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Nurse Ratched, My Hero: 4 Female Movie Villains I Love

What do my favorite film femme fatales have in common?

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

August 1, 2012 - 7:00 am

Ellen in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

Let it be said that neither the Siren nor her friend condones, approves of nor has any plans for drowning crippled children, indulging in do-it-yourself miscarriages or committing suicide in hopes our significant others subsequently will be executed for murder. One has certain moral limits.

Yet we were both serious. Tierney’s character isn’t unsympathetic to either one of us. “She just wants to be left the hell alone with her man,” remarked the lady. “I get that way sometimes, too,” admitted the Siren.

Self-Styled Siren

Atypically for that genre of academic writing, feminist “readings” of Leave Her To Heaven don’t sound like they were forced through a strainer of desperate, mandatory “originality” or po-mo pop culture theory.

Ellen is simply a breathtakingly beautiful, deeply “broken” woman of whom there were likely a few in the days before birth control and second-wave feminism.

She doesn’t particularly like or want children. Maybe she would’ve been a better writer than her husband, but didn’t feel that was a viable option.

She looks and speaks and moves so perfectly. But to what end? To use a word popular in those Freud-pickled times, Ellen is clearly “sublimating.”

Unfortunately, she channels her ingenious creativity into destruction.

But before that, she channels it into marriage. Unfortunately for everyone involved, her husband is a package deal:

His “crippled” little brother has to live with them — which doesn’t seem to have been part of the “deal,” pre-vows.

And Ellen wants her husband to herself.

I’m not sure why. He does thoughtless things like dedicate his new novel to… Ellen’s sister (?!)

The couple live in a gorgeous, supposedly secluded rustic paradise — yet every five minutes, some “old family friend” or somesuch is sputtering up to the dock, calling “Yoohoo!”

And hubby seems thrilled to see them, even though he is a professional writer who should be jealously guarding his solitude.

James Agee saw what was billed in 1945 as a tale of an evil woman’s obsessive love, remarked, “Audiences will probably side with the murderess, who spends all of the early reels trying to manage five minutes alone with her husband. Just as it looks possible, she picks up a pair of binoculars and sees his brother, her mother, her adopted cousin and the caretaker approaching by motorboat.”

Also, Mr. Movie Husband Guy? You’re married to Gene Tierney.

For me, the poignant aspect to Ellen isn’t that she’s, well, crazy. It’s that she’s got a face for the ages, but if she isn’t willing to play along, if she insists on being the most important thing in her man’s life, that face avails her nothing. She still loses her husband to a girl who uses niceness the same way Ellen used those sunglasses in the rowboat: as a cover for the schemes churning inside. And nobody will be on her side, except James Agee, bless him, and Vincent Price, and you, and the Siren, and whoever else is crazy enough to say, “I kind of sympathize with her.”

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