The Strange, Wily Women of Ben Ames Williams

June 1, 2013 | By

What a hot little monster.

Twilight Time’s release of Leave Her to Heaven [M] (1945) on Blu brings some attention back to this superb melodrama-film noir creature, starring a strong-willed woman whose self-preservation instinct goes into scheming overdrive when she isn’t the centre of attention.

By a similar relation, the heroine in The Strange Woman [M] (1946) is a strong-willed woman who uses her cunning abilities to exploit her position as the wife of a small town’s industrialist; as his riches and influence expand, so does her power, and yet instead of being purely evil, we know why she lacks the proper restraint in not chasing after her husband’s younger son nor chasing and winning the love of her best friend.

It’s called backstory, and in both of these film versions of novels by Ben Ames Williams, the heroines are not nice, but their backstories are emotionally tragic – which is very different from your standard noir or melodramatic thriller in which the villainess is just a shadowy, sultry, mysterious creature who perpetually threatens the masculine power of a hero whose flaws we do know about.

Jenny in Strange Woman grew up as the slutty daughter of the town drunk, and as eeeevil as she is, she spends her newfound riches as the wife of Mr. Poster funding the construction of a new church, and maintaining weekly temperance meetings because she truly knows the extent of alcoholism on young kids.

Ellen in Heaven has an extreme Elektra complex, and she’s never sated by being in control of everyone’s attention, constantly redirecting it towards herself. As horrible as she is, we all know people who make sure conversations cycle around their experiences, and parties that are celebrations of their wonderfulness rather than a gathering of mirth and benign drunkenness with friends & families.

Long ago, Ellen’s family gave up disciplining and controlling their daughter, and her behaviour is almost sociopathic – she almost recognizes there’s an element of wrongness, but it’s all shrugged aside because of a dominant emotional reaction and the thrill of opportunity.

The sophistication within Heaven is wholly absent in a terrible TV remake – Too Good to be True [M] (1988), and the truncation of vital material really made a mess of what was a compelling story.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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