Thursday, April 7, 2011

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN: limited 3-day engagement in PDX

Portland is in for a treat this weekend as The Hollywood Theatre begins a 3-day run of a newly-restored, 35mm print of Leave Her to Heaven.  For those not in the know, the 1945 feature is one of the more treasured weapons in a film noir buff's arsenal, often referenced as an example of a rococo-like decadence that crept into the genre as it matured.

For starters, Leon Shamroy's (The King and I, Cleopatra) Oscar-winning cinematography is captured in a full-blown, 3-strip Technicolor sheen that trades vibrant hues for the high-contrast, black and white polarity that had all but become the standard in noir cinema.  Additionally, Leave Her to Heaven doesn't strictly adhere to noir tropes, blending sizable doses of melodrama and courtroom spectacle into its overall mix, emerging as a distinctive mélange that fits well outside the cinematic norms of its day.

And the film is packed to the gills with more than enough memorable sequences to hang your enthusiasm upon, including one of the most harrowing examples of dramatized filicide ever committed to celluloid.  Ostensibly a vehicle for 1940s starlet Gene Tierney (Laura, Night and the City), Leave Her to Heaven also features a performance by Cornel Wilde that might come off as corny to some when placed against more modern sensibilities but, nonetheless, achieves a perfect balance between the chill that eventually blows into Tierney's characterization and the blustering heights that Vincent Price (The Fly, The Pit and the Pendulum) reaches for in the film.

And since we mentioned Mr. Price, it's worth noting just how much he does with what is essentially a supporting role in this movie.  The Vincent Price who appears in Leave Her to Heaven is an altogether different beast than the one that most contemporary audiences have come to expect.  This is Price before he became typecast as the voice of horror in a thousand and one b-grade productions, resulting in countless cultural references over the past half century that have unfairly painted him a one-trick pony.

Because of the dissimilarity to the most well-known aspects of his on-screen persona, Price's performance here, playing a spurned lover turned prosecuting attorney, is probably the most pleasurable to engage with on a first-time viewing.  To watch his final interrogation of Wilde's character is to witness the less than lawyer-ly techniques of television's "Perry Mason" (if you'll pardon the Spinal Tap reference) turned up to eleven.

Leave Her to Heaven screens at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, April 8th at 7:15pm and Saturday, April 9th and Sunday April 10th at 2:30pm and 7:15pm.

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