The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a peculiar film.
It pretends to be one thing, then by the end of the movie, it horrifyingly surprises you. At first, you believe it’s going to be a tender movie, celebrating the bond of love and friendship; 15 minutes in, however, that all changes for the worst.
If you’re a classic film watcher, you’ve probably seen this picture recently. Seeing as though TCM has become the sole purveyor in distributing these classic morsels, it’s become more and more common for folks in our blogosphere to overlap reviews of certain movies – this happens to be one of them.
In summation, the film follows the life and loves of a woman named Martha (played by Barbara Stanwyck) and the people around her that become collateral damage due to her actions.
Starting in her youth, Martha invariably had a habit of using people. Whether it be hiding away in a boxcar to get away from her overbearing aunt, to eventually killing her out of spite, Martha Ivers always knew that her past would catch up with her- and boy did it come back with a vengeance.
18 years after that fateful incident, childhood friend (and modern day drifter) Sam Masterson finds himself back in the same town that he vigorously fled almost 2 decades earlier.
He returns to find a city cloaked with the name of a former friend: Ivers.
Shocked but slightly amused, Sam takes his freshly crashed car into a ‘Ma and Pa’ shop to get it repaired. While kicking back with a cigarette in one hand and a ball of money in the other (Sam’s known to have a serious gambling problem) he overhears on the radio that Walter O’Neil (played by Kirk Douglas in his screen debut) is running for public office.
“This scared, meekly kid that I knew is making his living in politics?” Sam says to himself. “How could he garner the gusto to do this?”
“Ivers” the shop owner retorts; “Martha Ivers.”
When you view “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” your focus instantly goes to Walter and Martha and the intricacies of their relationship. What doesn’t get enough attention is the great worry and distress that Sam (and later his ex-con paramour ‘Toni’ Marachek expertly played by Lizabeth Scott) go through due to the tyrannical decisions of Martha and her submissive husband.
The pair meet when Sam takes the liberty to stroll past his old stomping grounds while his car’s being mended.
‘Fixing’ for a drink, he runs into Ms. Marachek, standing there with her perfectly coiffed hair and a sense of sadness surrounding her. They go for a drink and Toni tells Sam that she recently got out of jail and is dangerously close to going back if she violates her probation.
Being the slick guy he is, Sam believes he can sweet talk his old pal Walter (the county’s current D.A) into letting Toni get off easy.
Sam goes into Walter’s office and strikes up a conversation with his old acquaintance; about 10 minutes into their chat, in walks his wife, Martha Ivers. She reacts to his presence like her husband wasn’t even there. Martha smothers him with love and affection, essentially “cuckolding” her husband in plain sight.
This hurts Walter’s already crushed ego and from that point on, Sam’s life would be made a living hell.
First, Walter strong-arms Toni into setting Sam up, which leads him to be badly beaten by a bunch of Walter’s “friends” and Toni to reach her emotional breaking point. Then, they try to force him out of town, but Sam is far too proud to let that happen. Lastly, (and perhaps the most gruesome) Walter attempts to kill Sam himself hoping to conceal the secret that’s been haunting him and his wife for years.
Feeling bad about what her husband is putting him through, Martha takes Sam out on a late evening drive. She confesses everything to him, including the culprit of her aunt’s murder.
The only catch is Sam didn’t have a clue that Martha was the one who pushed her aunt down those set of stairs that night.
Martha uses this opportunity to rekindle her romance with Sam, leaving his new lover, Toni home alone sobbing into her pillow. Sam, being a red-blooded American male, is torn between his new love and his old. This is just another example of Martha using anyone around her to get what she wants.
Toni is an emotional wreck and contemplating leaving Sam in favor of her old life. Sam is confused over whether or not he should continue pursuing this relationship with Martha, and Walter? Well, he’s given up on life. He’s had it with everything including his wife, Martha. He decides to end it once and for all.
In the film’s iconic finale, Sam is invited to the Ivers’ manor to settle the situation. Drunk and rowdy, Martha finds out about this meeting and wants to be apart of it.
A couple of moments later, Walter falls down the stairs due to his drunkenness, echoing shades of how Martha’s aunt passed away. Martha urges Sam to take the gun that Walter keeps in his drawer and use it to kill him. Sam scoffs at this idea and carries Walter to his study to sober him up.
Martha doesn’t like this and threatens to shoot Sam in “self-defense.”
“It could work,” he says, “only if I was there to witness it.” With that being said, he leaves and doesn’t look back. As he’s walking away he hears gunshots, a murder-suicide.
What a relief.
All of that he went through, everything Martha put him through, everything Toni went through. The suffering, the heartbreak, the stress – pure torture. Fortunately, he finds Toni about to leave the hotel room they’ve been sharing for weeks and tells her what happened.
“It’s over, he says. “It’s finally over.”
The pair drive off into the sunset, never to look back at the grief and pain they suffered in a little wretched city named “Iverstown.”