The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLewis Milestone[i]
Written byRobert Rossen[ii]
Based on"Love Lies Bleeding"
by John Patrick
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Starring
CinematographyVictor Milner
Edited byArchie Marshek
Music byMiklós Rózsa
Production
company
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release dates
  • June 13, 1946 (1946-06-13) (London)
  • July 25, 1946 (1946-07-25) (New York City)
Running time
1hr 56min
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$3.25 million (US rentals)[3]

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a 1946 American film noir drama directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, and Kirk Douglas in his film debut. It follows a man who is reunited with his childhood friend and her husband; both the childhood friend and her husband believe that the man knows the truth about the mysterious death of the woman's wealthy aunt years prior. The screenplay was written by Robert Rossen (and an uncredited Robert Riskin), adapted from the short story "Love Lies Bleeding" by playwright John Patrick.

Though Milestone is the film's sole credited director, Byron Haskin temporarily took over directorial duties during production while Milestone participated in a Hollywood set decorators' strike, and the film's producer, Hal B. Wallis, also directed reshoots with Milestone's approval.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers was entered into the 1947 Cannes Film Festival[4] and premiered in London in June 1946, before opening in New York City on July 25, 1946. It received largely favorable reviews from critics, and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Original Motion Picture Story. In 1974, the film entered the public domain in the United States because the claimants did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.

Plot

On a rainy night in 1928 in a Pennsylvania factory town called Iverstown, thirteen-year-old Martha Ivers tries to run away from the guardianship of her wealthy aunt, Mrs. Ivers, with her friend, the street-smart, poor Sam Masterson. She is caught and taken home, where Martha's tutor, Walter O'Neil Sr., presents his timid son, Walter Jr., as the one responsible for Martha's capture. Scolded by her aunt, Martha defiantly states her name is not Ivers, but Smith, her father's name.

During a power failure, Sam comes for her, but Martha's aunt hears her calling to him from downstairs. While Sam slips out unnoticed, Mrs. Ivers starts beating Martha's kitten with her cane. Martha wrestles the cane away from her aunt and strikes her across the head, causing her to fall down the stairs, accidentally killing her. When the power comes back on, Martha lies about the incident to Walter Sr. Even though Walter Jr. saw everything, he backs her up. The greedy Walter Sr. makes it clear to both Walter Jr. and Martha that he knows what happened but that as long as he and his son stand to benefit, he will play along. Sam leaves town.

Seventeen years later, in 1946, Walter Sr. is now dead, and Walter Jr. is now Iverstown's district attorney and is married to Martha, who has used her inheritance to expand the Ivers milling empire. Their marriage is one-sided; he loves her, but Walter knows she does not love him.

Sam, having been a soldier and itinerant gambler while he was away, drives into the small town by chance and, after an accident, leaves his car to be repaired. While waiting, he goes to his old home, now a boarding house. He meets Antonia "Toni" Marachek, who has just been released from jail. She misses her bus, and they spend the night in adjoining rooms in a hotel. She is later picked up for violating her probation by not returning to her hometown. Sam asks Walter to use his influence to get Toni released.

Walter is convinced Sam has blackmail in mind. When Martha reacts joyfully to seeing Sam, a jealous Walter forces Toni to set him up. Sam is beaten up 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. Walter inadvertently blurts out his fears of blackmail, only to learn that Sam had not witnessed the death.

Through old newspapers Sam learns that Walter Sr. had presented Martha's version of the 1928 accidental murder to the police: that an intruder murdered Martha's aunt. With that leverage, Walter Sr. had made Martha marry his son. When the police identified a former employee of the aunt as the murderer, the two Walters and Martha helped convict him, and he was hanged.

Sam is torn between his old love and his new one with Toni. Although he eventually forgives Toni for betraying him, he and Martha spend an idyllic day together, rekindling his feelings for her. Martha breaks down and laments that he left without her all those years ago, taking her only chance for love and freedom with him.

Walter gets drunk and arranges to meet Sam to settle matters. Martha finds out about the meeting. When Walter drunkenly falls down the stairs, Martha urges Sam to kill her unconscious husband. Sam instead brings Walter around. Martha pulls out a gun and threatens to shoot Sam in "self-defense" as an intruder. Sam tells her it would work if she could get Walter to corroborate her story. Saying he does not believe she will shoot him, Sam turns his back on her and leaves.

Martha drops the gun and Walter picks it up. Walter thinks she still loves Sam. Martha says she was afraid Walter would leave her. He embraces and kisses her. Just like nothing ever happened. Walter pulls out the gun and points at her midriff. She puts her thumb over his finger 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 toward the mansion but sees Walter, holding Martha's body, shoot himself. Sam and Toni drive away together.

Cast

Production

Development

The film was adapted from the short story "Love Lies Bleeding" by playwright John Patrick, the rights to which were acquired by screenwriter Robert Rossen for a sum of $35,000.[5]

Casting

Barbara Stanwyck was cast in the title role following her lead in Billy Wilder's film noir Double Indemnity (1944).[6]

The film marked the screen debut of Kirk Douglas,[7] who was recommended to producer Hal B. Wallis by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who suggested that Wallis attend 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.[8] In contrast to his later, tougher roles, Douglas plays an alcoholic weakling. According to Tony Thomas, "it assured Douglas his future in films".[9] Future film director and producer Blake Edwards had an uncredited bit part as a sailor who hitches a ride with Sam.[10]

Filming

Filming of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers took place at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles.[11] Director Lewis Milestone left the film for several days in sympathy with a set decorators' strike which was going on at the time.[12] In his absence, the film was directed by Byron Haskin, who did not receive screen credit.[1][13] The film's shooting schedule was vigorous, with shoots often lasting 12 hours each day.[14]

Stanwyck had considerable influence on how she was lit, and was not shy about putting her fellow actors on notice that she did not like to be upstaged. When she saw the coin trick Heflin had learned—at Milestone's suggestion, to show that Heflin's character was a professional gambler—she informed him he should make sure he did not 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. Heflin is seen rolling a coin on his fingers several times in several scenes.[13] 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][13]

Post-production

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 closeups of Lizabeth Scott. Milestone refused, telling Wallis to shoot them himself, and, according to the director, Wallis did.[15]

Release

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers premiered in London on June 14, 1946.[16] The audience at the London premiere was reportedly so taken by actress Lizabeth Scott's appearance that they began to mob her before the screening.[17]

The film opened in New York City on July 24, 1946,[18] and its release expanded wide on September 13, 1946.[11]

The film's advertising campaign consisted only of teasers before its release: Newspapers ran advertisements reading, "Whisper her name!",[13] while radio spots had a woman repeatedly whispering, "Martha Ivers".

Critical response

Contemporary

Herbert Cohn of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote: "It is a complex story, but [director] Milestone used each detail to make his characters seem real, their actions not too far-fetched," and went on to praise the leading performances.[18] John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times praised the performances as raw and "geared toward the material," and added that the film "is not a pretty tale but it holds the attention down to the last scene."[19]

A review published in The New York Times noted: "reminding one of a jigsaw puzzle, there are long stretches in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers when it seems as though the director, Lewis Milestone, and Robert Rossen, the author, will not be able to gather in all the pieces of the rambling plot. But they manage it expeditiously, if with less finesse and surprise than one could wish."[20]

Modern assessment

The film has received acclaim from modern critics. It holds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 10 reviews.[21]

Glenn Erickson, reviewing the film for DVD Talk, complimented its psychological complexity, writing: "Many noirs create moods of corruption but Robert Rossen's script for The Strange Love of Martha Ivers gives us characterizations of uncommon depth... [it] isn't a detective movie or a standard crime thriller, which helps support the notion that film noir is a style and not a genre. It's one of the best noirs around."[22]

Dave Kehr from Chicago Reader wrote in a glowing review that the film "is pervaded by [Rossen’s] guilty-liberal fascination with power and money." And continued by saying "Director Lewis Milestone does little more than accent the hysteria of Rossen's script, though his portrait of the company town, bound in factory grime and feudal loyalty, is nicely done."[23]

Accolades

John Patrick received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Original Motion Picture Story.[24]

Home media

In 1974, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers entered the public domain in the United States because the claimants did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[25][26] Because of its public domain status, the film has received numerous home media releases in various formats since.[22][25][27]

Paramount Home Entertainment released the film on DVD on October 25, 2002.[22] The independent distributor HDClassics issued a restored DVD and Blu-ray combination set in 2012, though this edition was noted for having middling picture quality and featuring digital noise reduction.[28] On September 22, 2022, Kino Lorber released a new Blu-ray edition featuring a 4K restoration from the original film elements.[29]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Director Byron Haskin temporarily took over directorial duties while Lewis Milestone joined a Hollywood strike, though he is not credited.[1] Producer Hal B. Wallis also reshot some sequences with Milestone's approval.[2]
  2. ^ In addition to Rossen, Robert Riskin served as an uncredited cowriter.

References

  1. ^ a b c d Arnold, Jeremy (October 28, 2003). "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on December 10, 2017.
  2. ^ "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved June 2, 2023.
  3. ^ "60 Top Grossers of 1946". Variety. January 8, 1947. p. 8 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". Cannes Film Festival. Archived from the original on January 2, 2013.
  5. ^ Dick 2014, p. 122.
  6. ^ Callahan 2012, p. 151.
  7. ^ Dick 2014, p. 131.
  8. ^ Douglas 2007, p. 21.
  9. ^ Thomas 1991, pp. 33–36.
  10. ^ "Cast" American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures
  11. ^ a b "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers: Film Details". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on June 3, 2023.
  12. ^ Callahan 2012, pp. 152–153.
  13. ^ a b c d Callahan 2012, pp. 151–153.
  14. ^ ""Bedtime Hour" Begins At Noon". Toledo Union Journal. May 24, 1946. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ Milestone, Lewis interview Los Angeles Sun Mirror (December 8, 1946), reported in "Notes" in the American Film Institute Catalog entry.
  16. ^ "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Carlton)". Evening Standard. June 14, 1946. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com.
  17. ^ Dick 2014, p. 103.
  18. ^ a b Cohn, Herbert (July 25, 1946). "'Strange Love of Martha Ivers,' 'Courage of Lassie' Have Premieres". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ Scott, John L. (September 20, 1946). "Drama of Murder At Paramounts". Los Angeles Times. p. 9 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ "The Screen In Review; At Loew's Criterion". The New York Times. July 25, 1946. Archived from the original on June 3, 2023.
  21. ^ "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  22. ^ a b c Erickson, Glenn (November 5, 2002). "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on June 3, 2023.
  23. ^ Kehr, David (January 1, 2000). "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on June 2, 2023.
  24. ^ "The 19th Academy Awards". Oscars.org. Archived from the original on March 30, 2023.
  25. ^ a b Baumgarten, Marjorie (June 15, 2012). "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". The Austin Chronicle. Archived from the original on June 3, 2023.
  26. ^ Pascual 2009, p. 62.
  27. ^ "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers: Formats and Editions". WorldCat. Archived from the original on June 3, 2023.
  28. ^ McQuain, Christopher (June 14, 2012). "Strange Love of Martha Ivers Blu-Ray + DVD Combo Pack". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on June 3, 2023.
  29. ^ Jane, Ian (September 26, 2022). "Strange Love of Martha Ivers (Kino), The". DVD Talk. Archived from the original on June 3, 2023.

Sources