The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

When the dir. of this film noir, Lewis Blackstone, complained to Lauren Bacall re: the “lack of interesting men in Hollywood,” she immediately recommended Kirk Douglas (her good friend from NYC theater days).  That is how Douglas got his 1st film role- starring opposite Barbara Stanwyck no less!  Stanwyck, known as a generous co-star, helped Douglas manuever through his 1st film.  He does a TERRIFIC job, as do his fellow 3 leads.

In 1928, strong-willed pre-teen Martha Ivers is desperate to run away from her small factory town (Iverstown, PA)  and the domineering/wealthy aunt who’s in custody of her after her parents’ deaths.  A street-smart boy from the other side of the tracks (and close friend), Sam Masterson, is also planning to run away to join the circus.  Their plan is thwarted first by  local cops (under the thumb of the aunt) and then by Martha’s tutor, Mr. O’Neil (trying to ingratiate himself w/ the aunt).  Walter, O’Neil’s straight-arrow son, wants to win Martha’s friendship.  That stormy night, things occur that will change the course of  these characters’ lives forever.

Then we go forward to 1946, when a grown-up Sam (Van Heflin) drives into Iverstown to find “his people” (relatives).  While daydreaming, his car got dinged up, so he has to stop at a garage.   He meets a beautiful young woman Antonia “Toni” Marachek (Lizabeth Scott) sitting on the steps of his former house, now a boarding house.  She’s not sure if she should take the late bus to her parents’ house in the next town.  They commiserate re: the mistakes they’ve made in life, etc.

Sam, a drifter/gambler, is chagrined to discover that “scared little boy” Walter (Douglas) is now a DA w/ political ambition.  Walter is also married to Martha, who has expanded her aunt’s factory, created many jobs, and become a powerful woman in her OWN right.  Toni gets in trouble w/ the law, so Sam goes to Walter’s office seeking help.  Martha comes in while the men are talking; she is VERY happy/excited to see her old friend (and first crush) all grown-up.  She wants to speand some time w/ Sam.  Walter is wary of Sam, fearing that he knows the truth of what happened all those years ago.

This is a well-paced film that contains clever dialogue, intriguing characters, and plot twists.  The quick-witted/confidant Sam is a catalyst for change in the lives of the other characters, but he’s not always 100% sure of the right thing to do.  Martha and Walter’s relationship is complicated and (IMO) HIGHLY dysfunctional.  It’s fun to watch though!

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