The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

by | Nov 29, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott
Directed by: Lewis Milestone
Studio: Paramount
Video: Full Screen B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Length: 115 min.
Rating: ****

A couple of big draws for this 1946 beautiful black and white film noir
are Kirk Douglas in his first film role and Barbara Stanwyck at her
cold-hearted best. But much more makes this intriguing film well worth
your time.

Though close to two hours, the pace moves along quickly and the script
is fine tuned revealing what we need to know in an economical way. The
plot is sufficiently complex and unpredictable and the character
development involving and rich. Acting is believeable from both the
prinicipals and the supporting cast including the three child actors
whose adult versions are played by the stars later in the film.

It is 1928 as the story begins on a stormy night.  A defiant
teenage girl, Martha Ivers, is determined to leave the household of her
domineering and cruel aunt (Judith Anderson) with the help of a
streetwise urchin type, Sam Masterson.  Plans go awry and on that
same night the aunt meets her demise at the hands of young Martha.
(This happens so early I do not consider it spoiling an important plot
point.)

So unfeeling and mean is the aunt that we do not really give a fig that
young Martha has done her in. When you see what this dreadful woman
does to incur Martha’s fury, you might even applaud her act. (This is a
movie after all. It’s okay to applaud murder.) Though sympathetic to
Martha, we quickly see she is a consummate bitch also in her own
peculiar way.

Martha gets away with murder with the help of Mr. O’Neil, her tutor and
his young son, Walter, who both back up her story for their own
purposes. Now flash forward 18 years: We learn that Martha inherited
millions and the three remained in the mansion together. Mr. O’Neil
died several years ago. Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) is now a civic leader
and industrialist, unhappily married to Walter (Kirk Douglas), a weak
alcoholic and quintessential wimp, clearly an uncharacteristic role for
Kirk Douglas. Walter is about to become district attorney.

Their carefully maintained deception is threatened when Sam, (Van
Heflin) now a successful gambler, re-visits town. A mysterious lovely
lady, Toni Marachek, (Lizabeth Scott) with a questionable past, in some
trouble and in need of rescuing, adds to the intrigue. Vulnerable and
straightforward, Toni is the opposite of the cunning and controlling
Martha.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a fascinating psychological
thriller. It is complex in its exploration of  greed and related
emotions and behaviors, including some interesting paths taken in the
choice of good and evil. An engaging and engrossing experience,
particularly if you are a film noir fan. Highly recommended!

– Donna Dorsett

 

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