The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) Classic Movie Review 173

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

I missed a bus once and I was lucky. I wanted to see if I could be lucky twice.


Today’s movie is The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). This interesting Film Noir is rated a solid 7.5 on[1]. On has this movie at 100 percent on the Tomatometer and 73 percent audience approval[2].

An anonymous New York Times film critic said on July 25, 1946:

Miss Stanwyck is twice the hard-boiled, lustful vixen that she played in “Double Indemnity,” though her characterization of Martha is more on a one-dimensional plane. Kirk Douglas is convincing as her husband. But it is Van Heflin as Sam who has the meatiest role, and he makes the most of it. This is the actor’s first part since he was discharged from the Army, and he brings to it that quality of rugged integrity and certainty of action that is characteristic of Spencer Tracy’s acting. Lizabeth Scott, as the girl on parole, has some pretty silly-sounding lines, and her performance generally lacks conviction, a circumstance that finds the author responsible, too, since the character is poorly written.[3]

So, get ready for an excellent Film Noir with a lot of snappy dialogue, a dame who has had some hard breaks, a drunk, an evil Femme Fatale, and a guy that shouldn’t be pushed.



Barbara Stanwyck played the lead role of Martha Ivers nee O’Neil. Stanwyck was covered in Episode 37 – The Violent Men (1955).

Kirk Douglas played the role of Walter O’Neil, a childhood friend, and later husband of Martha Ivers. This movie was in fact that great actors first film. Douglas was first covered in Episode 4 – In Harm’s Way (1965).

Dame Judith Anderson had a small role as Aunt Ivers, Anderson was first covered in Laura (1944).

Van Heflin played the role of Sam Masterson, a childhood friend of Martha and Walter. This was Heflin’s first film since returning from the US Army Air Corp and World War II. The raw toughness showed through. Heflin was first covered in Episode 98 – They Came to Cordura (1959).


Lizabeth Scott played the role of Antonia ‘Toni’ Marachek, a troubled woman that gets involved with Sam Masterson. Scott was born in 1922 in Pennsylvania. After attending Marywood Seminary, she took theater training in New York City. She did quite well and was a Broadway understudy. On her 21st birthday, she met director Hal B. Wallis. He was interested in her as an actress, but she never met with him because she was offered another stage role.

In 1944, she was invited to Hollywood based on some photographs of her in a magazine. She then proceeded to bomb in screen tests for three different studios. Wallis again said he would hire her if he could but she didn’t believe him think he did have the power. After Wallis signed with Paramount and Scott did likewise. Between 1945 and 1957 Scott made 21 films, many as a loaner for other studios.

Scott’s first film was You Came Along (1945). Next, she was given a significant role in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). Her third film, I believe, was her strongest performance. In Dead Reckoning (1947) she played the femme fatale opposite Humphrey Bogart as good guy/Film Noir hero.

Her other well-respected films are Desert Fury (1947), I Walk Alone (1948) with Kirk Douglas, Pitfall (1948) with Dick Powell, Too Late for Tears (1949), and Easy Living (1949). Not achieving the stature, she expected she passed on many good roles such as The Rose Tattoo (1955). Her lesser quality films include Dark City (1950), Red Mountain (1951), Two of a Kind (1951), Scared Stiff (1953), Bad for Each Other (1953), the western Film Noir Silver Lode (1954), and The Weapon (1956). She ended her film career in Loving You (1957) with Elvis Presley.

Scott passed away in 2015 at the age of 92 having seen her increased popularity due to the replaying of many of her films.

Roman Bohnen had a small role as Martha’s tutor and the father of Walter O’Neil. Bohnen was first mentioned back in Episode 5 – Of Mice and Men (1939).

Walter Baldwin, who played the role of Homer’s dad in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) had a small role as the garage owner Dempsey.


A factory owned by E.P Ivers is shown in Iverstown in 1928. A small boy avoids the railyard police before meeting up with a young girl in a train car. The girl is heiress Martha Smith Ivers. She tells the boy, Sam Masterson, that he is the only one she can run to. The police open the car door and catch the two youths. The boy Sam makes a successful break.

At the Ivers’ mansion, Mrs. Ivers (Dame Judith Anderson), the aunt of Martha, takes care of bills as she waits for the return of her wild ward. Mr. O’Neil (Roman Bohnen), Martha’s tutor brings in his son Walter O’Neil to claim credit for reporting Martha’s location. Aunt Martha says the boy will be rewarded. The father wants the boy to go to Harvard.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Martha and her pet cat are returned to the mansion. The butler takes the cat upstairs, and Martha goes to see her aunt. Mr. O’Neil is still in the room and has been told Martha is going to be sent away, causing him to lose his job. In the argument, the aunt slaps Martha. The aunt tells her that her name has been changed to Ivers like her mother and that her father was of no account. Martha starts screaming that she will kill her aunt.

After Martha is sent upstairs, the aunt asks Mr. O’Neil to stay and talk. Sam is waiting in Martha’s room with the cat when she gets there. A rainstorm outside causes the power to go out. Sam shows up outside the window and is let into the room. Sam says he is leaving and Martha has to stay there. Martha tells Sam she will go alone if he doesn’t take her along. He relents. Martha goes to the attic to gather her things. The cat, on cue, heads downstairs and Sam goes after the animal. The aunt hears Martha. Sam heads out the front door. With Martha and Walter at the top of the stairs, the aunt starts beating the cat to death with a cane. Possibly justified cat killing. Martha takes the cane and strikes her aunt on the head causing her to fall down the stairs. Mr. O’Neil comes out and sees the dead woman and the two children. Martha says it was big man the committed the crime and he ran out the front door. Under pressure from Martha, Walter agrees. Walter says Sam will tell and Martha says he never will.

Mr. O’Neil comes and coaches the children on what to say when the police investigate them. He also says he and Walter will never leave Martha. Sam jumps the circus train and rides out of town, unaware that the aunt was killed.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Eighteen years later in 1926, Sam Masterson (Van Heflin) is driving towards Iverstown. Riding in the car is a sailor that hitched a ride, played by future film director Blake Edwards. Sam gets distracted by the sign for Iverstown and crashes into a pole. Sam takes his damaged car to a garage. He is told they won’t know about it until the next day. Sam finds a friendly craps game to join. Sam hears that Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas) is running for district attorney. He also finds out that Walter is married to Martha Ivers. Sam says Walter is still a scared little boy.

Sam sees a lovely woman, Antonia ‘Toni’ Marachek (Lizabeth Scott) coming out of the house where he used to live. Toni says she has been away for a while. She is waiting to catch a bus. Sam leaves as the taxi comes to take her to the bus station. Toni picks up Sam in the taxi. A train across the tracks stops Toni from making her bus. Toni invites Sam out for a drink. Sam sends the taxi driver to get a room for Toni at the hotel where he is staying. The two have a very common drunken father past, with the associated poverty. Some real snappy dialogue and they are ready to travel the world together.

Back at the Ivers mansion, Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck) comes in from the speech she has given for her “ill” husband. Walter is drunk as a skunk at home. It is clear that their marriage is loveless. It is the fourth anniversary of Walter’s father’s death. The dreams his father had for him, the cover-up of the murder, and forcing prosecutor Walter to convict and have executed a man fitting the description of the made-up man from the night of the aunt’s murder had ruined Walter’s life. Walter kisses Martha, but she gives him the dead fish. He crawls back to his bottle.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Sam and Toni check into their rooms. She admits that she didn’t buy the bus ticket, she got it. Toni comes to Sam’s room, and the confirm their plans to leave together in the morning. Toni confesses that she just got out of jail. When Sam gets out of the shower, Toni is out cold. He covers her with a blanket and sleeps in the other room. He takes his wallet and his bottle.

In the morning, two policemen come to Sam’s room. Toni is not there. They cross through to the other room and find Sam sleeping in Toni’s room. They check his ID and see that he was a Sergeant and severed in three invasions. They have arrested Toni for a parole violation for trying to cash in her bus ticket. The newspaper reminds Sam that Walter is in the DA’s office.

Sam goes to see his old friend. Walter is in his office and already hitting the bottle. Walter decides to see Sam. The two go over old times and then decide to have a pre-breakfast drink. Sam finally ask Walter to get Toni off on the parole violation. Martha shows-up and doesn’t recognize Sam until he gives their old whistle. Walter is very unhappy with the reunion of the two. Walter thinks Sam is blackmailing him about the murder, but Sam doesn’t even know about the murder. Walter warns Martha that they are being blackmailed. Walter orders the full suite of investigations into Sam.

Sam meets Martha at the mansion. She asks about Sam’s life after he left town. The conversation is strange because Martha thinks Sam knows about the murder and may want to blackmail her. Martha starts trying to put the hooks on Sam. He says he is moving on. Martha gets mad and demands to know what Sam really wants. Martha puts the smooch on Sam and it ends weird.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Martha calls and tells Dempsey (Walter Baldwin) to slow down the car repairs. The detective reports this and other information to Walter. They find out that Sam has a great war record, is a professional gambler, and beat a murder rap in Reno. Walter asks to have Toni brought over.

Sam waits outside of the jail for Toni. Walter grills Toni and wants her to frame Sam. Sam tells Toni that Walter is an old friend. Toni and Sam go for drinks. She is sheepishly hiding something. Toni tells Sam that she was in prison for theft. Joe (John Kellogg) shows up at the bar and says he is Toni’s husband. He and Sam go out back to fight. A police detective comes in and tells Toni to leave. When she goes out front, she sees Sam being beaten and driven out of town by Joe and some other men. They drop him, alive, in a ditch 25-miles out of town. Sam has pulled a private detective badge off one of the men. He also has the look of a man that is going to get even. He flags down a bus and rides back to Iverstown.

At the bus station, he sees Toni getting on a bus. He grabs her off the bus and demands that the crying Toni tell what the deal was. She tells about Walter asking questions. She wants to be hit, and Sam forgives her. He is going back to town to set things right. Toni decides to go back with Sam.

Sam shows up at the Ivers mansion and strong arms the butler to be admitted. He is taken to Walter and demands that Martha come down. Walter offers Sam a drink and then he tries to pull a gun on Sam. Sam slams the drawer on Walter’s hand. He punches Walter. Sam sees the report on himself. Martha comes down, and Sam tells Martha about the private detectives that beat Sam. Walter admits he hired the men and then wants to know what the blackmail amount will be.

Martha tells Sam to meet her at the plant at 3 pm to make the deal. Walter warns him again, and Sam says if he tries anything else, he will kill him.

Martha treats Walter’s hand, and he tells her he knows about the call to the garage. He tells her to have Sam leave that day.

Sam meets Toni in a restaurant. Toni gets a little green-eyed. They plan on leaving that night when the car is fixed. Toni thinks it is odd that someone could remember the exact date from something so many years before.

They go to the newspaper and Sam is told about the murder and the trial by the Newspaper Clerk (Olin Howland) and that Walter was the prosecutor.

Sam goes to see Martha at the plant. Sam starts to talk about Martha’s aunt, and she changes the subject. She asks what he wants, and Sam says half. Martha is still in love with Sam.

Sam comes in and tells Toni that she is good luck. Toni is modeling for Sam when Martha walks in on them. Toni leaves, and Martha wants to stay in the room. Sam insists that go out. They go to an upscale club and dance the night away. Sam wants to get to business. Martha insists they leave. Sam sees Joe at the bar and gives him a nice beating. Martha is excited by Sam’s toughness. Sam compares Martha to Lot’s wife that turned to salt in the Bible. They sit by a fire in the woods. Sam says he waited for Martha that night. She thinks she would have married Sam if he had stayed. Martha asks Sam why he didn’t stop her. He drops the bomb on her that he wasn’t there where her aunt was killed. They fight and kiss.

Martha makes a full confession. She says that Walter’s father replaced her aunt’s role. He also pressured her to testify against the innocent man and to marry Walter.

Toni sees Martha and Sam kissing when she dropped him off. Sam goes in to see Toni who has been crying. Sam starts telling her he is leaving with Martha. He leaves it open-ended.

When Martha goes home, Walter knows she has been with Sam. Walter has given the servants the night off, and he calls Sam to request that he come to the Mansion. Martha basically tells Walter he is out.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Toni is getting ready to leave, and Sam comes into her room. Toni begs Sam not to get involved with Martha and to leave the town. They agree to split up.

Sam arrives at the mansion and is let into the house by Walter. Walter wants to know what will become of the three of them. Walter is threating to kill Sam and implies that Martha has had plenty of other lovers. Walter says he expects Martha to payoff for covering up the murderer. Walter can’t get over how easy it was for Martha to send a man to death and that Martha did it to keep her wealth. Walter says that Martha will demand that one of the two men dies. The drunk and sick Walter begs for Martha help. Walter falls down the stairs, bring back the death of Martha’s aunt.

Martha asks Sam to kill Walter and let the stairs and the hooch be blamed. Sam picks up Walter and carefully lays him in a chair. Sam tends to Walter and Martha realizes that Sam does not love her. Now he feels sorry for her. Walter realizes that Sam could have killed him if he so desired. Martha takes a gun out the desk drawer, and Sam urges her to confess.

When Sam tries to leave, Martha pulls the gun on him. Walter seems to be going along. Sam gambles that Walter won’t testify for her if she kills him. Sam says he feels sorry for the two of them as he leaves.

Martha tells Walter that she was afraid he would leave her. Walter says it is no one’s fault. Martha says everything will be different between them like nothing ever happened. She asks if he believes her. Walter pulls the gun out, and Martha helps him shoot her in the belly. As Sam runs back, he sees Walter kill himself.

Sam goes back to the hotel and begins packing. Toni comes back in and said she missed the bus once and got lucky, so she tried again.

Sam and Toni drive out of town, and he tells her not to look back, saying remember what happened to Lot’s wife. When she says who, he replies, Sam’s wife. They drive away leaving all of the mess behind.

World-Famous Short Summary – Love quadrangle works out half right

I hope you enjoyed today’s show. I appreciate you spending the time listening. You can find connections to social media and email on the site at There are links in the podcast show notes as well. Remember this show is completely free and independent. If you get a chance, jump over to Apple Podcast and give the show a review. It helps the show get found.

Beware the moors


The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers (1946)

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