One of the dominant themes of the film noir is the lack of fulfillment from the traditional marriage. As this film's title implies, there is nothing good about the featured marriage in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS. It's a sexless marriage based on murder, deceit, and greed.
|Alcohol complicates the relationship between Martha and Walter in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS|
The noir narrative often develops from a key past event that a character or characters cannot extricate themselves from, and such is the case here. As a small-town problem child in 1928, Martha Ivers bumps off her domineering aunt (Judith Anderson, REBECCA, LAURA). The cruel Ivers matriarch earns her fate with ease after callously beating her niece's beloved cat. The death is witnessed by young Walter O'Neil, whose father (Roman Bohnen) eyes the Ivers family fortune that Martha stands to inherit. That set-up leads to the adulthood union of Martha (Barbara Stanwyck, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, SORRY, WRONG NUMBER) and Walter (Kirk Douglas in his feature film debut). As fate would have it, Martha's childhood friend Sam Masterson (Van Heflin, THE PROWLER, PATTERNS) inadvertently returns 18 years later to an Iverstown that has blossomed under the leadership of Martha and Walter. The other person present at the Ivers estate the day Mrs. Ivers died, Sam presents a confusing element to the town's most prominent couple.
In the course of viewing THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS, a downbeat conclusion feels inevitable. The air is thick with the possibility of blackmail along the way, as the town's top employer Martha and her alcoholic husband have to figure out what exactly Sam has up his sleeve. While the drifter Sam is in town, a further complication emerges in the form of Toni Marachek (Lizabeth Scott, DEAD RECKONING, TOO LATE FOR TEARS), another person with a troubled past.
|Toni has some explaining to do to Sam in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS|
The narrative really clicks as directed by Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, OCEAN'S ELEVEN), particularly when scenes involve some combination of Douglas, Heflin, and Stanwyck, who makes a terrific cold-hearted dame. Scenes limited to Scott and Heflin drag and feel like a failed attempt to create some Bacall/Bogart style sexual tension. The screenplay was written by Robert Rossen, who would direct BODY AND SOUL the following year. Victor Milner (THE LADY EVE, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, DARK CITY) handled the cinematography. Assistant director Robert Aldrich later would direct the noir classic KISS ME DEADLY. Blake Edwards appears in an uncredited role.
Note: This film fell into the public domain and has been the subject of a great many inferior home video versions. The Paramount DVD is acceptable, but the source material is marred by significant scratches and surely would benefit from some attentive restorative work.