The Strange Love of Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck is waaay too happy to see Van Heflin (right). Image: Biography
Barbara Stanwyck is waaay too happy to see Van Heflin (centre). Image: Biography

Dear Reader: Today we are going to gush – GUSH! – over Barbara Stanwyck.

Stick with us and you’ll be gushing over her too. Just see if you don’t.

We realized Stanwyck was gush-worthy when we screened the 1946 drama The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. This, to us, is the perfect example of why Ms. Stanwyck is a legend.

The film opens as Stanwyck’s teenaged character, a rich and fiesty gal, plans to run away with a boy from a poor family. However, the sudden death of Stanwyck’s aunt/guardian upsets her plans and sets a new trajectory for her life.

Nearly two decades pass, and the grown boy (Van Heflin) returns to discover that Stanwyck is rich and powerful, and is married to their meek childhood friend (Kirk Douglas). An old flame is re-ignited when Heflin and Stanwyck meet, but Douglas suspects Heflin’s “friendliness” masks uber-sinister motives.

This is all we’re going to tell you about the plot, which is more far complex and intriguing than we’ve described here. We don’t want it to get in the way of our gushing.

Here’s something about The Strange Love of Martha Ivers: Stanwyck doesn’t make her first appearance until at least 20 minutes in. And when she does, she suddenly bursts onto the screen in a fur stole and a crystal-embroidered evening gown. It’s quite an entrance! There is no doubt in our minds that she is The Person In Charge Around Here.

Stanwyck’s character is as cold and canny as any we’ve seen on film. But she practically sparkles when she’s on screen with Heflin. She becomes a young girl again, looking admiringly at him, eager for his approval. However, in the second it takes to shift her gaze to Douglas, she becomes full of contempt and meanness.

She and Douglas are phenomenal in their scenes together. She controls his actions with one icy look; he, in turn, is the perfect blend of desperation and resignation. In one scene, Douglas says Heflin is coming to the house. Stanwyck replies, meaningfully, “I’ll go and change. I don’t want him to see me in the same outfit twice.”

Stanwyck has far less screen time than other players. But even when she’s not in a scene, you feel her presence. You find yourself thinking, “Uh oh. What’s she going to say about this?”

Stanwyck is one of those actors who can make you believe anything she wants you to believe. She has contempt for Douglas, so we have contempt for Douglas. She practically worships Heflin, so we do too. It’s almost as though she tells us what to think, and we do – even when we feel we shouldn’t.

The last scene in this movie is carefully done and we feel it shows Stanwyck at her best. We won’t tell you what happens, but we will point out that only Stanwyck could have played it the way it was written. In the hands of a lesser-skilled actor, the scene would feel contrived. Not only does Stanwyck create a believable outcome, she makes us realize this is the finale we’ve been expecting all along.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a rather twisted story that asks some pointed moral questions. Still, it is a redemptive sort of film that lets us experience, in a small way, the healing properties of forgiveness. It takes someone like Stanwyck to carry a movie with these heavy undercurrents and make it look easy. It is her movie, as it should be.

Go on, now. Gush. You know you want to.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers: Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott. Directed by Lewis Milestone. Written by Robert Rossen. Paramount Pictures, Inc., B&W, 1946, 117 mins.

This post is part of the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, hosted by the lovely Girl with the White Parasol. For more fab posts, click HERE.




  1. Obviously, like everyone else with any common sense, I love Barbara in everything, but you are absolutely right about her in this film- she sparkles with charisma. I love her in every moment of every scene, because somehow she always knows exactly what to do. Bravo once again, and thanks for bringing this performance into the spotlight.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gush? Don’t mind if I do! Stanwyck’s ability to flip between cunning manipulation and coy sweetness is one of her trademarks, as is her amazing ability to dress down anyone who gets in her way. I think the only performance of hers I never truly bought (though I need to rewatch it) was in Sorry Wrong Number, since it’s hard to believe the woman could be scared of anything!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haven’t seen this one yet, but I must do – sounds like a fantastic cast and intriguing plot! And Stanwyck is an actress worth all the gushing.


  4. Ruth, who could even WANT to live in a world without Barbara Stanwyck? I truly regret that I was too darn swamped to take part in the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon. but I’m delighted that you opted to blog about about THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS! It’s positively Hitchcockian in its madness. The supporting cast aren’t small potatoes, either; I’ve always liked Van Heflin, and If I’m right, this was Lizabeth Scott’s film debut, as well as being an early role for Kirk Douglas (feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken). Who WOULDN’T gush about Barbara? BRAVA on a splendiferous post, my friend!


    • Dor, I’m sorry to hear that you aren’t participating in the blogathon but I understand that life is sometimes pretty crazy.

      “Hitchcockian” is a good way to describe this movie. And you’re right about the supporting cast – you couldn’t ask for better. Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas & Lizabeth Scott all give perfect performances.


  5. Perfectly stated. I have gushed about this movie for ages. My only quibble has always been with the actress who plays the young Martha. I never cared much for her acting style, and if anyone not legally blind would think that kid could grow up to look like Barbara Stanwyck, they are insane. Speaking of insane, only Stanwyck can make you root for the wrong side. Or is it the wrong side? What could Martha say?


    • I’m so glad you’re a fellow gusher!

      I see what you mean about the kid who plays the young Martha. I like her intensity, but sometimes she pours it on a bit much.

      And yes, whenever Stanwyck is on the “wrong side” I always root for her, even though I tell myself to stop it!


  6. I have always loved Barbara Stanwyck, too! I am not familiar with this movie, but now I am intrigued. I loved her in Meet John Doe. Thanks for pointing me to another movie with her in it.


    • She was great in “Meet John Doe”, wasn’t she? It’s been a while since I’ve seen that… I need to watch it again.

      I hope you get a chance to see this one. It really illustrates her considerable acting talents.


      • Hi Ruth, I wanted to let you know I finally got to watch this movie. It was so interesting. It is hard to see Barbara Stanwyck play such a twisted person. She does a great job of it, though. So controlling even to the end. I’m so glad you called this movie to my attention and that I was able to find it. Thank you!


      • Yay! So glad you had the chance to see it. You’ve made a good point about how controlling Stanwyck’s character is, even in that last crucial scene.

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂


  7. One of my favorites of her films. A dark journey of the soul to be sure with Stanwyck doing her icy best in the title role. I’ve always thought it was interesting and good casting that Lizabeth Scott was so like Babs, the gruff exterior covering a wounded inner life. Van Heflin’s character says he wants to escape Martha but migrates to someone so similar and doesn’t even seem to realize it.


    • Joel, you make an excellent point about Lizabeth Scott’s character being so similar to Stanwyck’s.

      Scott is terrific in this film, too, isn’t she? I think it’s one of my favourite performances of hers.


  8. I’ve seen her in “Sorry, Wrong Number,” “Double Indemnity,” and in “The Thorn Birds,” but I haven’t seen this one. It sounds interesting.


  9. One of the things I like about this film is the near-emasculation of Kirk Douglas. He’s like a Venetian blind that gets flipped out of the way whenever the sun — Stanwyck — shows up to flood the room with light.

    Wonderful review, especially in not focusing on plot. Thank you!


    • Kirk Douglas is utter fabulous in this movie. He gives SUCH a great performance.

      I like your analogy of Douglas’ window blind to Stanwyck’s sun. Very clever — and true.

      Thanks for dropping by. 🙂


  10. Well done, Silver Screenings. One of my favorite movies period, not because it’s one of the greatest but because it’s such a kinkfest, such an interesting hybrid of noir and melodrama. Great-looking film, really good script. Pretty disturbing stuff. Do you think Heflin and Scott have a chance of being happy as they drive off into the future? I wish them the best but feel that, both coming from broken homes, it’s going to be tough.


  11. I enjoyed the film for two reasons, the performance of Barbara Stanwyck, doing what she does best, playing a ruthless woman, who will do anything to get what she wants and the debut of Kirk Douglas.


    • Kirk Douglas is terrific here, isn’t he? He’s new to the screen but you’d never know it.

      If there were a Kirk Douglas blogathon, I would review this film all again just gush over his performance.


  12. Oh she is very gush-worthy! I adore her too, but dangit, I haven’t seen your movie!! What is wrong with me? Must go find. That sounds like one that will make my Monday. How could it be a bad day if Barbara Stanwyck is in it somewhere? She’s quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites. Thanks for this post dear!


    • I’m glad she’s becoming a fave — she deserves to be!

      During the current Barbara Stanwyck blogathon, I’m discovering a LOT of her movies that I’ve never seen. So you’re not alone in this. 🙂


  13. I simply adore this movie and I love Stanwyck in it. It’s always strange to me how limited her screen time really is, and yet her presence hangs over everything. The scene where she comes at Heflin with a flaming torch is one of my top Stanwyck moments of all times but I agree with you that the ending is her best scene in the movie. Chilling, inevitable, and utterly brilliant. I also cherish her Edith Head wardrobe in this one, which makes her look beautiful and subtly threatening at all times. Poor Lizabeth Scott doesn’t stand a chance. Your review is an excellent tribute to this weird, unforgettable film and I’m so glad you decided to join the blogathon.


  14. I haven’t seen this in so long, you’ve really made me want to see it again! Although I enjoy Barbara in comedies, I think I prefer her movies with more of an edge, so I’m eager to see this, especially since I’ve become a bigger fan of Kirk Douglas since then. Thanks for the great review!


    • Barbara is terrific in comedies, isn’t she? She has really good timing, and she makes it look so easy!

      If you’re looking for Stanwyck with an edge, this is one to see. It’s a dark movie, but also a hopeful one. Stanwyck again proves she’s the master of subtlety and full-on aggression. I hope you get a chance to see it!


  15. Martha Ivers certainly is one of THE BEST characters Stanwyck portrayed. I always wanted to know more about her life with Walter than the storyline of Sam and Toni. Thanks for sharing!


    • Can you imagine anyone other than Stanwyck portraying Martha? C’est impossible!

      You make a good point about Martha’s life with poor Walter. Telling the story from Walter’s point of view would also make a compelling movie.


      • I had a fleeting thought that maybe Joan Crawford could’ve played Martha, but then the movie would’ve basically been Queen Bee and kind of a ham fest. As much as I love Crawford, Barbara is probably the better actress and perfect for this movie. Great write up! Makes me want to gush, too!


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