A growing body of scholarly work has focused on the role of cities—and, to a lesser degree, the suburbs—in post–World War II American film. Less attention has been paid to rural and wilderness locations, but, in fact, they played an important role in the melodramas of the period. This article focuses on one of the most commercially successful Hollywood films of 1946, John M. Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven, arguing that the film's spectacular Technicolor landscapes function as a melodramatic device for mediating ambivalence about the social role of women at that time. In this film, scenes of mourning, romance, and murder are set in the great outdoors, while the interior sets are cluttered with potted plants that signify the tamed emotions of domestic life. The film establishes a binary in which an “evil” woman—played by Gene Tierney, then known as “the most beautiful woman in the world”—is associated with wild nature, while a “good” woman enacts the taming of nature. While the film clearly villainizes Tierney's character, it derives much of its odd tone and powerful impact from the way it also renders her fascinating and fabulous, largely by associating her with outdoor landscapes. The film's deep ambivalence about the social role of women—coupled with its initial popularity and renewed appeal today—demands a reconsideration of melodrama and excess in classical Hollywood cinema through the lens of landscape.
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Jennifer Peterson; The Front Lawn of Heaven: Landscape in Hollywood Melodrama circa 1945. Camera Obscura 1 September 2010; 25 (2 (74)): 119–159. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2010-004
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