November 01, 2015

#Noirvember - The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

I miss #NoirSummer. Since it's now #Noirvember, I'll be watching films noir all month. Yippee! My first choice, made obvious by the graphics, is an old favorite of mine, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

It was 1946 and film noir was everywhere, from low budget quickies to major studio releases. Of course, the studios didn’t realize they were making films noir, since that term had just been coined in 1946 by French film critic, Nino Frank. The noirs of 1946 included: The Killers, The Blue Dahlia, The Big Sleep, Gilda, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Stranger, The Dark Mirror, The Black Angel, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers was an “A” picture from Paramount, produced by Hal B. Wallis. It featured a terrific cast, including Barbara Stanwyck (who’d been in the classic noir, Double Indemnity, two years prior), Van Heflin, smoky-voiced Lizabeth Scott, Judith Anderson, and, in his film debut, a young actor named Kirk Douglas. Also featured in a bit part was the director-to-be, Blake Edwards. The film was based on a short story called "Love Lies Bleeding" by playwright John "Jack" Patrick (The Hasty Heart, The Teahouse of the August Moon, and the screenplays for Three Coins in the Fountain, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, Some Came Running), with a screenplay by Robert Rossen (The Roaring Twenties, Body and Soul, All the King’s Men, The Hustler) and Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Lost Horizon) (Riskin received no credit on the film). The director was the great Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front, The Front Page, Rain, Of Mice and Men, The Red Pony, Ocean’s 11, and the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty). The moody black-and-white photography was by Victor Milner (Design for Living, Union Pacific, Reap the Wild Wind, The Furies, Dark City).

As you might imagine from such a stellar cast and creative team, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a terrific picture with wonderful dialogue, elegant direction, and great performances. But 1946 was an incredibly strong year for movies, with such smash hits as The Best Years of Our Lives, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Yearling, Henry V, The Razor’s Edge, Duel in the Sun, Brief Encounter, The Jolson Story, Notorious, The Spiral Staircase, Anna and the King of Siam, and more, so it’s no wonder that The Strange Love of Martha Ivers got lost in the shuffle. It did manage to sneak in one Academy Award nomination for John "Jack" Patrick (Best Writing, Original Story), but he lost to Clemence Dane for Vacation from Marriage (anyone heard of that one since?).

When Martha Ivers, young, orphaned heiress to a steel mill, is caught running away with her friend, she’s returned home to her aunt, whom she hates. It’s a fateful night that ends in murder. And in classic noir style, that one reckless moment infects everyone’s lives. Threats of exposure, unhappy marriage, a domineering woman and the return of her childhood friend after eighteen years – it’s noir, it’s melodrama, and the whole film crackles with electricity. And perfectly capturing every mood, every character and every situation is the classic score by Miklós Rózsa.

The music for The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is almost a second cousin to Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend, filled with the incredible Rózsa sound of that era. No one did this kind of thing better than Rózsa – he seemed to have a real affinity for these darker tales.

"Prelude/Fugitives" from The Strange Love of Martha Ivers by Miklós Rózsa

"Prelude/Love Theme" from The Strange Love of Martha Ivers by Miklós Rózsa

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
  • Directed by Lewis Milestone, Byron Haskin (uncredited), Hal B. Wallis (uncredited), Richard McWhorter (assistant director)
  • Produced by Hal B. Wallis
  • Written by Robert Rossen, Robert Riskin (uncredited)
  • Based on "Love Lies Bleeding" by John "Jack" Patrick
  • Alternate Titles: Love Lies Bleeding and Strange Love
  • Music by Miklós Rózsa
  • Cinematography by Victor Milner, Neal Beckner (2d cam)
  • Art Direction: Hans Dreier (art director), John Meehan (art director)
  • Set Decoration:  Sam Comer, Jerry Welch
  • Costumes:  Edith Head
  • Make Up: Wally Westmore
  • Sound: Harold Lewis, Walter Oberst , Phil G. Wisdom
  • Special Effects: Farciot Edouart , Gordon Jennings, Paul Lerpae, Jan Domela, Irmin Roberts, Wallace Kelley
  • Edited by Archie Marshek
  • Production Company: Hal Wallis Productions, Inc.
  • Distributed by Paramount Pictures, Inc.
  • Production Dates:   October 2--early December 1945 
  • Release dates: July 24, 1946 (NYC), September 13, 1946 (U.S.)
  • Running time: 116 or 117 minutes

Cast (in credits order)  
  • Barbara Stanwyck as Martha Ivers
  • Van Heflin as Sam Masterson
  • Lizabeth Scott as Antonia "Toni" Marachek
  • Kirk Douglas as Walter O'Neil
  • Judith Anderson as Mrs. Ivers
  • Roman Bohnen as Mr. O'Neil
  • Darryl Hickman as Young Sam
  • Janis Wilson as Young Martha
  • Ann Doran as Bobbi St. John
  • Frank Orth as Hotel Clerk
  • James Flavin as Detective #1
  • Mickey Kuhn as Young Walter
  • Charles D. Brown as McCarthy

Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
  • Gene Ashley as Man (uncredited)
  • Walter Baldwin as Dempsey (uncredited)
  • Bill Burt as Man (uncredited)
  • Gino Corrado as Nightclub Waiter (uncredited)
  • Catherine Craig as French Maid (uncredited)
  • Kernan Cripps as Policeman (uncredited)
  • Sayre Dearing as Craps Shooter (uncredited)
  • Kay Deslys as Deputy Elizabeth Baker, Jail Matron (uncredited)
  • Tom Dillon as Detective (uncredited)
  • William Duray as Waiter (uncredited)
  • Blake Edwards as Sailor (uncredited)
  • Tom Fadden as Cab Driver (uncredited)
  • Chuck Hamilton as Strong Arm Man (uncredited)
  • Betty Hill as Waitress (uncredited)
  • Robert Homans as Gallagher (uncredited)
  • Olin Howland as Newspaper Clerk (uncredited)
  • Gladden James as John (uncredited)
  • Payne B. Johnson as Bellboy (uncredited)
  • John Kellogg as Joe (uncredited)
  • Harry Leonard as Craps Shooter (uncredited)
  • Thomas Louden as Lynch (uncredited)
  • Matt McHugh as Bus Driver (uncredited)
  • Al Murphy as Waiter (uncredited)
  • Bob Perry  as Bartender (uncredited)
  • Ricky Ricardi as Man (uncredited)
  • Cyril Ring as Nightclub Extra (uncredited)
  • Bert Roach as Man Waiting for Friend (uncredited)
  • Tommy Ryan as ? (uncredited)
  • Tom Schamp as Policeman (uncredited)
  • Amzie Strickland as Nightclub Patron (uncredited)
  • Max Wagner as Jake (uncredited)

Did You Know?

The car that Sam Masterson (Van Heflin) drives into Iverstown at the beginning of the film is a 1942 DeSoto Custom Convertible.

Van Heflin was on loan from M-G-M for this film, which marked his return to the screen after serving three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

In her comments on the film, columnist Louella Parsons said that Paramount had "unearthed themselves another wonder boy." She was referring to Kirk Douglas.

The LADN review said that Douglas' part "should establish [him] in Hollywood permanently."

The HR reviewer remarked that Douglas' "acting has qualities of more than passing interest, but there is a danger that he may be typed."

The DV review stated that Kirk Douglas "evinces high promise for future as a dramatic actor."

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.

Douglas wrote in his autobiography that Van Heflin was very helpful to him in his first time on a film set.

Director Lewis Milestone is quoted in an article in the Los Angeles Sun Mirror on December 8, 1946 as having said that he would never make another picture with producer Hal Wallis because Wallis wanted to reshoot scenes in this film for more close-ups of Lizabeth Scott; Milestone reportedly told Wallis to shoot them himself--which he did.

Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir
Episode 34: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

"The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" on Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir: Episode 34 - Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards

Van Heflin, Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas and Lizabeth Scott all turn in stellar performances in this 1946 gem. For much of its running time the film lacks many of the visual hallmarks of the noir style, but Robert Rossen's pitch-perfect script, delivered with such subtlety by the fine cast, builds a dark backstory that makes what might have been a standard melodrama into a noir masterpiece: the drama of a few individuals is transformed into a parable of post-war America. Add Edith Head's gorgeous costumes and Miklos Rozsa's superlative score, and you have one of the most enjoyable films ever made. This podcast is brought to you by Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards, of To leave a comment on this episode, or make a donation to the podcast, please visit Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir at

Daily Dose of Darkness #23: Iverstown (Scene from The Strange Love of Martha Ivers)
Curator's Note: Today's Daily Dose takes place in the fictional city of Iverstown. For postwar American audiences, they would be familiar with a rapidly growing industrial city like Iverstown, and it would resonate with them as a fitting locale for a film noir. As cultural historian Greil Marcus writes his book The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice (2007): "The film noir city seems to be Manhattan or Los Angeles. At the heart of the form, whether in the movies or in the crime novels inspired by them, just as the most emblematic noir story is that of the soldier back in his hometown after the war to find the place a swamp of corruption, in the Forties and Fifties the most emblematic noir location is a small, vaguely Midwestern city. It is Midwestern culturally even if not exactly geographically—'They say native Californians all come from Iowa,' Walter Neff says in Raymond Chandler's script for Double Indemnity—as in Chandler's The Little Sister, where Los Angeles is at least half Manhattan, Kansas, a place Philip Marlowe finds far more terrifying than anything in Hollywood. It's Dashiell Hammett's Poisonville, his barely disguised Butte, Montana; the grimy, striving spot where Jim Thompson liked to set his murder novels; the sort of town that in the movies appears in The Big Heat or The Asphalt Jungle. In the Twenties you would have found it in the cities where the first, vagabond professional football leagues appeared and disappeared—Pottsville, Pennsylvania; Decatur, Illinois; Duluth, Minnesota; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Buffalo, New York; and, in Ohio, Canton, Akron, and Dayton—the vaudeville circuit, or, as the noir historian Eddie Muller once put it, each stop 'a town trying to be bigger than it is in all the wrong ways.' It was the pretentious, provincial city with its fancy nightclub and rough roadhouse, imitation mansions and true flophouses, where the most respectable citizen is always the most criminal, a town big enough to get murders written up as suicides and small enough that no one outside the place cares what happens there. Perfectly, this is where you are in Ross Macdonald's 1947 novel Blue City, and with Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, and Kirk Douglas in the 1946 film The Strange Love of Martha Ivers: 'four people,' the critic Manny Farber wrote at the time, 'who have lived cataclysmic, laughterless lives since they were babies.'" Identified in the film as "America's Fastest Growing Industrial City," this earlier scene involves the return of Sam (Van Heflin) to Iverstown. Sam is a figure from the past re-entering the adult lives of Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) and her husband district attorney Walter O'Neill (Kirk Douglas, in his first screen role). Through this film, we get a glimpse of how America was changing in 1946 and how, in a film noir, the "most respectable citizen is always the most criminal." [Curated by Richard Edwards]

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers on the Radio

"The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" on Screen Directors Playhouse: June 23, 1950 - Barbara Stanwyck Director: Lewis Milestone

Review - St. Petersburg Times - September 26, 1946

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Paramount's murder thriller now being shown at the Florida, hits a high level of excitement, suspense and tension. It opens with fear, it closes with the tragic result born of that fear.

Fear and hatred, jealousy and suspicion are its predominant emotions. That there is room for love, decent, kindly love and respect in such a story is its saving grace. It is there, though, and in remembering the strain of the other emotional conflicts, it is all the more effective and forceful for its quieter treatment.

Barbara Stanwyck as Martha Ivers plays the alluring, subtle, strong-willed character forcefully. She inherits some of the ruthless traits, as well as the wealth of her aunt. She dominates her husband, as she was able to dominate him when they were children and she practically dominates the town in which they grew up together. Her attractions as a woman are used for her purposes with all the subtle intrigue a beautiful woman can develop.

Van Heflin as Sam Masterson plays the part of a roving adventurer, a man with a self-reliance born of shifting for himself. He is the rugged match for Walter (Kirk Douglas), married to Martha, and who has risen to power as the district attorney.

Lizabeth Scott as Toni is the fourth in the quartet whose destinies unexpectedly come together for a brief time.

The story is a psychological one. It has been admirably directed by Lewis Milestone, who has made of it a picture that is unforgettable in the succession of "thrillers."

Watch The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers has always struck me as one of the great neurotic melodramas of the forties. In the same league as Humoresque. Both have a noir sensibility, especially in the rigid belief of past as prelude. Greek drama revisited