Filmsite Movie Review
Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4)

Plot Synopsis (continued)

During their visit, Ruth suggested to Richard that when they would soon depart for their home in Bar Harbor, Maine, it also might be a good environment for Danny also: "We thought it might be a good idea for Danny to go back with us when we leave. The beach is lovely, and we have a sailboat. He'd have a wonderfuI time....There's a schooI too, an excellent schooI."

In the boathouse, Dick found Mrs. Berent reading and praising his next book's manuscript - and he impulsively decided to dedicate it to her: "Just for that, I'll dedicate the book to you. And what shall I say? 'To my sweet, to my beautifuI, my discerning mother-in-law who...' - she finished his sentence: "who advised me to dedicate this book to my wife." Mrs. Berent insisted that Ellen be given the credit: "You must dedicate them all to her."

She then announced their early departure after only a few days: "There are reasons why we must be getting home." Richard was "downcast" with the news, but was reassured when she explained: "In a way, mothers-in-law are like children. They should be seen and not heard - and not seen too much." Mrs. Berent theorized why Ellen's behavior was so unusual - her beliefs confirmed Ellen's over-the-top, all-consuming love for Richard - repeating the pattern of her obsessive love for Ellen's father:

There's nothing wrong with Ellen. It's just that she loves too much. Perhaps that isn't good. It makes outsiders of everyone else. But she can't help it. You must be patient with her. She loved her father too much.

In the next scene after the Berents had left, Richard typed a letter to Mrs. Berent, in part: "Ever since our last talk, I've been wondering...", but he wasn't happy with it and ripped it out of his machine. He looked out and noticed Ellen and Danny preparing to go for a rowboat excursion and daily practice swim. To clear his mind, he went for a forest stroll with a small walking stick. The subsequent dramatic and chilling sequence - filmed in bright sunshine - revealed the frightening and evil side of Ellen's diseased and sick mind. [It has become the single most highly-commented upon and remembered scene of the entire film.]

Ellen's brother-in-law Danny applied suntan lotion in the boat, cheerfully assisted by Ellen, before he slipped into the water from the boat. She hinted that he might like to go to Bar Harbor for awhile, hoping he would agree so that Back of the Moon could be vacated, except for her and Richard. However, Danny deferred that he would go only when all three could go together, after Dick's book was finished in a few weeks - Ellen was decidedly unpleased. After he asked: "Can I swim all the way across today?", she responded: "Think you can make it?" He was over-confident and wanted to impress her: "Why sure? I made it three-quarters yesterday, and I wasn't a bit tired."

Donning fashionable, heart-shaped sunglasses that concealed her expression, she followed in the rowboat, and promised he didn't have to worry about his direction: "I'll keep you on your course." She steered him out into the middle of the lake, however, and then spurred him on: "You're not making very much progress, Danny. Are you all right?" When he became winded and developed a cramp or kink in his side, he admitted he was getting tired. She told him to "take it easy," but then enticed him to push further: "You don't want to give up when you've come so far." When he became exhausted and distressed in the cold water from severe stomach cramps (he grunted out: "I ate too much lunch"), Ellen impassively watched as he struggled to stay afloat and called out: "Help me!", while beginning to sink. When Danny submerged twice and then disappeared under the surface, Ellen continued to be impassionate - staring blankly and implacably. But then when she heard Richard's whistling on-shore after his walk, she pretended to assist Danny by screaming and diving in, but it was obviously too late. Richard also dove in to help, but his efforts were in vain. The drowning murder portrayed Ellen as stunningly heartless and cruel, and capable of destroying anything that got in her way.

Bar Harbor

By the seashore at the Berent's home in Bar Harbor (seen in a very fake matte-shot), in September of the year, Richard sat disconsolately next to surging surf. Ellen paced inside and wondered what her next strategy would be to regain Richard's interest. Ruth descended the stairs after cleaning Mr. Berent's laboratory to prepare a place for Dick to work, but Ellen declared that he was too numb to work and deeply depressed after brother Danny's death. Ruth suggested that they start a family to take away the pain and rejuvenate his life:

Ellen: He's dropped his work. He's dropped everything. I'm losing him, Ruth. I'll die if I lose him.
Ruth: Perhaps, perhaps if you went back to the lodge, just the two of you.
Ellen: No, he hates it now, everything about it. He never wants to set foot there again. And he doesn't want to go back to Boston. If I only knew what he was thinking. You've always helped me, Ruth. Help me now.
Ruth: A little time, Ellen, you'll see. He's had a great loss. There's a great emptiness in his life. If he only, if he only had a child of his own.

In the next scene, Ellen was already pregnant, and Mr. Berent's laboratory (Ellen's former playroom) was being transformed into an identical children's playroom, although Richard and Ellen were hoping for a boy. Richard was relishing life again (and looking forward to becoming a father), painting a mural on one of the walls, and using Ruth as a model for a clown figure. Ellen climbed the stairs and was perturbed to see her father's lab secretly turned into a playroom without her consultation:

But I didn't want the room changed, ever. I wanted it left just as it was.

Increasingly, Ellen was becoming unhappy at the prospect of giving birth, losing her figure, and having a child. She was exceedingly jealous whenever Richard was in Ruth's company and away from her (although they were harmlessly shopping during a long afternoon for "baby things"). And she was hateful that her freedom and movements were being restricted by her physician, Dr. Saunders (Gene Lockhart):

This baby's making a prisoner of me....I can't do anything. I can't go any place. I don't even see my husband... I don't want him to see me this way.

She was instructed to follow the doctor's orders: "No shrimps. No stairs. And don't you budge off that couch." As Ruth and Richard were viewed happily returning and laughing after a four-hour round-trip walk and visit to town, and bringing back some purchased packages, Ellen was immediately incensed and jealous. She under-handedly accused Ruth of taking advantage of her immobility during pregnancy, and began to compare their contrasting relationships with Richard.

And then she made a detestable, "wicked" and outrageous statement about her unborn child, disdainfully calling it a "little beast." The ideal of a domestic life with a husband and newborn baby, in this post-war era, was imprisoning and entrapping for Ellen. The child would again come between her and Richard ("Richard and I never needed anything else"), and she couldn't endure the thought:

Ellen: You're looking very well, Ruth. I've never seen you so happy. Tell me, do you think Richard loves me?
Ruth: Well, now, that's a silly thing to say.
Ellen: Oh, I know in the beginning he loved me. But I'll tell you something funny. He never liked me.
Ruth: He loved you, but he never liked you?
Ellen: That's right. We've never really been friends, like you and he. He likes you. Tell me, has he found a nickname for you yet?
Ruth: Well, not exactly. Sometimes he calls me 'the gaI with the hoe,' to kid me about my gardening.
Ellen: He used to call me 'Patchouli.' (She looked at the mirror reflection of her pregnant self) Look at me. I hate the little beast. I wish it would die.
Ruth: Ellen!
Ellen: Shocked, aren't you? If you were having the baby, you'd love it. Well, I never wanted it. Richard and I never needed anything else. And now this.
Ruth: How can you say such wicked things?
Ellen: Sometimes the truth is wicked. You're afraid of the truth, aren't you, Ruth?
Ruth: No. You're the one who's afraid.

Suddenly in her bedroom, Ellen realized what she must do - another evil plot or plan - to eliminate her problem (and unborn child). She changed into one of her finest gowns (a long, light-blue, silky sheer robe) and selected a pair of matching blue, high-heeled, open-toed slippers. After applying perfume and lipstick, she emerged from her bedroom and stood at the top of the stairs. She heard typewriter clattering in one of the closed upstairs bedrooms where Richard was working. Ellen paused at the top banister to look down - the camera descended to the bottom step. She looked down at her feet under the long gown, and in her mind, determined that she could fake a tripping fall by catching her left slipper under the loose rug. She tucked her left slipper under the rug flap to 'accidentally' trip or catch herself, removed her left foot from the slipper, and then flung or threw herself forward with a scream. Her violent tumble down the long flight of stairs was deliberate - to purposely cause a miscarriage and kill her unborn child. The incriminating shoe was left at the top - reminiscent of Cinderella's glass slipper - at the site of the self-inflicted crime. Richard was the closest to the accident and the first to find his wife unconscious on the lower floor. Ruth phoned and summoned the doctor ("something terrible has happened").

Ellen's induced homicidal 'miscarriage' was interpreted as a sleep-walking accident. She lost the unborn child - a boy, although she was "out of danger." Ruth claimed it couldn't have been sleep-walking because they had been together 20 minutes earlier. Mrs. Berent was suspicious of Ellen's complicit involvement in two back-to-back murders: "First his brother and now his son."

After a recuperation period of a few weeks, Ellen was back swimming in the Maine surf. She opened a recently-received brown-paper wrapped package with Richard's latest published book inside, titled "The Deep Well" - with a picture of a Mexican sombrero and spurs on the cover. She was seething with internal fury that the book was dedicated to green-thumbed gardener Ruth: "To the Gal with the Hoe" - and began to have delusions that Ruth was stealing Richard away. Ellen also asked why her mother had become such a "hermit" in her room and didn't talk to her. She told Ruth of a phone call from the travel bureau in town about the confirmation of Ruth's transportation and hotel reservations. Ruth informed Ellen that she was departing by herself the next week for Mexico (Taxco). Coincidentally, the country of Mexico happened to be the subject of Richard's newest book. Ellen was suspicious: "What are you running away from? Is it me?"

Ruth admitted that she couldn't bear to be in Ellen's malevolent and damaging presence any longer, although Ellen interpreted her departure as evidence that she had won Richard's love back. Ruth felt sorry for Ellen and her intentions to wreck their family's lives:

Ruth: When we were kids, you used to torment me every way you could think of. You can't do that anymore.
Ellen: (suspiciously) Is it Richard?
Ruth: I'm going away because I can't stand living in this house any longer. The whole place is filled with hate. Your hate.
Ellen: Not hate. Love, Ruth. Richard's love for me. All these weeks, I was in the hospitaI helpIess. You had him here in the house to yourself. But it didn't do you any good, did it? He still loves me. He loves me more than ever. That's what you can't abide. That's why you envy me, isn't it?
Ruth: I don't envy you, Ellen. All my life I've tried to love you, done everything to please you. All of us have: Mother, Father and now Richard. And what have you done? With your love, you wrecked Mother's life. With your love, you pressed Father to death. With your love, you've made a shadow of Richard. No, Ellen, I don't envy you. I'm sorry for you. You're the most pitifuI creature I've ever known.

After Ruth walked off, Ellen turned to confront a stern and dour-faced Richard, who had heard their entire conversation. She expressed her thoughts about the book dedication - "I'd hoped it would be 'To Patchouli.'" She began to speak about doubting Richard's love, and then defensively repeated her explanation of Danny's drowning death:

Is anything wrong, Richard? You look so strange. You've been avoiding me, going off by yourself. Where do you go? What do you think about? Whatever it is, can't you share it with me? We haven't done that for a long time - shared things. Ever since Danny. You've never forgiven me for that, have you? You've always blamed me. You did tell me not to let him swim the lake unless you were with us but, but we wanted to surprise you. Danny was so happy planning to surprise you. He'd been doing so well. He swam three-quarters the day before and he was sure he could make it. The water was so warm. I thought there was no danger. I must have looked away for a moment, and then when I looked back, Danny was sinking. I pulled at the oars and then lost one. And then I grew panicky. It was like a nightmare!

Richard was fully aware that her "nightmare" excuse was a cover for her deadly schemes and wrong-doings, including Danny's deliberate drowning murder - and the forced miscarriage of their child. He confronted her directly, and accused her of purposely letting Danny drown at Back of the Moon, as he grabbed her forcefully: "So you let him drown. Didn't you?" He figured out her motive - after getting rid of everyone else, Danny had refused to leave and she had no other alternative but to eliminate him:

You got rid of everybody else, your mother, Ruth, Thorne. There was only Danny left. What were you thinking of? You never really cared for him. You only pretended to. What happened? Did he refuse to leave?...Was that why you killed him?... You're a perfect swimmer and the boat was so far away, and he was going down for the third time. You killed him. You let Danny drown, didn't you? Didn't you?

She confessed to drowning Danny, and remarkably felt no guilt or regret: "Yes, I let him drown, and I'd do it again! I didn't want him around. I didn't want anyone but you." Richard admitted that he had pushed the possibility of her being a murderess from his mind for awhile, but was now confronted with the truth of her deadly motives. She also confessed to killing their baby for the same selfish, all-consuming and obsessive reasons (Richard: "And the baby, you never wanted it, did you?"). [Note: Richard would sorely regret that he did not report her confessions to the authorities.]

With twisted reasoning, she dropped to her knees and tried to explain away the murders as examples of her extreme love for him:

That was all I ever wanted, Richard. Your happiness, only that. I didn't mean to let Danny drown. I didn't plan it, I swear I didn't. But when the cramp caught him and he went under, I thought if he never came up again, I'd have you all to myself. I thought if he was gone, you'd have only me. Then suddenly, while I was thinking that, he was gone. I was sorry then, and frightened, and I tried to find him. Tried honestly, tried hard. But it was too late.... Oh, don't you see, Richard? I didn't want anyone around. Only you. I wanted to be just with you. I couldn't stand having anyone between us. Oh, I love you so, Richard. I love you so.

Her demented and hysterical behavior pushed Richard to leave her forever, and he walked out the front door.

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