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The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

Screening on Film
Directed by Lewis Milestone.
With Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas.
US, 1946, 35mm, black & white, 116 min.
Print source: Library of Congress

Barbara Stanwyck effortlessly flourishes in the role of an unusual femme fatale born into totalitarian privilege, her ambition fortified by cynicism, guilt and revenge. Bound together by a contract of fear, she and her anxious, alcoholic husband – played with prickling desperation by Kirk Douglas in his debut – have spawned a dictatorship of sorts in the small town of Iverston, only to be startled by the sudden intrusion of a freewheeling shadow from their past, Martha's childhood love. Rossen's torn characters all bear varying degrees of allegiance to illusory symbols – money, power, freedom – and long for meaningful connections yet can barely recognize them within the distortions of a morally confusing world. Thus, even the most unscrupulous act – and the film's disquieting ending – is counterbalanced by a discreet sympathy for all of industrial society's misshapen victims.

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The Bodies and Souls of Robert Rossen

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