German expressionism, which on film had its peak in the 1920s with directors such as Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, has had a tremendous impact upon Hollywood film. One of its footprints can be seen in the Film Noir movement of the 1940s and 1950s.
The Noir filmmakers, just like their expressionist forerunners, explore the dark and hidden sides of the human mind. The Noir movement, which was not to any great extent identified and named during its heyday, can sometimes be difficult to define and pinpoint, but to me, this focus on the inner demons and fears is perhaps its most important defining element.
Take the excellent Noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers for example. Like in so many other Noirs, we see a cynical anti-hero, the gambler Sam Masterson (played excellently by Van Heflin). By chance he runs into his childhood sweetheart Martha (Barbara Stanwyck, also excellent), who seems to have everything a woman can dream of, but hides a dark secret together with her husband (a young Kirk Douglas, absolutely brilliant).
As if the tension in this meeting was not enough, Sam also takes an interest in the paroled woman Toni (Lizabeth Scott, good, though not as stellar as the others). Thus, the plot of this film revolves around two love triangles, with Martha and Sam still attracted to one another, though separated still by the terrible events of the past.
Add to the mix the patent dramatic photography found in the best Noirs, an excellent script with good dialogue, and competent editing. Stir, and you get what is perhaps one of the top ten or fifteen Noirs of all time.
By all means, there are a few occasions when the film touches on the overly sentimental, the action sequences are a bit stiff, and there is some rather superfluous Gideonite propaganda, but those are minor quibbles, which do not significantly decrease the overall impact of this classical and powerful movie.
This film is best enjoyed as soon as possible. This is one Internet Archive experience you will not want to miss!
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Running time: 1 h 56 min
Director: Lewis Milestone
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.4 G)