They say absolute power corrupts absolutely — and all it takes is a large sum of money to alter the point of view of even the most uninterested of people. All young Martha Ivers ever wanted to do was to escape from the confines of the overly-authoritarian aunt, the elder Mrs. Ivers (Judith Anderson), who raised her after Martha’s parents wound up in the world of the not-living. One fateful night, a particularly traumatizing event befalls our titular character, wherein her auntie joins her folks in death — and Martha inherits a vast fortune as well as the political keys to the local community, which is — as you can expect — named Iverstown.
Years later, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) has used those keys and her fortune to their fullest: she has married Iverstown’s D.A. (Kirk Douglas, in his film debut), who was an unwitting accomplice in the accidental death of Mrs. Ivers decades before, and who is now a drunken mess. Into this little bundle of happiness comes Sam (Van Heflin), a wanderer who just happens to have been Martha’s first love when they were all youngsters. While Sam seems perfectly content with his new lady-friend Toni (Lizabeth Scott), his one-time girlfriend from so many years ago is not at all comfortable with the whole situation.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is just one of the many excellent entries the film noir genre has produced. Unlike many of its counterparts, however, this one had the benefit of being produced by Hal B. Wallis’ production company and helmed by the great Lewis Milestone — a director who had a milestone of his own 16 years before with the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front, as well as the 1939 adaptation of Of Mice and Men. Milestone directs his cast commendably, garnering exceptional performances from his cast members, and the heavy atmosphere he creates perfectly garnishes the story by Robert Rossen (All the King’s Men, The Hustler), itself adapted from writer John Patrick (The Hasty Heart).
Like many classics, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers fell into the dreaded Public Domain many moons ago, and we’ve only ever been able to see the film in washed-out, worn-out transfers. The folks at Film Chest and HD Cinema Classics have once again cleaned up a forgotten favorite (no, that’s not an oxymoron) and given it a Digital Noise Reduction makeover that will no doubt infuriate anyone looking for full restoration. This one is basically a 35mm print that has been de-scratchified, but until something better comes along, this’ll do, kids. Special features include an audio commentary by William Hare as well as the usual Film Chest fare, a newly-made trailer and a before-and-after restoration demo.