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Deliberatepixel / Noir Monday: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Noir Monday: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Despite having one of the most ponderous and misleading names in movie history, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a great film noir. I first came across it as a less-than-high-quality VHS tape of it, which I picked up because it was super cheap and I enjoy Barbara Stanwyck. It was a pretty good buy, since it's remained a favorite of mine.

The strongest part of this film is its cast: the aforementioned, wonderful Stanwyck, Van Heflin as the hero, Lizbeth Scott as the hard-luck girl, and Kirk Douglas in his very first role as Stanwyck's overpowered husband. (As a side note, I just learned from Wikipedia that Kirk Douglas's real name is Issur Demsky. I had no idea.)

As with The Dark Corner, one of the things that interests me the most about Ivers is the female characters. They're both rooted in traditional noir figures, but with some progressive touches. Lizbeth Scott is Toni, a tough, been-around-the-block type of girl who tends to get mixed up with the wrong guys - but, of course, she's got a heart of gold. The film is kind to her without covering up her faults, and gives her a second chance by letting her get the good guy - Heflin - at the end.

Babs is much more interesting. She plays the stronger femme fatale angle as the wealthy heiress, industry owner, and wife to Douglas's DA character. She definitely doesn't pull any punches by seducing Sam (Heflin), putting down Toni, or (SPOILER ALERT) eventually revealing her own part in her aunt's long ago death. She also obviously despises her husband and controls him almost completely.

But she also shows pride in her worthier accomplishments. She boasts to Sam about how she took ownership of the tiny factory her father once worked for and more than tripled it in size, providing jobs to most of the town. Her influence in the town, including her support of its businesses and charities, is large. It's rare in noir to find a woman, even a bad one, with so much power and clear advantages, both in materials and attitude, over the significant male characters. When she walks in on Sam and Toni in their adjoining hotel rooms and Sam asks why the front desk let her just walk in, she coolly replies, "I have special privileges in this hotel, Sam. I own it."

The male characters are strong as well, and the story, while a little contrived and overblown in places, overall moves well. The score is lovely, and the ending is happy (unless, like me, you wanted evil Barbara to triumph).

I was almost certain this film was in the public domain, considering the cheapo brand-new copy of it I once bought - and it may very well be, but I can't turn up an online version. You can, however, listen to the excellent Out of the Past podcast episode where they explore the film even more thoroughly.



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