The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

movie poster
Directed by Lewis Milestone
Byron Haskin (uncredited)[1]
Hal B. Wallis (uncredited)[2]
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by Robert Rossen
Robert Riskin (uncredited)
Based on Love Lies Bleeding
by John Patrick
Starring Barbara Stanwyck
Van Heflin
Lizabeth Scott
Kirk Douglas
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Victor Milner
Edited by Archie Marshek
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • July 24, 1946 (1946-07-24) (NYC)
  • September 13, 1946 (1946-09-13) (US)
Running time
116 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $3,250,000 (US rentals)[3]

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a film noir released in the United States in 1946, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott and featuring Kirk Douglas in his film debut. The movie is based on the short story "Love Lies Bleeding" by playwright John Patrick using the pseudonym Jack Patrick and was produced by Hal B. Wallis. The film was directed by Lewis Milestone from a screenplay written by Robert Rossen and Robert Riskin, who was not credited.

The film was entered into the 1947 Cannes Film Festival.[4] In 1974, it fell into the public domain in the United States due to the copyright owner's failure to renew the copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[5]


On a rainy night in 1928 in a Pennsylvania factory town called Iverstown, thirteen-year-old Martha Ivers (Janis Wilson) tries to run away from the guardianship of her wealthy, domineering aunt with her friend, the street-smart, poor Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman), but is caught and brought home. Sam comes for her, but Martha's aunt hears her calling to him. While Sam slips out unnoticed, Mrs. Ivers starts beating Martha's cat with her cane. Martha wrestles it away from her and strikes her brutally, causing her to fall down the stairs and die. The event is witnessed by Walter O'Neil (Mickey Kuhn), the son of Martha's tutor (Roman Bohnen). Martha lies about the incident to Walter's father, and Walter backs her up.

Mr. O'Neil suspects what happened, but presents Martha's version of events to the police, that an intruder is responsible; with his leverage he makes Martha marry his son. When the police identify a former employee of the aunt as the murderer, the two O'Neils and Martha help convict him; he is hanged.

Seventeen or eighteen years later, the elder O'Neil is dead. Walter (now played by Kirk Douglas) is the district attorney, while Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) has used her inheritance from her aunt to build a large business empire. Their marriage is one-sided; he loves her, but she does not love him.

Sam (Van Heflin), now a drifter and gambler, stops in the small town by chance to have his car repaired after an accident. While waiting, he goes to look at his old home, now a boarding house. There he meets Antonia "Toni" Marachek (Lizabeth Scott), who has just been released from jail. She is later picked up for violating her probation by not returning to her hometown. Sam goes to see Walter to see if he can use his influence to get her released.

Walter is convinced Sam has blackmail in mind. When Martha reacts with joy at seeing Sam, Walter also becomes jealous. Walter forces Toni to set Sam up. Sam is beaten up and driven out of town, but he is too tough to be intimidated. When all else fails, Walter makes a halfhearted attempt to kill Sam himself, but is easily disarmed. Martha then inadvertently blurts out the couple's fears of blackmail, only to learn that Sam did not witness the death. Martha breaks down and laments that he left without her all those years ago, taking with him her only chance for love and freedom.

Sam is torn between his old love and his new. Although he eventually forgives Toni for betraying him, he and Martha spend an idyllic day together, rekindling his feelings for her.

Walter arranges to meet Sam to finally settle matters. Before Sam arrives, Walter gets drunk and Martha finds out about the meeting. When Walter falls down the stairs, Martha urges Sam to kill her unconscious husband. Sam instead brings Walter around. Martha pulls out a gun and threatens to shoot Sam in "self defense" as an intruder. Sam tells her it would work ... if she can get Walter to corroborate her story. He then turns his back on her and leaves.

Walter embraces and kisses his wife; then he points the gun at her midriff. Oddly relieved, she puts her hand over his hand on the trigger and presses. As she is dying, she defiantly states her name is not Martha Ivers, but Martha Smith. Outside, Sam hears the shot. He runs back toward the mansion, but sees Walter, holding Martha's body, shoot himself. Sam and Toni drive away together.


Cast notes


Director Lewis Milestone left the film for several days in sympathy with a set decorators' strike which was going on at the time. In his absence, the film was directed by Byron Haskin, who did not receive screen credit.[1][9] Stanwyck had considerable influence on how she was lit, and was not shy about putting her fellow actors on notice that she did not like to be upstaged. When she saw the coin trick Van Heflin had learned at Milestone's suggestion, to show that Heflin's character was a professional gambler she informed him to make sure he did not do it during any of her important lines, since she had a bit of business that would upstage him, if she had to. With that she raised her skirt high and adjusted her garter. The result was that Heflin only used the trick once in a scene with her.[9] Kirk Douglas later wrote that Stanwyck was indifferent to him at first, until at one point she focused on him and told him, "Hey, you're pretty good." Douglas, smarting from having been ignored previously, replied, "Too late, Miss Stanwyck," but the two got on well after that.[1][9]

Six months after the film's release, Milestone gave an interview in which he said he would never work for producer Hal B. Wallis again, because Wallis had wanted re-shoots in order to get more closeups of Lizabeth Scott. Milestone refused, telling Wallis to shoot them himself, and, according to the director, Wallis did.[2]

See also



  1. 1 2 3 4 Arnold, Jeremy. "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)"
  2. 1 2 Milestone, Lewis interview Los Angeles Sun Mirror (December 8, 1946), reported in "Notes" in the American Film Institute Catalog entry.
  3. "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  4. "Festival de Cannes: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  5. Pierce, David (March 29, 2001). Legal Limbo: How American Copyright Law Makes Orphan Films (mp3 in "file3"). Orphans of the Storm II: Documenting the 20th Century. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  6. Douglas, Kirk (2007) Let's Face It: 90 Years of Living, Loving, and Learning New York: John Wiley. p.21 ISBN 9780470084694
  7. Thomas, Tony (1991). The Films of Kirk Douglas. Carol. pp. 33–36. ISBN 9780806512174.
  8. "Cast" American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures
  9. 1 2 3 Callahan. Dan. (2012) Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman University Press of Mississippi. pp.152-53 ISBN 9781617031847
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