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The Strange Love of Martha Ivers


A ruthless, domineering woman is married to an alcoholic D.A., a childhood companion and the only living witness to her murder of her rich aunt seventeen years earlier.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a black-and-white 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 (dramatist) – 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.< name=""></> In 1974, it fell into the List of films in 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.<></> During filming Van Heflin was helpful to Douglas; this being his first time on a film set.


On a rainy night in 1928 in a Pennsylvania factory town called Iverstown, Martha Ivers (Janis Wilson), a young girl yearning to escape from the guardianship of her wealthy, domineering aunt, is caught trying to run away with her friend, the street-smart, poor Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman).
Later that night, Sam comes for her and they agree to try again. When her beloved cat gets loose in the house, Sam goes to retrieve it, but Martha's aunt hears the commotion. Sam slips out unnoticed, but Mrs. Ivers finds the cat on the staircase and attacks it with her cane. When Martha intervenes, she unintentionally kills her aunt. This is witnessed by Walter O'Neil (Mickey Kuhn), the son of Martha's tutor (Roman Bohnen). Martha lies about the incident to Mr. O'Neil, and Walter supports her.
Mr. O'Neil suspects what happened, but presents Martha's version of events to the police, that an intruder is responsible. He forces her into testifying against an innocent man, resulting in his execution. He then blackmails Martha, taking control of her life and forcing her to marry his son.
Eighteen years later, 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 when he crashes his car and has to wait for it to be repaired. At his old home, now a boarding house, 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 that Sam has returned with blackmail in mind. When he observes his wife's joyful reaction to the news, he has an additional motive for running Sam out of town. He forces Toni to set Sam up. Sam is beaten and driven out of town, but he is too tough to be intimidated. When all else fails, Walter makes a half-hearted attempt to kill Sam himself, but is easily disarmed. Martha then inadvertently blurts out the couple's fears, but they prove to be groundless: Sam tells her he 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 and is knocked unconscious, Martha urges Sam to kill him. Sam instead brings Walter around. Martha pulls out a gun and threatens to shoot Sam in "self defense" as an intruder. However, Sam gambles that Walter will not back up her story; he 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.


  • Barbara Stanwyck as Martha Ivers
  • Van Heflin as Sam Masterson
  • Lizabeth Scott as Antonia "Toni" Marachek
  • Kirk Douglas as Walter O'Neil
  • Roman Bohnen as Mr. O'Neil
  • Judith Anderson as Mrs. Ivers
  • Janis Wilson as the young Martha Ivers
  • Darryl Hickman as the young Sam Masterson
Cast notes:
  • This film marked Kirk Douglas' screen début. Producer Hal B. Wallis was on his way to New York to look for new talent when Lauren Bacall suggested he look up her old drama school classmate, Issur Demsky, later to be renamed Kirk Douglas.
  • Future film director and producer Blake Edwards has an uncredited bit part as a sailor who hitches a ride with Sam.

See also

  • List of films in the public domain
  • Notes

    Category:1946 films
    Category:1940s drama films
    Category:American films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:English-language films
    Category:Films directed by Lewis Milestone
    Category:Film noir
    Category:Paramount Pictures films
    Category:Films set in Pennsylvania
    Category:Film scores by Miklós Rózsa
    Hal Wallis Productions

    More Public Domain Movies