Barbara Stanwyck is without a doubt the most versatile actress to ever grace the silver screen. Since making her film debut in The Locked Door ( 1929 ) Stanwyck dominated cinema with a strong powerful presence that swept across the motion picture domain and into the hearts of moviegoers worldwide.
With her tenacious force and indomitable presence that was accompanied by her inimitable acting adaptability, Barbara Stanwyck could easily metamorphose herself from a breezy maniacal heroin in a Screwball Comedy to an hardboiled villain in a Film Noir production, a genre that Stanwyck was certainly no stranger to.
Barbara Stanwyck proved to be no foreigner in villain territory either. After her meritorious portrayal of the ruthless and sadistic Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Stanwyck brought other immoral characters to life on the screen.
Hailing from the same pantheon of evil as Phyllis Dietrichson is Martha Ivers, the merciless and insulant antagonist in the Lewis Milestone directed Film Noir, The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers.
The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers may not be crowned a masterpiece, but it sure holds an ounce of distinction. Not only did it introduce us to a new star on the horizon, it was the birth of a legend, an icon that would soon transform into one of the worlds most prominent stars who would be known the world over as Kirk Douglas.
Before 1946, Kirk Douglas spent his time in New York working in stage productions, radio and various commercials under the name of Izzy Demsky. It wasn’t until his close friend Lauren Bacall who had studied theatre with him years earlier suggested to Hal Wallis that he attend a play that featured Douglas in it that Wallis witnessed his acting potential and wanted him for the role of the jealous and insecure husband of the manipulative Martha Ivers, played by Barbara Stanwyck in The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers.
For Kirk Douglas this was the beginning. It was the inception of a career that would pave the way for a myriad of success and would change his life completely.
The result of this life changing event for Kirk Douglas was effective from the start. On the set of The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers, he had developed a warm rapport with Van Heflin who helped guide his way through the production. On the other hand, Barbara Stanwyck initially didn’t display amiability at first. Instead she was indifferent towards him, but once she discovered that Douglas inhabited a creative flair for acting she immediately apologised and became friends shortly after.
During filming Hollywood was facing a set decorators strike that caused the director Lewis Milestone to abandon the project for a while. In replacement to Milestone was Byron Haskin who took over the directorial efforts while he was absent. Though Haskin’s influence on the picture later went uncredited with Lewis Milestone receiving sole recognition.
In addition to Lewis Milestone and Byron Haskin, the film was produced by Hal Wallis, and written for the screen by Robert Rossen who derived the screen play from a short story titled Love Lies Bleeding from renowned playwright John Patrick. Assisting Rossen with the project was Robert Riskin who supplied constant support to Robert Rossen, but preferred to appear uncredited.
The films plot is simple and revolves around the story of three childhood friends who grow up and form a relationship that appears doomed from the start.
It’s a cold stormy night in Iverstown in 1928, and young Martha Ivers ( Janis Wilson ) has just been returned to her imperious and commanding aunt ( Judith Anderson ) after being found in a box car with Sam Masterson, a rebellious teenager from the wrong side of the tracks. A few hours later Sam arrives at the Ivers mansion and enters through Martha’s bedroom window. Together Martha and Sam quietly plan their escape but just when Martha scurries to organise her stuff her aunt overhears a noise and ascends the grand staircase to investigate and kills Martha’s cat in the process which forces Martha to hit Mrs. Ivers on the head, resulting in her plummeting down the stairs to her death.
Fast forward eighteen years to 1946. Sam ( Van Heflin ) now a career gambler and military veteran unexpectedly arrives back in Iverstown after crashing his car. On his return he discovers that Martha Ivers ( Barbara Stanwyck ) is tied to a loveless marriage to district attorney, Walter O’Neil ( Kirk Douglas ). Not wanting to bring old memories to the fore, Sam decides to stay away from Martha and Walter, but when he meets Toni Marachek ( Lizabeth Scott ) who has just been released from prison and ends up in an altercation that sends her back to Jail, Sam finds himself turning to his old friend Walter for help.
Tensions arise when Sam is swept into the loveless triangle that surrounds Martha and Walter, but before he can elude from their world of lethal scheming he must endure a series of catastrophic happenings.
The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers is a masterfully crafted work of art that is abounded by superb cinematography by Victor Milner and a haunting musical score from Miklos Rozsa, but the question is will Martha Ivers appeal to audiences who are non classic film fans that you want to bring into the fold?
That is a question that will generate conflicting answers. While The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers is not as charming and delightful as Bringing Up Baby, it’s a film that is equally enthralling. Not only does it boast an impressive cast with Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas and Lizabeth Scott, it employs a sinister game of plotting between three characters who are captivating under a shadowy and cloudy ambience.
Barbara Stanwyck is at the top of the pinnacle here as Martha Ivers, the villainous owner of a large business empire who will stop at nothing to escape her dispirited marriage with the weak alcoholic, Walter O’Neil to try and win the affections of Sam Masterson whom she has always loved, but with Martha’s malicious instincts the result proves fruitless.
Sam finds out the truth about Martha who sent an innocent man to the gallows eighteen years ago for the death of her aunt, and is horrified to observe her displaying no remorse, but the conflict between the two exacerbates when he detects a cold blooded Martha witnessing Walter falling down the stairs from alcoholism and hearing Martha’s strong implores to kill Walter so she can have Sam.
The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers is a compelling Film Noir that is wrapped around a part melodramatic plot and results in a chilling climatic finale. It is a classic that is not to be missed.
The car that Sam Masterson drives into Iverstown at the beginning of the film is a 1942 DeSoto Custom Convertible.
“Screen Director’s Playhouse” broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on June 23, 1950 with Barbara Stanwyck reprising her film role.
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 close-ups of Lizabeth Scott. Milestone refused, telling Wallis to shoot them himself, and, according to the director, Wallis did.
Martha Ivers: “You’ve *killed* before, it’s in your record.”
Sam Masterson: “*I* never *murdered*.”
Martha Ivers: “A sure thing is never a gamble.”
Sam Masterson: “No? What odds you give that that’s a fact?”
Sam Masterson: “How did it feel to become a woman, officially?”
Martha Ivers: “I felt like I’d been there before, too.”
Martha Ivers: “[Upon letting herself into Sam’s hotel room unannounced, just as Toni is showing Sam the new bathing suit she bought. Upon being introduced to Toni, Martha says very catty] The sun suit looks very well on her Sam, she’s got just the figure for it. She’s a very pretty girl.”
Toni Marachek: “[In retort] I give another show at 8 o’clock.”
Martha Ivers: “In your room or here?”
Walter O’Neil: “I wasn’t going to shoot.”
Sam Masterson: “I wasn’t going to wait and see.”
Barbara Stanwyck: Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: January 20th, 1990 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 82. Cause of death: Congestive heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Van Heflin: Born Emmett Evan Heflin, Jr. on December 13th, 1908 in Walters, Oklahoma. Died: July 23rd, 1971 in Hollywood, California. Aged 62. Cause of death: Heart attack.
Kirk Douglas: Born Issur Danielovitch on December 9th, 1916 in Amsterdam, New York.
Lizabeth Scott: Born Emma Matzo on September 29th, 1922 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Died: January 31st, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 92. Cause of death: Heart failure.