SFIFF: Color her deadly - Page 2

Leave Her to Heaven's strange allure will pull you under
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The symbolism of a high-strung woman riding a horse isn't unique to those films, but in his adaptation of Winston Graham's 1961 novel, Hitchcock even goes so far as to echo, with a slight reversal, Leave Her to Heaven's competitive relationship between Ellen and her adopted cousin — "not my sister," she makes clear — Ruth (Jeanne Crain).

Leave Her to Heaven is a true downer — and feel free to add an extra r to that description. In the 1967 survey Films and Feelings, critic Raymond Durgnat cites it as an example of its era's penchant for "tightlipped misogyny," suggesting Durgnat wasn't a film noir fanatic or a Freudian. The movie's melodrama is classically cruel in the Joan Crawford tradition, built on a story almost sadistically entwined with the lead actress's autobiography. A year or two before shooting, Tierney gave birth to a deaf, blind daughter after contracting measles from someone whom, years later, she discovered was a fan. The film's screenplay grazes this experience with a reference to the mumps — watch Ellen tense up and turn ice-cold when it occurs — and through the character of Danny. If Ellen is one of filmdom's most tragic characters, aspects of Tierney's real life miseries are more unsettling. She underwent shock treatment at least 27 times.

Not exactly funny — and yet there is a truly hilarious coda to Leave Her to Heaven's story. In 1988, the same scenario was remade as TV movie Too Good to Be True, with a lineup too amazing to be believed: Loni Anderson plays the Ellen role, with Patrick Duffy from Dallas as her long-suffering husband, Neil Patrick Harris from Doogie Howser, M.D. as swim-happy Danny, and Julie Harris, a Baldwin brother (Daniel), and Larry "Dr. Giggles" Drake rounding out the cast. If that weren't enough, the teleplay goes so far as to exaggerate the original's most vicious scene by turning what looks like a rescue attempt from above the surface into an act of murder underwater.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN Sat/26, Castro, and Sun/27, PFA.

>SFBG goes to SFIFF 51: our deluxe guide

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