Friday, 14 November 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1946: Van Heflin in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Van Heflin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Sam Masterson in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is an often a bit over the top in its melodramatic story about a cold but powerful married couple who's dark secret comes to the surface when their old childhood friend comes to town.

Van Heflin, according himself, was told that he would never get the girl at the end of the film. This can certainly be seen in probably his two made famous films, at least in modern times, of Shane and 3:10 to Yuma. Funny enough he actually gets the "girl" in both of those films so to speak, but in both of those films he plays the more bland average man character, as written, compared to the more flamboyant individuals of Shane and Ben Wade played by Alan Ladd and Glenn Ford respectively. The reason I mention this is in this film because both of the two main women of the film are both rather blunt in displaying their affections toward Heflin's character. One being his old childhood friend the titular Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) who is married to a man named Walter (An against type Kirk Douglas since it was his first film before he even had a type), and another being a troubled woman Toni (Lizabeth Scott).

Van Heflin is actually kinda against type himself by playing the technically romantic lead which is interesting since his character starts out as the more troubled child. Even though he is drifter who does some gambling Sam is in no way a malicious character. It is interesting to see Heflin, who was obviously being very generous to his co-stars in those later westerns he made, since he proves himself to have quite the charm when he calls upon. Heflin carries himself well with a certain slick devil may care manner as Sam first arrives into town and he just seems to be enjoying his time of soaking in the nostalgia of being in his old hometown. His instant befriending of Toni is made wholly believable by Heflin's performance. He has a great easy going charisma here and he does a great job of establishing Sam as a likable guy, and his work here makes it a bit surprising the way he was often given the role as the other guy.

Heflin does well to kinda establish Sam outside of the melodrama a bit as his performance always feel very reserved well the emotions start flying quite freely with the other characters. Heflin's take with the character really works because he frankly presents Sam as basically a reluctant participant in the almost absurd level of drama that takes place involving Douglas's and Stanwyck's characters. This makes the most sense because Sam is not only tricked into staying more than once by Martha, but this also leads to him being constantly harassed by goons hired by Walter who happens to be a politician with some local sway. This leaves Sam as basically a man who just wants to leave possibly with the young woman he happened across. Unfortunately for Sam Martha keeps making her advances which leaves Walter to also become increasingly desperate as well. Heflin is great by portraying just the very down to earth exasperation of dealing with the insanity he'd rather not be a part of.

Van Heflin does some fine work here by resisting the urge ever to become part of the melodrama and it is perfect for the character of Sam who is really pulled along to the plot. Heflin is able to somewhat alleviate the intensity of the melodrama by playing Sam in just a rather charming and honest fashion. This does limit his character arc somewhat in that he mainly becomes disillusioned with his old friends, but Heflin handles this well by just being so genuine in his depiction of Sam's reactions throughout. The film isn't a great success but Heflin is essential to keeping it on a rail as he brings some power to the situation by portraying how a sane man would respond to such insanity. He kinda stabilizes the melodrama in a way but as well offers enough relief through the surprisingly amount of charm that he does bring into the role. It's very solid work from probably one of the most underrated actors from the period.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thoughts/ratings on the rest of the cast

Anonymous said...

Thoughts/ratings on:
Hal Hobrook in Magnum Force
Jeff Bridges, Frederic March and Lee Marvin in The Iceman Cometh
Lee J. Cobb in The Exorcist

Anonymous said...

Louis you know how you often put " this actor received his first nomination" which actors do you reckon will never get nominated again?

luke higham said...

Anonymous: Louis would go insane if he had to compile a list for your request but I would say Barkhad Abdi, John Hawkes, Robert Forster, Burt Reynolds, Demian Bichir, Jesse Eisenberg, James Franco, Stanley Tucci, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Viggo Mortensen, Hal Holbrook, Casey Affleck, Eddie Murphy, Mark Wahlberg, Jackie Earle Haley, Forest Whitaker, Paul Giamatti, Matt Dillon, Terence Howard, David Staithairn, Alan Alda, Clive Owen, Thomas Haden Church etc etc etc.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

That's... really presumptuous on a lot of those. In fact, I'd go as far to say flat-out insane on ones like Giamatti and Whitaker.

Matt Mustin said...

Demian Bichir's gonna be in Tarantino's next film so let's see how that goes.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Plus Casey Affleck, while often misused, could still pull off a nomination down the line. He has a promising career.

Michael McCarthy said...

I definitely soudn't count out Mortensen or Affleck. Also even though James Franco isn't the most consistent, he's become quite popular and recognizable which tends to really help at the oscar nominations.

Matt Mustin said...

I'll be honest here. I hate James Franco. The most I've ever liked him was oddly enough in This Is The End. And before you say it, yes I saw 127 Hours and yes, he's good, but I think the success of that movie is mostly because of Danny Boyle's excellent direction.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Actually, I thought he was good in 127 Hours in spite of that film's overbaked, totally unneeded overdirection.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I could also plausibly see Mark Wahlberg eventually getting a great role for him again and pulling off another nomination.

Matt Mustin said...

Ehhhh, I don't know about that. I don't think he even deserved his nomination for The Departed. Not that he wasn't enjoyable but he's not even my favourite supporting performance in the film (actually I think Nicholson, Sheen and Winstone are all better).

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Well, I *sort of* agree. I just meant good in terms of critical reception.

Matt Mustin said...

I think he came close for The Fighter. Why, I have no idea, since everyone else in the film was better.

JackiBoyz said...

Kirk Douglas, nuff said lol.

Louis Morgan said...

Scott - 3(She did not get to do too much other than being infatuated with Heflin and embarrassed by her past as well as what she is forced to do. She does this well enough but never makes that much an impression)

Stanwyck - 2.5(She certainly can do a black widow well as shown two years before this film, but here I never thought she balances the humanity with the evil of her character. She seemed both one note yet inconsistent)

Holbrook - 4(Although Eastwood still is solid in the film Holbrook does some major legwork in salvaging the pretty lame villains of the film. For most of the film he's just the ball busting chief, which Holbrook does well as he's a worth adversary for Eastwood. When the twist is revealed though Holbrook does his part in bringing some much needed menace into the proceedings)

Bridges - 4(Everyone and I mean everyone is overshadowed by Robert Ryan in the film, but Bridges is affecting in depicting his the way his character's guilt seems to continue to grow until it wholly overwhelms)

March - 3.5(He brings a little bit of his overacting here, but for the most part I thought he managed to portray his character's sad earnestness in a moving fashion)

Marvin - 3.5(He has perhaps the trickiest role and I don't think he's ever bad. He's effective in what he is doing in that he is moving yet he never reigns the character in to make the truly substantial impact that role is capable of)

I'd rather not predict because anyone can suddenly earn that plumb role. I mean Bruce Dern could have easily been on that list before Nebraska went into production.