What’s So Strange about Martha Ivers’ Love?
As an actress, Barbara Stanwyck set the standard for the ruthless, manipulative sociopath who uses men to get what she wants, then neatly disposes of them. In the 1946 film noir classic, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Stanwyck does what she did best—preys on the vulnerability of the men around her. Do we believe the teenage Martha (Janis Wilson) when she says she’s not afraid of anything or when she tells her friend Sam (Darryl Hickman) how much she needs his protection when they attempt to run away together? How about when she tells their friend Walter (Mickey Kuhn) how frightened she is of thunder and lightning?
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers begins with the teenage Martha running away (again) from her domineering, cruel aunt who happens to be the wealthiest woman in town. When the police return Martha to her aunt (Judith Anderson, wonderfully despicable in the role), they argue, the aunt discovers Martha’s kitten on a stairway, beats it (presumably to death) with her cane, and Martha makes quick work of her aunt with the very same cane. Walter and his father (Roman Bohnen) are in the house at the time and support Martha’s ridiculous story that a man broke in the front door, killed her aunt, and ran away. Why? Walter’s father is Martha’s tutor and has designs on Auntie’s riches. Since Martha has no living relatives, he is appointed guardian. Sam was also in the house, but ran away before things started to get sticky. Where did he go? He joined the circus—wouldn’t you?
Fast forward to adulthood, and Martha (Stanwyck) has married Walter (Kirk Douglas in a stunning film debut) who is now district attorney. Sam (Van Heflin) has returned to town and fallen for ex-con Toni Marachek (a smoldering Lizabeth Scott). But when Sam meets up with Walter and Martha, sparks fly—as well as fists and bullets. Martha wants Sam in the worst way—the worst way being any way she can have him. She doesn’t love Walter (theirs is a marriage of extortion), but does she really love Sam?Continued on the next page