The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

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The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
movie poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone
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.[1] 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.[2] During filming Van Heflin was helpful to Douglas; this being his first time on a film set.[3]


On a rainy night in 1928 in a Pennsylvania factory town called Iverstown, Martha Ivers (Janis Wilson), a young girl yearning to escape from the guardianship of her wealthy, domineering aunt, is caught trying to run away with her friend, the street-smart, poor Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman).

Later that night, Sam comes for her and they agree to try again. When her beloved cat gets loose in the house, Sam goes to retrieve it, but Martha's aunt hears the commotion. Sam slips out unnoticed, but Mrs. Ivers finds the cat on the staircase and attacks it with her cane. Martha grabs the cane and strikes her aunt on the head causing her to fall down the long staircase and die. This is witnessed by Walter O'Neil (Mickey Kuhn), the son of Martha's tutor (Roman Bohnen). Martha lies about the incident to Mr. O'Neil, and Walter supports her.

Mr. O'Neil suspects what happened, but presents Martha's version of events to the police, that an intruder is responsible. We later learn that in the years that follow he dominated her in place of her aunt. He moved into her aunt's home bringing his son and arranged for them to marry. When the police identify a former employee of the aunt as the murderer, The two O'Neils and, crucially, Martha help convict him and he is punished by hanging.

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 that Sam has returned with blackmail in mind. When he observes his wife's joyful reaction to the news, he has an additional motive for running Sam out of town. He 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, but they prove to be groundless: Sam tells her 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 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.[4]
  • Future film director and producer Blake Edwards had an uncredited bit part as a sailor who has hitched a ride with Sam.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ Let's Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning, Kirk Douglas, p21
  4. ^ Arnold, Jeremy. "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)"

External links[edit]