The Strange Love of Martha Ivers Movie Review
Thus read the ads for the original 1946 release of the classic, under-appreciated film noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and although the tagline refers to the character, the name that the title brings to mind is that of star Barbara Stanwyck. As Martha, Stanwyck plays a woman with a secret, living in the kind of anywhere-in-America town that film noir sketched so indelibly on the big screen, a town where everything would seem peaceful to a stranger, but the locals know that intrigue simmers just out of sight. If you have to talk about Martha - a woman who's not only notorious but powerful as well - it probably is best to lower your voice. In a town this size, word gets around.
There's a strong undercurrent of perversity in all of film noir, but The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is among the most marvelously perverse of them all. We join Martha as a little girl living with her wealthy aunt in one of those American Gothic homes that spelled privilege in '40s film. Privilege, in turn, spells spoiled, and so it is that one day Martha prevents her aunt from attacking her cat with a cane by turning the cane on her aunt instead. There are, of course, witnesses to the killing; flash forward to the present and we find Martha married to one (he's now the district attorney, and he's played by Kirk Douglas) but in love with the other. When this other witness (a drifter and a gambler, played by Van Heflin) returns to town, the simmering intrigue comes to a boil.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a slick entertainment with a taut narrative and shrewd direction by Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front). Stanwyck, as always, is a joy; while this film falls just past her prime as an actress, she still exhibits the fire and magnetism that made her a star. In his screen debut, Douglas is given eyeglasses and a sheepishness that he would soon shed, and supporting actress Lizabeth Scott is appealingly dopey in one of her better roles.