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Paramount Home Video presents
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

"Go ahead and hit me, Sam. I've got it coming." 
- Toni (Lizabeth Scott)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: October 26, 2005

Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas
Director: Lewis Milestone

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:55m:54s
Release Date: October 25, 2005
UPC: 097360452945
Genre: film noir


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B-CB- D-

DVD Review

What a fantastically soapy and moody two hours this is! This is an oddly constructed, structurally unsound, and frequently implausible story, but it's made in such delightfully overheated fashion that you're likely to take lots of guilty pleasure from this tale of small-town recriminations, big fortunes and broken hearts. There's no doubt that the movie has a noir pedigree, but it's not a paradigm of the genre, by any stretch of the imagination—instead, it's filled with bitterness, finger-pointing and paranoia, making it a sort of orgy of schadenfreude. Thank God this isn't happening to me, you'll say, and there had better be enough butter and salt on the popcorn.

All the action is confined to the company burg of Iverstown, and the film opens in 1928, with a brief but necessary prologue: we meet young Martha, heiress to the Ivers fortune, her parents dead, looked after by her evil aunt. Martha wants only to run away with her beau, Sam, who's a charmer, but from the wrong side of the tracks; ratting her out on her latest jailbreak is Walter, the straight-arrow son of Martha's tutor, who sucks up to the lady of the house only because he wants her to pay her boy's way through Harvard. More than just hijinks ensue: Martha takes advantage of her aunt's nasty fall down the stairs to bludgeon the old bat to death, but she's got Sam and Walter as witnesses. What's a girl to do?

Jump ahead sixteen years: Sam comes back to town for the first time since that fateful night, and learns that Martha now controls the family fortune, and is married to Walter, running for re-election as Iverstown D.A.—Martha is reportedly a Lady Macbeth of a wife, though, and her political aspirations for her husband may go as far as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There's something rancid at the heart of this marriage, and both spouses know it; when the only witness to their crime returns, they can assume only that Sam wants to extort all the money he can out of them. He's got higher priorities, though, and it's in silk stockings—Toni is looking for a ride out of town, and she and Sam spark to one another immediately.

That's about forty-five minutes of exposition crammed into a paragraph, and it's only slightly less dizzying while you watch the movie. But it's worth taking the ride, because Lewis Milestone's direction is slinky and nasty, and his cast is crackerjack. Judith Anderson starts it off in style as Martha's hateful aunt; the audience gets in the spirit of things right away, because we're actually pretty happy to see her take a fire poker to the cranium. But it's the central quartet that monopolizes the action, and very prettily, too. Van Heflin as Sam is our hero, a street-smart straight arrow, who, like the rest of us, can succumb to temptation. Barbara Stanwyck, noiriest of noir dames from her Phyllis Dietrichson on down, is a pistol in the title role—Martha starts out innocent, and we watch her more or less transform into her aunt. Heflin's is the traditional Kirk Douglas role in many respects, but Douglas himself is a simpering, callow, ambitious dimwit of a husband as Walter—given his screen persona, you sort of want to see him more involved in the rough and tumble, but he's thoroughly convincing as the self-loathing, alcoholic kept man. Lizabeth Scott's may the toughest role, the gal who falls hard for the new guy in town—she's got to simper, a lot, but with her sloe eyes and smoky voice, she makes the most of it.

These are characters who play it all close to the vest, and secrets tumble out of them like coins from a winning slot machine. Their lives are full of what ifs and might have beens, and they all know that there's something more potent than blackmail: fear of blackmail. On some level, it's a movie about the reverberations of bad choices through the years, but the story is a little too down and dirty for metaphors. Bring along your scorecard to keep it all straight, but this one is a pip. 

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Picture quality looks frequently compromised; the grays get muddy from time to time, and there's a pretty fair amount of scratching on the print.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The frequent heated battles between the characters test the limits of the mono track, on the high end particularly.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Only chapter stops and English-language subtitles.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

This is a movie bursting with great moments and performances, and its emotionally high key helps to compensate for some peculiar and awkward storytelling. "Strange" really is the operative word here, both unfamiliar and creepy—it's noir as soap opera, and very entertaining.

 


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