The Strange Love of Martha Ivers – (StarChoice: 28)
Excerpts from: The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS
…… In one of her memoirs, beautiful actress Lauren Bacall wrote about how in 1945 she met star-finder/star-maker Hal Brent Wallis in the club car of the train while travelling to East with her husband Humphrey Bogart. Wallis, an independent producer since 1944 was on board the Santa Fe Super Chief train, bound for New York to look for new talents there. One night, over drinks in the lounge, she tipped Wallis to take a gander at the young and talented Kirk Douglas – a sort of a young Spencer Tracy – who was in a stage play in New York.
Lauren ‘Betty’ Bacall knew that Wallis always looked for an off-beat quality in his screen heroes.
A man with astute combination of imagination and executive ability, some of the potential actors Wallis found and expertly built them into stars of the screen included Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Charlton Heston, Dolores Hart, Elvis Presley, Polly Bergen, Anthony Franciosa, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Cummings, Don Defore, Ann Richards, Kristine Miller, Douglas Dick, Betsy Drake, Marisa Pavan, Shirley MacLaine, …..
“People abroad are hungry for film entertainment and share with American audiences a keen interest in new personalities. It is this desire for new faces that has prompted my continued search for talent and the signing of such people as Lizabeth Scott, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Wendell Corey,” Wallis was quoted in 1947.
Betty had a similar story. Taking into heart the All-American dream of every girl in the country at that time, she had come to Hollywood to become a star. In 1943, New York socialite and legendary beauty Slim Hawks, wife of director/producer Howard Hawks, saw the 18-year-old model’s picture on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar (March 1943) and prodded Hawks to “get a hold of this girl” with that “down-under” look. This “great find” was cast with Humphrey Bogart in Hawks’ adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, To Have and Have Not (1944). That had opened a whole new life to Betty.
In June 1945, Hollywood’s “Gentleman Producer” Wallis went to the Broadway production and was impressed by Kirk playing the helpful ghost of the Unknown Soldier of World War I on stage in The Wind Is Ninety (Jun 21, 1945 – Sep 22, 1945). Tellingly, Kirk’s performance earned him best notices for its warmth and sincerity.
At that juncture, Wallis’ company had three films lined up on the production board: The Searching Wind (1946, D: William Dieterle), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Perfect Marriage (1947 D: Lewis Allen). Kirk was summoned to Wallis’ office in New York and later to the coast…….
…….Kirk netted his debut role in Hal B. Wallis Productions’ gripping noir melodrama, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) as the husband of wealthy Martha Ivers, played by Barbara “Missy” Stanwyck, a trouper of vixen roles.
Effectively directed by Lewis Milestone, this exciting movie, from an unpublished story, “Love Lies Bleeding” by Jack Patrick (screenplay by Robert Rossen), told the grim tale of unbalanced emotions in the small industrial city of Iverstown in 1946 where, wealthy, conniving social climber Martha Ivers held a lifelong criminal secret over her weakling, drunkard husband, Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas), a district attorney.
During their adolescence years in 1928, Walter had witnessed Martha commit the murder of her bullying aunt Mrs. Ivers (Judith Anderson) in a fit of blind anger.
At that time, the little boy O‘Neil had affirmed Martha’s lie about a man having burst into the house and killed the aunt. In due course, Martha inherits a large family fortune from her dead aunt whom she loathed.
With murder and blackmail ruling the roost, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is without a trice of comedy to lighten the tension.
Spectators who have seen this movie would recall Kirk’s introductory scene wherein his first dialogue on screen was the customary salutation of “Hello”.
And, with that one all-time favourite word, Kirk Douglas, at about age 30, took off to a promising start of his phenomenal career.
It was a befitting entry into the movie-stardom for Kirk who proved himself a fine actor who could measure up with such veterans as Van Heflin (back from war and on loan from M-G-M) and Barbara Stanwyck, in a role similar to the alluring double-crosser in the movie classic, Double Indemnity (1944, D: Billy Wilder).
Those who liked the smoky blonde Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo in 1922) in her film debut You Came Along (1945, D: John Farrow), would want to see her don the role of Toni Marachek, the probationer from jail seeking love and companionship.
Cast over protests from female lead Stany, Scott’s Toni is the dynamic love interest of Sam Masterson (Heflin in his Johnny Eager (1941, D: Mervyn LeRoy) -type role), a professional gambler who learns that Martha has one murder to her name.
Perchance the true colours of costumes by master designer Edith Head wither their grandeur in monochrome. Setting pace to Victor Milner’s photography is also the music score by Miklós Rózsa which relate each character, setting, or situation to a musical theme.
This post-war period film was released on July 24, 1946 having completed production during October 2 – December 7, 1945. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers had its world premiere abroad TWA’s transcontinental Constellation trip departing Los Angeles on May 24, 1946.
Reportedly, about five months from the film’s release, the citizens of Kirk’s hometown in Amsterdam, N.Y, launched a pre-election campaign urging Kirk’s nomination for an award for his performance in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, although the official Academy award nominations has not yet begun.
You probably wouldn’t prefer to meet any of the selfish, grasping characters of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, but it’s an edge of the seat evil tale to watch unfold – without children.
Until next time, Jo
- Given that the abridged version of my write-up “The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS” has by now exceeded 105 pages, it is deemed only fair that the write-up should come out, if possible, in its entirety in a book format. Therefore, only excerpts (movie reviews) from it are posted here.
- Some of the DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article is available with leading dealers.
- DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, imdb and from my private collection. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)