruth came along, but never mother. “ Dick comments, “It’s too bad Mr. Berent didn’t come along this time, I’m told I resemble him.” Ellen’s mother Margaret looks shocked. “Who told you that Mr. Harland?” Ellen smiles and leans in at her mother happily exclaiming. “I did!”

Ellen asks Louise who hesitantly says that he does, then Louise awkwardly asks her husband Glen his opinion of the resemblance. The air in the room is thick with tension.

When Glen says “Oh, in a way” Ellen looks longingly at Dick and almost whispers softly enough as if they were the only two people in the room, “Every way… I noticed the minute I saw him in the club car. His face, his voice, his manner. It’s uncanny.” Dick looks uncomfortable.

Dick’s curiosity is aroused and wishes for an opportunity to meet Mr. Berent. Margaret Berent somberly begins to tell him that it’s hardly likely, as her husband is… as Ellen interrupts, “We’ve come here for my father’s funeral.”

Aside from the fact that Ellen is a psychopath, another way to visualize her independent nature, would be to consider her performing an almost feminist power in that she challenges the ideals of a 1940s or 1950s woman who is expected to behave and project restraint. Though Ellen comes from breeding she still lacks the social construct of being timid or submissive. As Glen Robie informs us, “Ellen always wins.”

Both Ellen’s mother and stepsister seem almost resolved to the idea that Ellen will always get what she wants, her strength and deviant (non-conformist) streak is a force to be reckoned with. Margaret and Ruth also subtly give away their belief that it was Ellen’s demanding possessiveness of her father, that might have put a strain on him, as well as the entire family and having been just too much for him, causing his eventual death.

It is made clear that Ruth has developed an attraction to Dick. He listens as she plays a lovely classical piece on the piano. He greets her, “Hello” Ruth answers, Hello Ellen’s gone for a walk” Dick-“How’d you know”
Ruth-“Oh I’m quite psychic.” Dick-“And is your sister psychic too?” Ruth says, “Oh yes much more than I am. Only I’m not her sister.” Dick confused, “You’re not?” She tells him, “No I’m her cousin, I’ve lived with the family ever since I was a child. Mrs Berent adopted me.” Dick excuses himself and walks outside, but Ruth watches after him with a trace of sadness in her eyes as she realizes that Ellen will surely have her way.


Dick takes in the vivid night sky and it’s clear air. He meets Margaret Berent outside seemingly doing the same.

Margaret Berent-“In all fairness I must confess the nights here do seem more beautiful than they do at Beacon Hill. “
Dick agrees, “Infinitely. I think everything is more beautiful here”

Margaret who’s had a very pensive look on her face since she met the train at the station, is well away of what Dick meant by the word, ‘beautiful’.

With a note of scorn in her voice, “I believe Ellen has gone for a stroll”
“Thank you” he hesitates a bit then continues to walk on looking for Ellen. The wide open expanse of the land is awe inspiring the sound of the crickets are heard as Ruth’s playing begins to fade. And Newman’s strings begin. Dick has found Ellen looking outward upon the vast openness.

“Hello.” “Hello am I intruding?” ‘No not at all.” “I, well I’m afraid I owe you an apology. It was rather clumsy of me at the table to speak of your father ” “That’s alright you couldn’t have known” “You were very close to your father weren’t you?” “Yes we were inseparable From the time I was able to walk we were both happiest when we were together.”

Dick notices that Ellen is wearing an engagement ring. She excuses herself they are getting up at 5am in the morning so she wishes Dick a good night.

It’s now been clarified that Ellen and her mother have taken the trip to Jacinto, New Mexico in order to carry out her father’s funeral. Dick watches in awe, a voyeur at a funeral rite as Ellen framed against the glorious sky performs a primal ceremony while astride her horse, as she scatters her father’s ashes along a mountain ridge, a sacred land only they two loved and shared, referred to as “the front lawn of heaven.”

In the morning Ellen begins her ritual and as writer Jeanine Basinger describes she exudes an ‘enigmatic mask’ as she with determination, spreads her father’s ashes among the land like a warrior casting the contents of the urn from side to side. Alfred Newman’s score is an almost intimidating tidal wave of strings. Newman’s score now accompanies Ellen’s movements with bold horns and orchestral strings to support her mighty galloping, all these elements possess a strident texture.

Margaret and Ruth watch on as well as Ellen holding her father’s funeral urn like a Valkyrie. The sky surreal purples and blues add the mythical sensibility. Dick is enrapt with the vision of Ellen — who appears like a mythic warrior astride her horse, and once again inverting the powerful deviation from strong male figure framed instead as a strong female figure in command of the narrative. This is Ellen’s story, not Dick’s.

Ellen-“Thank you for coming to the funeral this morning.” Dick-“You knew I was there?” Ellen-“Yes I saw you as I rode by” Dick-“I hope you don’t think it was just curiosity.” Ellen- “No I understand. I’m glad you were there.” Dick-“So am I. I’ll never forget it.”

Ellen tells Dick that she and her father had a pact that whoever died first would scatter the ashes along the ridge, relating to him their belief that “people you love don’t really die.”  This is almost hinting that with Dick, he is the reincarnated love for her father.

Dick learns that she and her father were “inseparable… From the time I was able to walk, we were both happiest when we were together.”

Coming back to Rancho Jacinto, Ellen asks Dick if he’s forgiven her yet for ridiculing his novel. She tells him that she became involved with one of the characters from the novel–him. Dick explains that the book isn’t about him, but she disagrees, “Every book’s a confession, my father use to always say. Cause you have to read between the lines.” Dick asks, “And did you?” Ellen says “yes”, and he asks her to tell him what sort of man she thinks he is. “You’re a bachelor. Thirty years old. You were born and raised in Boston…” She goes on to tell him details of his life. He can’t believe she got all that from reading her book. She tells him that she read the dust jacket. In an eerie foretelling Dick says, “You know if you lived in Salem a hundred years ago they would have burned you.”

They make pleasant conversation until Ellen becomes a bit more focused on Dick, as he realizes that she expected him to come to the ridge that night looking for her. She tells him,“Yes, and you came didn’t you…” It’s a chilling moment as the revelation that Ellen is somewhat of a witch, who has a dominance to summon what she desires. With that, she bids him goodnight leaving him standing there a bit stunned and captivated.

There is a contrast between the portrayal of Ellen who commands the night, seemingly back lit by a deeper color scheme, a darker force in the story, and the lightness of her stepsister Ruth as illustrated the next morning while Dick sits down to write, Ruth is cutting the roses on the arbor. She is lit by the daylight, caring for the earth and things that grow. A friendship forms.

Dick is distracted from writing, Ellen comes popping up from the water, he tells her he’s been thinking about her all morning. And that he hates her fiancé Russell Quinton. He notices that she isn’t wearing Quinton’s engagement ring. She tells him she’s taken it off– forever.

After only a few days that Ellen spends with Dick, she decides to call off her engagement to soon to be district attorney Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) who arrives in Jacinto immediately after getting the brush off telegram.

Ellen’s jilted fiancé Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) shows a quiet indignation and despair while letting Ellen know that he’ll never truly give up on her. Ellen seems shocked to see him, after she sends him a telegram that their love affair is over and that she’s marrying Dick.

Ellen obviously rattled because Quinton’s presence puts a dent in her celebratory mood, asks him why the rush to visit. Russell Quinton condescendingly says-“I wanted to be among the first to congratulate you on your forthcoming marriage.”

Ellen “Well we hadn’t planned on announcing it for a while, but since you let the cat out of the bag… darling this is Russell Quinton.” She turns back to Quinton and introduces Dick. “My fiance Richard Harland.” Dick looks disturbed. Obviously he knew nothing about their engagement. The awkward announcement in front of the entire family is Ellen’s first real display of her controlling, possessive nature. Dick goes to shake Quinton’s hand, but he ignores him and asks to be alone with Ellen, while the family happily congratulates Dick.

Russell Quinton-“I don’t understand Ellen, I always knew you’d never marry me while your father was still alive. But after he died I thought, well I thought there might be a chance.”

Ellen with a stroke of cruelty in her voice-“I’m in love, we intend to get married at once. Tomorrow. Don’t look so downcast. I’ll still be able to vote for you.”

Russell Quinton-“I want you to know that I was in love with you. I’m not a man who loves often Ellen. I love once.” Ellen “Thank you Russ. That’s quite a concession.” Russell Quinton- “I loved you. And I’m still in love with you.” Ellen coldly “That’s a tribute.” Russell Quinton- “And I always will be. Remember that.” Ellen glares coldly up at him -“Russ, is that a threat?” Russell leaves without saying another word.

Now with Ellen’s assertive way, abruptly introducing Dick as her ‘fiance’ he soon after addresses the impromptu announcement of hers. But she pours forth her satin charm and asks him to marry her, and well, who could resist Gene Tierney, those glistening eyes and that slight overbite, (gulp)… Before Dick can finish his sentence, “Why you unpredictable little…” She embraces Dick, and tells him “And I’ll never let you go. Never, never, never.”

A seemingly sweet gesture on Ellen’s part that has a completely self serving and eventual nefarious underlying motivation–she suggests that she and Dick forget their honeymoon and let a cottage in Warm Springs, Georgia. This is where Dick’s younger brother Danny is recovering from polio now, convalescing there at a Sanitarium. Ellen figuring that the sooner she tries to help rehabilitate and hands on fix Danny’s dependency on Dick, the sooner she’ll gain total control of their relationship. Keeping Dick all to herself, with Danny out of the picture.

Danny sleeping out in the fresh air, is awakened to see his big brother Dick whom he idolizes. The two brothers hug and seem exhilarated to see each other again. Off screen Ellen says, “May I come in?” placing herself on the outside of their relationship, making it clear that she is already pathologically jealous of Dick’s attention toward Danny.

Dick and Ellen take a cottage close to the Sanitarium. Playing house.

Ellen-“I have no intention of hiring a cook, or a housekeeper nor any other servants.” Dick laughs, “You mean for the present.” Ellen says, “Never.” 

Now married, Ellen doesn’t want anyone else to be the one to do anything for Dick but her. “I don’t want anyone else but me to do anything for you.” She also tells him, “Besides, I don’t want anybody else in the house but us.” Dick asks, “Ever?” While it appears to be playful banter she means it when she tells him, “Ever.”

Dick doesn’t realize that this isn’t an adoring quality of Ellen’s, it’s going to be a suffocating darker side to her that starts to reveal itself.

Struck by her intoxicating beauty Dick doesn’t seem to pick up on the dangerous edge of her frighteningly intimidating prowess. He is taken in by Ellen’s persuasive charm only to eventually learn that she is not only possessive of his attentions, but is in fact obsessed with him. The very thing that initially drew Ellen to Dick was his resemblance to her father. Reminiscent of the relationship she had with her father, where they both shut out her mother and step sister while they carried on their own strong private bond.

Ellen spends time with Danny, seemingly interested in everything she can learn about Dick and wondering when the youth will be able to go back to boarding school. Danny has absolutely fallen for Ellen’s charms. Danny also asks about Dick, but she tells him he’s working hard on his book and can’t be interrupted. Ellen has convinced Danny to keep it a secret that they’ve been working on his getting out the wheelchair, and walking. Again, she believes that the sooner he’s physically independent the sooner she and Dick can be alone.

Dick is so excited to see Danny walking. Danny tells him, “Now we can, all three of us, go to Back of the Moon. Can’t we, can’t we Dick?” Dick emphatically“You bet we can, you know we can!”

Suddenly Ellen’s expression tells all.

Ellen, feeling trapped, goes to see Dr. Mason (Reed Hadley) to try and convince him that going to Maine wouldn’t be beneficial to Danny’s well being. Pretending that she would love to have him along, but seeing it as dangerous for Danny. Dr. Mason doesn’t see the problem. But she tries to say that it’s too remote, and wild and rugged. That the facilities are limited, not a town nearby. Not even a telephone in case they need to reach a doctor.

Dr. Mason-“His progress is remarkable. I don’t know how you did it, but you practically willed that boy to walk.”

Admitting that in part, with Dick needing to work on his book, she will be left with the responsibility of looking after Danny. She explains that she gave up her honeymoon so her husband could see his brother. The burden has already been on her, spending hours at the hospital everyday. But she is glad to do it, it is no sacrifice at all, she loves Danny. She tries to paint herself as nurturing and authentically invested in the boy’s well being.

The embodiment of her smiling darkly piqued rumination bubbles at the surface as Dr. Mason disagrees with her, Ellen slips, she gives away her insensitivity, her resentments and her irritations, swiftly decrying –“But after all, he’s a cripple!”

Dr. Mason is visibly disturbed by her statement. But she tries to cover for her insensitive remark, saying that she didn’t mean it. Ellen tells Dr. Mason that she wants him to tell her husband, that it would be best if Danny stayed at Warm Springs. But he tells her that it isn’t true, that it would be much better for him to go to Back of the Moon, Maine. They argue back and forth, Dr. Mason insisting, “Why don’t you tell him!” but she cannot continue her bargaining as Dick enters the office. She quickly shifts gears, “Oh darling I have such wonderful news. Dr. Mason has just consented to let Danny come with us to Back of the Moon.” Ellen even picks up the phone to be the first to tell Danny. As Dr. Mason looks on in disbelief, she has just exposed her duplicity to an outsider.

Ellen just cannot settle into the idea of sharing Dick with anyone. She sees herself as vibrant and an ideally athletic self, loathing all weakness, the idea that Danny is a crippled adds another layer of indignation to her plans to keep Dick to herself. She will not play nurse maid to a weakling. She begins a deep dislike for Danny’s presence and intrusion into her world with Dick. Ellen has no use for anyone other than the object of her desire, first that would be her father and now it is Dick. She tells Dick that she would love it at the cabin , “if it weren’t so crowded.”

She eventually makes it clear that she dislikes Leick Thorne (Chill Wills), the Back of the Moon’s long time caretaker and Dick’s friend, whom in one scene she tells an eerie dream to about Danny drowning in the lake, with details that hint at things to come.

Dick makes the mistake of inviting her mother and stepsister Ruth to visit, and so Ellen becomes like a caged animal, and her obvious tension continues to grow now having not only Thorne and Danny around her. She begins to exhibit a type of claustrophobia that causes her to become enraged at the group while she watches her family enjoy themselves, laughing and singing quaint folk songs around the fireplace. Ellen feels utterly invaded.

Ellen’s mother Margaret has a few quiet resentments of her own, mainly being shut out of her own marriage to a husband who adored his daughter more. While Ellen is stoking the fire, Margaret enlightens her on Quinton’s success as D.A. who now has a potential run as Governor. A passive aggressive dig at Ellen’s mistreatment of Russell Quinton, hinting at her as having failed as a woman to grab a man of means and power.

While Ruth wants to romp through the woods looking for wild Wisteria. Thorne excitedly offers to show her where some grows, when Ellen jumps in and rains on the party. “I’m afraid Thorne won’t have time for that, he has his own work to do.”

To break the tense silence in the room, Danny shows everyone a trick with his crutches that Thorne has taught him, but it stumbles off his foot and smacks the ground, causing Ellen to storms off to her bedroom.

Ellen brushing her hair tries to pretend that there’s nothing wrong. Dick confronts her telling her that since her mother and Ruth have arrived she’s been acting “like a shrew.”

Finally Dick becomes cognizant of Ellen’s unstable behavior and criticizing  her behavior, calling it “beastly” the way she has treated her lovely family, not understanding why she is behaving so coldly to her “own people.” But Ellen has no “people” in her life. The only one that is of importance to her is, Dick.

Ellen is so wildly jealous she even accuses Dick of being in love with Ruth.

Ellen-“I keep forgetting you can’t draw a deep breath without being heard all over the house!… Let’s change the name of the place from Back Of The Moon to Goldfish Manor.”

Dick-“What’s happened to you, you’re deliberately whipping yourself into a fit of hysterics.”

“I love you so… I love you so, I can’t bear to share you with anybody.”  Ellen’s exclamations of love begin to wear Dick down until Ellen’s love doesn’t mean anything to him anymore. She manages to chase her mother and Ruth away. Now all that is left is Dick’s oldest and dearest friend, the caretaker Thorne who is now sleeping in the boathouse and of course there’s still poor sweet Danny.

Ellen Berent the classic film sociopath who also possesses a pure form of fatal attraction in the true sense, is explained away in the provincial sense by her bitter mother Margaret who apologizes for her daughter’s behavior this way, “There’s nothing wrong with Ellen. It’s just that she loves too much.” A premonition of Ellen’s obsessive destructive desires. And through her egomania, the object of her love must naturally feel that exclusive love for her as well… or else!

In much the same way Jean Simmons’ character Diane Tremayne loved her father just a tad too much, Ellen also had the same obsessive love for her now deceased father, the similarity between the two men, fathers is not lost in both narratives.

One of the most shocking and unemotionally chilling murder scenes in noir, especially done in it’s vibrant earthy colors– in the light of Maine’s afternoon sun and Tierney’s inhumane reserved expression, as Danny struggles for air, going under several times until–nothing.

 

Danny at Ellen’s direction has secretly been practicing to swim full lengths of the lake in order to surprise Dick. The boy begins to tread in the icy water so excited to show Dick the progress he’s been making with Ellen. She lures Danny out onto a row boat then encouraging him to go farther out in the lake even though he starts to show signs of tiring. Danny gets a cramp in his leg and begins to go under. Ellen sits quietly, coldly watching him drown in the lake under her dark sunglasses, then once she’s sure he’s under for the last time, she begins to scream for help. Danny drowns. Dick is nearby walking in the woods.

She has just removed an obstacle to her having Dick all to herself, believing that Dick won’t be effected by the loss of his younger brother. Dick however responds to Danny’s death by pulling away from Ellen, not writing nor wanting to be at the cabin.

Ruth drops the idea that perhaps if Dick had a child of his own, he might find happiness again, and of course Ellen is willing to try this if it will bring Dick back to her. But she cannot maintain this new approach to holding onto Dick for too long before the unborn child begins to infringe on her exclusive love and her freedom. Having a baby proves to be yet another potential obstacle between them, which promises to distract Dick’s love away from her once again.

Getting pregnant in order to bring Dick back to her is merely another manipulated plot for Ellen, but the idea wears thin very quickly…

Ellen becomes irate when her mother, Dick and Ruth refurnish her father’s old laboratory into a baby nursery. A room that was at one time her nursery, before it was her father’s lab. Calling Dr. Freud… we have a woman who is conflicted by latent infantile dependence on care and masculine power and independence that form the psychosis when she now faces becoming a mother herself.

Ellen even resents Ruth whom she doesn’t even consider a sister at all. Her suspicion that Dick and Ruth are in love drives her to distraction. She is convinced they are in love with each other.

Leave Her to Heaven is superbly written and directed. It is glamorous and as much as it is a psychological thriller it is also a consummate woman’s picture, when viewed as a weak man torn between two extremely opposite kinds of women.

Of course the previous chilling scene where Gene Tierney’s character Ellen, sits coldly, quietly wearing her dark sunglasses in the rowboat as Danny struggles to stay afloat calling out to her until he finally goes under the water and drowns in the icy lake. That scene packs a wallop, but the next scene is yet another stunner in the way Ellen ritualistically frees herself of another unwanted obstacle.

Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent here with Dr. Saunders (Gene Lockhart) who tells her she needs bed rest.

She is jealousy of the child she hasn’t yet given birth to, fearing that even their own child will take Dick’s attention away from her. She also resents the baby because it takes over her body, forces her to be on a special diet, to take bed rest and limit her activity while Dick goes off with Ruth.

“Tell me, has he found a nickname for you yet?… He used to call me Patchouli.” Ellen taunts Ruth with her jealous insinuations.

Ellen tells Ruth that she and Dick never needed anything else, like a baby. She confesses to Ruth, “Look at me, I hate the little beast. I wish it would die.” Ruth asks how she could say such wicked things. Ellen replies, “Sometimes, the truth is wicked.” She sees the baby as ruining her beautiful body, and literally trapping her—referring to it as a “beast” she says truthfully while standing in front of her mirror.

Jacques Siclier writes in his “Misogyny in Film Noir” in Perspectives on Film Noir  calls Leave Her to Heaven “the most misogynistic Hollywood production since The Maltese Falcon.”

As Marlisa Santos says in The Dark Mirror “There is an undeniably grotesque quality to Ellen particularly as she prepares to make her fall, she joyously dons high heeled satin slippers, a matching silky peignoir, and painstakingly appliers her makeup, as if she were a bride readying herself on her wedding night; she is, in fact hoping for a rebirth of herself and her love with Dick. She is never more powerful than when she stands at the head of the stairs, as the camera shifts to a glassy-eyed close up while she contemplates the height of her fall. Hateful though she may seem, Ellen’s delusions spring from female frustrations that are all too understandable-frustrations that, though wildly exaggerated here, convey enough truth to make her not entirely detestable…{…}…Ellen voices the sentiments regarding pregnancy that no “normal’ woman is supposed to feel : anger at losing a slender body and a feeling of parasitic subjection to a creature growing inside of her. If these sentiments are taken to be monstrous, then of course the film can be seen as particularly misogynistic. If they, instead, are taken to be elements of Ellen’s particular power, more complex than those of many noir femme fatales, then perhaps not. ”

As Silver & Ward point out, Ellen is like an alien in a world she doesn’t fit into. Psychoanalysis supports the film’s title as not judging Tierney’s character as completely evil, but more mentally ill, and that a higher judge should evaluate her deeds. Taking the murders out of the equation, going a bit further, Ellen is railing against a world that does not appreciate her independent streak and strength– who pushes the normative role of wife, mother and handmaiden.

They refer to director Stahl’s vision of Ellen Berent as a “super-real, emotionally alive” woman who is surrounded by unimaginative men, and that she might viewed as unnatural or sick, but Stahl has framed her as a “profoundly provocative” character who happens to be a murderess, while hinting at a wild “inner tension” and “complexity” that the other characters in the film don’t seem to realize. Even Vincent Price’s character Quinton appears in the film as non-sympathetic but rather a predatory male.

Ellen performs a ritual, once she decides to rid herself of the unborn child. Picking out the perfect ensemble, putting on a dab of perfume behind each ear, and red lipstick. She is taking back her self-esteem and sense of self. Then when she is ready for the moment… Ellen flings herself down the grand carpeted staircase in her pale blue negligee and house slippers (costumes by Kay Nelson Miracle on 34th Street 1947, Gentleman’s Agreement 1947, Call Northside 777 (1948) A Letter to Three Wives 1949), causing her to miscarry, making it look like an accident.

Again the careful use of color as symbolism is highlighted when the film flashes forward to a few months later where Ellen is wearing a blood-red swimsuit and accentuated red lips by make up artist Ben Nye illustrating her savage –merciless essence.   

Of course the film makes use of opposites –the good girl, Ruth, who is honest, modest, gentle and sane, and the bad woman Ellen, who is devious, unbalanced, obsessive and homicidal… The other symbolization used is how Ruth makes things grow as she loves and tends to her garden where as Ellen kills things… The contrast between them is framed by the camera as Ruth is lit by sunshine, handling flowers. And Ellen is followed & surrounded by deep shadows of rich colors.

After the death of their unborn baby, Dick is completely immune to Ellen’s pleadings of love.

He has been spending more and more time with Ruth who is the polar opposite of Ellen, this helps to clear his mind of the dark dream he has been asleep within. He dedicates his new book to Ruth “The girl with the hoe” and Ellen becomes furious. Ellen doesn’t even hide her rage with her usual coy and manipulative manner. Her once intoxicating hold on him, her scent of “Patchouli” has worn off. To Dick, Ellen is only a cold blooded murderess.

“I love you so I can’t bear to share you with anybody!” decries Ellen.

Ellen orchestrates another plan that will attempt to hold Dick and Ruth hostage, from beyond the grave. First she writes to her old beau D.A. Russell Quinton who has never stopped loving her. She asks for his help, making him believe that she is in danger. To the very last Ellen exudes her destructive force.

Ellen takes poison from the garden shed used by Ruth and dies, making it look like Ruth and Dick have murdered her. Her last words to Dick on her deathbed are “I’ll never let you go, Richard,” trying to ruin both their lives and control Dick from her grave! It’s a subcategory of noir psychopaths which involves pathologically jealous characters orchestrating vengeful punishments after their own deaths!

Ruth and Dick are on trial for murdering Ellen. Quinton does his best to prosecute the couple. All the evidence has been planted by Ellen before she took the poison, so that her death will point to her stepsister and Dick. Dick delivers a testimony that manages to save Ruth from jail, but he also incriminates himself as an accessory to Ellen’s crimes. He is found guilty and serves two years in prison as an accessory to the crime for not having revealed Ellen’s criminal negligence. But Ellen has not won after all. “Ellen had lost… the only time she didn’t come out first.” Dick and Ruth do come together in the end, free from Ellen’s pathologically jealous and murderous nature.

Ellen has ironically sacrificed herself to the greater cause of her insatiable desires, nearly destroying all she professed to love in the wake of her insane obsession. Her dangerous possessiveness tried to reach out beyond the boundaries of her physical life, undeniably scarring the lives of everyone close to her, in life and potentially in death. But consider this… Ellen took her own life, in a way, she wouldn’t allow even the law to have that privilege. Ellen does rule over her own life in that way…

From Jeanine Basinger’s A Woman’s View-How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960

“Tierney is shown riding a horse, her father’s ashes inside an urn she carries. As she scatters the ashes across a wild landscape in the mountains, she moves the urn from side to side, her face an enigmatic mask, her image one of power and control. (This scene struck me the same way. Ellen is enigmatic and almost warrior like, showing a dynamic strength or inner force that is almost too austere & definitely frightening!) She is awesome in her beauty but cold and scary, and she is a dynamically moving figure instead of a framed portrait like Crain (of simple kindness and delicate beauty)

From Femme Fatale: Feminism, Film Theory and Psychoanalysis by Mary Ann Doane: “In Leave Her to Heaven (John Stahl 1945), the female protagonist’s (Gene Tierney’s) excessive desire and over possessiveness are signaled from the very beginning of the film by her intense and sustained stare at the major male character, a stranger she first encounters on a train. The discomfort   her look causes is graphically depicted. The Gene Tierney character is ultimately revealed to be the epitome of evil-killing her husband’s crippled younger brother, her unborn child, and ultimately herself in an attempt to brand her stepsister as a murderess in order to insure her husband’s future fidelity.”

Gene Tierney whom I’ve always attributed such grace and gentility flips that persona and is masterful as the icy & enigmatic Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven… And though she manages to create a perfect 1950s psychopathic villain — Tierney still brings me to tears with her portrayal of widow Lucy Muir in The Ghost & Mrs. Muir 1947.

To me she’ll always be the eternally beautiful, believable & benevolent star of the silver screen…

It’s been deadly fun times here at The Last Drive In! Thanks to one of the greatest Blogathons and their hosts!

I’ll see you real soon folks –Yours truly, Joey

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13 thoughts on “Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

    1. Thanks so much Patricia! Time after time, I say to myself, keep it simple and to the point. But as I begin to delve into these subjects that ‘tantalize’ me I just can’t help myself!!! So many images and ideas flood my head and I find myself taking that long train to The Last Drive In ville… You are so right about their place in film as consummate villainesses. And I love that -“We simple cannot look away” Exactly!!! Cheers Joey

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  1. Joey, this is a terrific villainous Double Header! Like Caftan Woman said, your thoroughness is impressive. Even though I’ve not seen Angel Face, I feel like I have now, thanks to your description – and that’s a good thing! You’ve made me want to see it ASAP.

    Also loved your analysis of Leaver Her to Heaven. I keep thinking I need to read the book, and you’ve prompted me to search for it in the library.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon with these two “poisonous” ladies. This was a real treat to read. :)

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    1. Ruth! Thanks once again for letting my join in the villainous fun times! You know, it makes me want to read his book as well, to see how he paints Ellen’s character. Tierney was masterful at summoning up such a cold blooded soul. It’s to her credit as I’ve always seen her as the epitome of grace and goodness in film… Have you seen her in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir… Oh my what a film. Get out the tissues. Glad it was a treat. I need to tear into all the great contributions to the Blogathon… so many so many–Cheers Joey

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  2. I love both of these actresses and their movies. When looking at their careers as a whole, I think what I love about them most is that they can play evil characters as you have described here yet they can also play good characters. Not all actors/actresses can do that.

    I invite you to add your post to this week’s The Classic Movie Marathon Link Party. http://classicmovietreasures.com/the-classic-movie-marathon-link-party-5/

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    1. Elaine–You’re absolutely right! both actresses have done wonderful jobs manifesting such dark female figures when they’ve been amazing playing loving roles as good women overall… It’s a testament to their ability. Thanks for the invite to the movie marathon party! Cheers Joey

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  3. I am a big fan of Leave Her to Heaven and Gene Tierney and really enjoyed reading your post as well. Somehow it will never cross my mind to identify Ellen with the hard-core Villain, because when I watch the film I always imagine this woman with an affliction. Terrible, terrible deeds she does, but immense and irrational jealousy is really a strong component of the story.

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    1. Thanks so much. I would agree with you about Ellen not being a villain in the conventional sense. Both Gene and Jean’s anti-heroines were disturbed by their over-possessive narcissism that fixated on the object of their affection with irrational jealous with deadly results. There is an element of sympathy I think, and I believe and I even went as far as saying that Ellen in Leave Her to Heaven could be considered quite a woman out of her element. Not to forgive her deeds, but to at least validate her personal prowess and independence as being misunderstood and out of everyone else’s league. Cornell Wilde’s character just seems like a limp noodle. –Thanks so much for stopping by-Cheers Joey

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  4. My gosh! You really did some great work here. I love both Jean Simmons and Gene Tierney (and Jeanne Crain too). I always thought a double feature of “Shadow of a Doubt” featuring Joseph Cotton as the male incarnation of evil and “Leave Her to Heaven” as the female incarnation of evil, would be interesting. Two chilling film villains for the price of one. But Jean Simmons is just as much a villain (maybe more so) than Tierney. This was a fascinating read!

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    1. Stephen your double feature sounds like a great pairing as well! I just watched Shadow of a Doubt recently and still think Joseph Cotten’s Merry Widow Killer is as evil as they come! Thanks so much for stopping by and your kind words-Cheers Joey

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  5. Two of the very best–characters, villains (male or female), performances–so glad they got this treatment. Love all the images you always include and love that you always make time to join our villain-fest!! Thanks so much!

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