Rambling Reviewer, “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

Directed by Lewis Milestone, 1946

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas

It’s time now to walk on the dark side of the street, in a film noir from that great period of the genre in post-World War II America.  Strange things happen behind closed doors and this movie has that in spades. The alternate title for the film was Love Lies Bleeding and that was an apt title. Directed by Lewis Milestone, its cast includes Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, and in his first film role, Kirk Douglas.  Martha (played by Barbara Stanwyck as an adult) keeps running away from the home of her rich and tyrannical aunt. When her aunt insults her father and attacks her cat with her cane, Martha grabs the cane and strikes her aunt in anger, killing her. Martha’s friend Sam the young Van Heflin character is a witness. They were going to run away together but now he goes away alone to join the circus. Martha’s tutor and his son Walter (the Kirk Douglas character) support Martha’s story that it was an intruder that did it. Years later Martha marries Walter, who has become a prosecutor. She has taken over the family mill and has become rich. But then Sam returns to town, now a gambler, and soon meets the lovely parolee Toni Maracek (Lizabeth Scott). And when he goes to meet Walter to get his help for the innocent Toni, Walter thinks that he’s really there to blackmail him about Martha’s murder case. Sam didn’t know they were married until Martha walked in. But the unscrupulous Walter has some tactics of his own. Later at Martha’s house she admits that she had really loved Sam all these years. Now one of these men will have to go. Or is Sam and Toni hatching their own plot? This is just the movie if you like your characters compromised. They didn’t call it film noir for nothing. This was the film debut of Kirk Douglas, who had previously been an actor on Broadway. Lauren Bacall, his drama school friend, had suggested him to producer Hal Wallis for the role. The Daily Variety wrote that Douglas “evinces high promise for future as a dramatic actor.” We’re glad he made it. Actor Van Heflin returned to the screen after serving three years in WW II in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Director Lewis Milestone and producer Hal Wallis had a falling out because Wallis wanted to refilm scenes and kept asking Milestone to shoot more close-ups of Lizabeth Scott. Milestone had finally had enough and told Wallis to shoot them himself – which he did. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers was nominated for Feature Film at the Cannes Film Festival, and for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story for John Patrick.  
Christian Esquevin is a member of the Coronado Island Film Festival Board of Directors, an avid film aficionado, and the creator of the blog Silver Screen Modes which focuses on the fashions and films of classic Hollywood. He is also the author and researcher for a stunning tabletop book Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Labelon fashion designer and icon, Gilbert Adrian, the chief fashion designer for MGM studios from 1928 to 1941.


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