The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
This classic, over-the-top 1946 noir melodrama was Kirk Douglas' first film, playing against what would eventually be his type as Walter O'Neil, the milquetoast husband of a cruel, calculating woman (Barbara Stanwyck), chained to her by a terrible secret that they share. The film kicks off with both as pre-teens, with Martha the abused niece of the wealthiest, most powerful woman in Iverstown. Having tried to run away several times, one night, after she's brought back home, Martha kills her aunt the only witness being her teacher's son Walter. Fast forward 18 years and another childhood pal, Sam Masterson (Van Heflin), returns to town; the pair fear he may know their secret. Now the District Attorney, Walter's a weak man who loves his wife and his wife's money but he can't gain her respect, so he drinks. A lot. Douglas is surprisingly effective in a role so unlike what we would come to expect from him later. Legend has it that he got the part after producer Hal Wallis went to New York seeking new talent and ran into Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who recommended that Wallis see a play in which Douglas had been cast. The star later recalled that his first time in a film was a little rocky, with Stanwyck acting something of a diva and taking a long time to coming around and helping him out. Still, their scenes together are striking, with Douglas turning in a complex performance, standing toe-to-toe with a post-Double Indemnity Stanwyck pulling out all the stops. The picture is also something of a departure for Heflin, famous for his showy, scenery-chewing acting style. Here, he's the standard tough guy returned to the old town, where he runs into a gorgeous ex-con with a heart of gold (Lizbeth Scott) and gets drawn back into Martha's sociopathic need. Written and directed by Lewis Milestone and Robert Rossen, who had previously collaborated on Edge of Darkness (1943) and A Walk in the Sun (1945), the film also boasts a killer noir score by Miklos Rozsa. Occasionally a bit hammy (the early murder scene is rather poorly done), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is still a classic that belongs in the collection of any fan of the genre or of Stanwyck. Paramount's DVD release is a vast improvement over a previous, less lovingly produced disc slapped together by Image Entertainment, which was not only a washed-out mess but reportedly had portions of the film chopped out. This time, the transfer (in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio) is very, very good some specks and scratches are seen on the source-print, but the image is mostly clean, with excellent contrast and detail. The monaural DD 2.0 audio is also very good, in English with optional English subtitles. No extras, keep-case.