When we hear Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) say this, we think we know who she means. But Rob Rossen's rich screenplay provides a nasty twist and it turns out that the sentiment applies even better to two other characters. When they meet their fates, it marks the snapping of a grim chain of events begun decades earlier.
It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Stanwyck that she gives a forceful performance. She is a cold woman who controls both the factory and the small Midwestern town that bear her family's name. She also dominates her husband, whom she has made the local district attorney purely through the force of her will.
It might, however, be surprising that her self-pitying, alcoholic husband is played by Kirk Douglas in his first movie. His character in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Walter O'Neil, shares none of the heroism of the characters for which Douglas became famous. He brings to his portrayal of a cowering puppet just enough strength to hint at what he might have been if he hadn't been ground down by circumstances.
That grinding begins with O'Neil's father (Roman Bohnen), a commanding figure who teachers his son to acquiesce to the wills of those with power. One before whom the elder O'Neil almost grovels is Mrs. Ivers, Martha's aunt (Judith Anderson), who is more concerned with the family's fortune than the family. Martha is a constant and unpleasant reminder of her late mother's love for a man from the wrong side of the tracks. That was a betrayal of her class which the aunt cannot forgive or forget. Now that Martha's mother is dead, the aunt takes out her resentment on Martha, to whom she is cold and dictatorial.
Or at least she is before she is killed. Her death leaves Martha poised to inherit the industrial empire that defines life in Iverstown. It is a shame that Martha appears to grow up much like her aunt: distant and emotionally empty, although dressed in more glamorous gowns (designed by Edith Head).
Years later, Martha is married to Walter. The reappearance of one of their mutual childhood friends, an ex-G.I. played by Van Heflin, rekindles in Martha the closest she can feel to love.
Heflin is solid in a part that is more a catalyst than a character. It is Lizabeth Scott's character that is the movie's weakest link. Hired by Douglas' D.A. to lead Heflin out of town, she repeatedly manipulates him, lies to him and withholds crucial information. It is all transparent and Heflin's character sees through it every time. He keeps her around anyway, and helps her out of jams again and again. We're meant to believe that they will be happy together, but the movie gives us no reason to think anything of the kind.
Scott was promoted as a rival to Lauren Bacall, whom she resembles both facially and vocally. Her nickname, "The Threat," was meant to indicate that she was primed to supplant Bacall. That didn't happen, of course. Scott enjoyed some success in such movies as Dead Reckoning (1947, with Humphrey Bogart, of all people) and I Walk Alone (1948, with Burt Lancaster), but Bacall is a Hollywood icon while Scott is remembered mostly as an almost-was. If she'd been given roles more interesting than her one in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, she might have lived up to her hype.
Great Scott? No, and neither is Heflin. Douglas and Stanwyck are, and the movie gives them many chances to show it.
The story opens in 1928, as rebellious teen Martha Ivers is trying to run away from her mean and powerful aunt. Helping Martha is her pal from across the tracks, Sam. They never do escape that night, but something far more dramatic happens involving Martha, her aunt, and a kitten named Bundles. I really enjoyed this movie, which is an unusual mix of film noir, melodrama, romance, and mystery. Barbara Stanwyck plays grown-up Martha and is perfectly cast as a tough-as-nails … more
Some people call The Strange Love of Martha Ivers a noir, and a good one. Some call it a psychological study of guilt. I think it's just a melodrama, but a well-crafted one. What moves it from noir to melodrama for me is that there are two weak motivating actions for the plot; the first (the death of the aunt) doesn't have enough power to justify the drama, and the second (a conviction of an innocent man) is barely mentioned until the end of the movie. Please note that there are spoilers … more