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With: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas, Judith Anderson, Roman Bohnen, Darryl Hickman, Janis Wilson, Ann Doran, Frank Orth, James Flavin, Mickey Kuhn, Charles D. Brown
Written by: Robert Rossen, based on a story by John Patrick
Directed by: Lewis Milestone
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 116
Date: 07/24/1946
IMDB

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Noirtown

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is one of those really dark films noir that tends to get away with more than it seems to be getting away with. Barbara Stanwyck is the name-above-the-title star, and the title character. She's the kind that makes an entrance, if you know what I mean. The entire scene changes when she walks into a room. But the movie is actually about Sam Masterson (Van Heflin), and how he finds Martha again. And even then, the movie is thrown further off kilter with a lengthy prologue, populated by child actors, and also a romance for Heflin. And yet it all comes together beautifully.

In the prologue, Martha accidentally kills her mean, cruel auntie (Judith Anderson). A nerdy, doting boy Walter O'Neil -- whose father is Martha's tutor -- witnesses it. Young Sam is there as well, but he gets away and leaves town. Years later, they're all grown up. Sam drifts into town again, and -- stranded by a flat tire -- ends up finding his old friends again. Walter (Kirk Douglas, in his movie debut) is now the District Attorney, and Martha has turned her family fortune into an empire. Martha and Walter worry that Sam has come back to blackmail them. But Sam only wants to get his car and leave. He would also like to take the pretty jailbird Toni (Lizabeth Scott) with him.

Sixteen years earlier director Lewis Milestone made the World War One phenomenon, All Quiet on the Western Front, but he did not have a career that lived up to that achievement. He does a serviceable job on Martha Ivers, accentuating the feeling of being trapped, constricted, and corrupted by money and power -- including Walter's blatant alcoholism -- crossed with Sam's footloose-and-fancy-free lifestyle. The script came from Robert Rossen, who later directed The Hustler, and the messages are likely from him. Still, there are plenty of lurking, shadowy threats to make this one a thrill.

HD Cinema Classics has released one of their public domain specials, a Blu-ray accompanied by a bonus DVD. It comes with a "restoration comparison" so we can see the new high quality. In truth, it's a bit soft and fuzzy, but bright and totally watchable. It also has a commentary track by noir expert William Hare, a trailer, and a postcard inside the box.