The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

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The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
StrangeLoveofMartha.jpg
movie poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Byron Haskin (uncredited)[1]
Hal B. Wallis (uncredited)[2]
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by Robert Rossen
Robert Riskin (uncredited)
Based on Love Lies Bleeding 
by John Patrick
Starring Barbara Stanwyck
Van Heflin
Lizabeth Scott
Kirk Douglas
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Victor Milner
Edited by Archie Marshek
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
July 24, 1946 (US)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a black-and-white film noir released in the United States in 1946, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott and featuring Kirk Douglas in his film debut. The movie is based on the short story "Love Lies Bleeding" by playwright John Patrick – using the pseudonym Jack Patrick – and was produced by Hal B. Wallis. The film was directed by Lewis Milestone from a screenplay written by Robert Rossen and Robert Riskin, who was not credited.

The film was entered into the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.[3] In 1974, it fell into the public domain in the United States due to the copyright owner's failure to renew the copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[4]

Plot[edit]

On a rainy night in 1928 in a Pennsylvania factory town called Iverstown, Martha Ivers (Janis Wilson), thirteen years old, is trying to escape from the guardianship of her wealthy, domineering aunt. Her friend, the street-smart, poor Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman), comes for her through her bedroom window, but Martha's aunt catches them. While Sam slips out unnoticed, Martha hits Mrs. Ivers on the head, causing her to fall down the long staircase and die. Though Sam saw nothing, the event was witnessed by Walter O'Neil (Mickey Kuhn), the son of Martha's tutor (Roman Bohnen), known as Mr. O'Neil. Martha lies about the incident to Mr. O'Neil, and Walter supports her.[5]

Mr. O'Neil suspects what happened but presents Martha's version of events to the police, that an intruder is responsible; he makes use of his knowledge by having her marry his son. When the police identify a former employee of the aunt as the murderer, the two O'Neils and Martha help convict him; he is punished by hanging.[5]

Eighteen years later, the older O'Neil has died. Walter (now played by Kirk Douglas) is the district attorney, while Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) has used her inheritance from her aunt to build a large business empire. Their marriage is one-sided; he loves her, but she does not love him.

Sam (Van Heflin), now a drifter and gambler, stops in the small town by chance to have his car repaired after an accident. While waiting for repairs, at his old home, now a boarding house, he meets Antonia "Toni" Marachek (Lizabeth Scott), who has just been released from jail. She is later picked up for violating her probation by not returning to her hometown. Sam goes to see Walter, to see if he can use his influence to get her released.

Walter is convinced Sam has returned with blackmail in mind, giving Walter a motive to run Sam out of town. When Martha reacts with joy to the news of Sam's return, Walter's jealousy provides an additional motive. Walter forces Toni to set Sam up. Sam is beaten and driven out of town, but he is too tough to be intimidated. When all else fails, Walter makes a half-hearted attempt to kill Sam himself, but is easily disarmed. Martha then inadvertently blurts out the couple's fears of blackmail, which prove to be groundless: Sam says he did not witness the death. Martha breaks down and laments that he left without her all those years ago, taking with him her only chance for love and freedom.

Sam is torn between his old love and his new. Although he eventually forgives Toni for betraying him, he and Martha spend an idyllic day together, rekindling his feelings for her.

Walter arranges to meet Sam to finally settle matters. Before Sam arrives, Walter gets drunk and Martha finds out about the meeting. When Walter falls down the stairs and is knocked unconscious, Martha urges Sam to kill him. Sam instead brings Walter around. Martha pulls out a gun and threatens to shoot Sam in "self defense" as an intruder. However, Sam gambles that Walter will not back up her story; he turns his back on her and leaves.

Walter embraces and kisses his wife; then he points the gun at her midriff. Oddly relieved, she puts her hand over his hand on the trigger and presses. As she is dying, she defiantly states her name is not Martha Ivers, but Martha Smith. Outside, Sam hears the shot. He runs back toward the mansion, but sees Walter, holding Martha's body, shoot himself. Sam and Toni drive away together.

Cast[edit]

Cast notes

  • This film marked Kirk Douglas' screen début. Producer Hal B. Wallis was on his way to New York to look for new talent when he ran into Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who suggested that he go to a play which featured Bacall's old drama school classmate, Issur Demsky, who later took the name Kirk Douglas.[1] Douglas later wrote in his autobiography that Van Heflin was very helpful to him in his first time on a film set.[6] In contrast to his later, tougher roles, Douglas plays an alcoholic weakling; according to Tony Thomas, "it assured Douglas his future in films".[5]
  • Future film director and producer Blake Edwards had an uncredited bit part as a sailor who has hitched a ride with Sam.

Production[edit]

Director Lewis Milestone left the film for several days in sympathy with a set decorators' strike which was going on at the time. In his absence, the film was directed by Byron Haskin, who did not receive screen credit.[1][7] Stanwyck had considerable influence on how she was lit, and was not shy about putting her fellow actors on notice that she didn't like to be upstaged. When she saw the coin trick Van Heflin had learned – at Milestone's suggestion, to show that Heflin's character was a professional gambler – she informed him to make sure he didn't do it during any of her important lines, since she had a bit of business that would upstage him, if she had to. With that she raised her skirt high and adjusted her garter. The result was that Heflin only used the trick once in a scene with her.[7] Kirk Douglas later wrote that Stanwyck was indifferent to him at first, until at one point she focused on him and told him: "Hey, you're pretty good." Douglas, smarting from having been ignored previously, replied: "Too late, Miss Stanwyck," but the two got on well after that.[1][7]

Six months after the film's release, Milestone gave an interview in which he said he would never work for producer Hal B. Wallis again, because Wallis had wanted re-shoots in order to get more close-ups of Lizabeth Scott. Milestone refused, telling Wallis to shoot them himself, and, according to the director, Wallis did.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d Arnold, Jeremy. "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)" TCM.com
  2. ^ a b Milestone, Lewis interview Los Angeles Sun Mirror (December 8, 1946), reported in "Notes" in the American Film Institute Catalog entry.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  4. ^ Pierce, David (March 29, 2001). Legal Limbo: How American Copyright Law Makes Orphan Films (mp3 in "file3"). Orphans of the Storm II: Documenting the 20th Century. Retrieved 2012-01-05. 
  5. ^ a b c Thomas, Tony (1991). The Films of Kirk Douglas. Carol. pp. 33–36. ISBN 9780806512174. 
  6. ^ Douglas, Kirk (2007) Let's Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning New York: John Wiley. p.21 ISBN 9780470084694
  7. ^ a b c Callahan. Dan. (2012) Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman University Press of Mississippi. pp.152-53 ISBN 9781617031847

External links[edit]