Rage in Heaven (1941)

Rage in Heaven (1941) is a mannered psychological jealous love and madness film noir from the early years of the psychological jealous love and madness noir period.

Intimate and wild, formatively dramatic, Rage in Heaven is naturally also served with a twist of vaudeville, because psychological harm was only communicable in this manner at the opening of the era, circa 1940 and 1941.

Psychology is a supernatural form for noir and romance cinema, spoken of in unfounded vagueness and mystery, often in authoritative or awed tones.

The vaudevillian doctors of early psychology are a cinematic class unto themselves and are more prominent and more interesting and contain more semiotic fare in the 1940s, than they do or appear to be in any other decade.

Director W. S. Van Dyke II weaves a web of intrigue in this British-set suspense thriller, a tale spun from the ink of James Hilton, the mastermind behind literary gems like Goodbye, Mr. Chips  and  Lost Horizon

The theatre of psychoanalysis with Oscar Homolka in Rage in Heaven (1941)

In March 1941, the release of Rage in Heaven was met with critical scrutiny. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, here we go with the top cinematic noir and other style authority of the era expressed bewilderment at Metro’s decision to introduce a new, unsympathetic character amidst global turmoil. He criticized the character’s lack of depth and Robert Montgomery’s uninspired portrayal, which lacked the intensity of a genuine psychological breakdown. Crowther suggested that Montgomery’s performance might have been a punitive measure by the studio for his public comments about the film industry.

Robert Montgomery and George Sanders suitors lunatic and adorable in Rage in Heaven (1941)

Manny Farber, writing for The New Republic in 1946, contrasted Ingrid Bergman’s unaffected performance in “Rage in Heaven” with her more polished roles in “Notorious” and “Spellbound.” He praised her for bringing an air of innocent enchantment to the film, despite being surrounded by seasoned actors.

The mild mannered pastoral marital in Rage in Heaven (1941)

In 2011, Dennis Schwartz reflected on the film’s production issues, revealing that MGM had coerced Montgomery into participating under the threat of suspension and salary reduction. Montgomery, seeking a break from his contract, retaliated by delivering a lackluster performance, further hampering a film already suffering from an implausible plot and stiff melodrama.

The critics’ assessments paint a picture of a film marred by studio politics and an actor’s rebellion, with Bergman’s performance being a lone bright spot in an otherwise criticized production.

Aloft lunatic in arbor with Robert Montgomery in Rage in Heaven (1941)

Rage in Heaven  unfolds as a sophisticated yet utterly implausible tale, an unhinged tale of self-impalement with Robert Montgomery assuming the role of the unhinged husband, Philip Monrell. His mind, a twisted labyrinth of deceit and madness, plots sinister schemes against his unsuspecting wife, Stella Bergen, portrayed by the luminous Ingrid Bergman. But lurking beneath the facade of marital bliss lies a sinister plan—to pit Stella against his closest confidant, Ward Andrews, played with calculated charm by George Sanders.

Stella, once a mere secretary to Philip's mother, Mrs. Monrell, becomes ensnared in a tangled web of desire and manipulation. Yet, as Philip's grip on reality wanes, his jealousy festers, shattering any semblance of happiness that might have been.

George Sanders in Rage in Heaven (1941)

Ingrid Bergman in Rage in Heaven (1941)

Skilled authoritarian auteurian filmmaker W.S. Van Dyke, known as "One-take Woody," took the helm after Robert Sinclair fell sick and failed to sway star Robert Montgomery to cooperate. Under threat of studio suspension and salary reduction, MGM compelled Montgomery's participation. When Van Dyke was unavailable, Richard Thorpe handled reshoots.

Montgomery's contempt for the studio led him to deliver his lines in a deadpan manner, disrupting the film's production. Coupled with the implausible plot and stiff melodrama, this contributed to its challenges.

Adapted from James Hilton's well-received novel, the film unfolds in England, where neurotic millionaire Paul Montrell returns from Paris to his rural estate. There, he becomes enamoured with his mother's secretary, Stella. Despite his insecurities and suspicions, Paul marries Stella, setting off a series of events leading to tragedy.

Unloving robot and staring scheming cat murderer, Phillip is a demented man for the early 1940s, the first of a breed that will survive World War 2 and go on to populate many a noir narrative.

The plot clumsily unveils Paul's psychopathic tendencies as he engineers his own demise to incriminate his friend, Ward, for murder. Ward narrowly avoids the gallows thanks to a last-minute intervention from a Parisian clinic director, who exposes Paul's deceit, sparing Ward from an unjust fate.

Robert Montgomery delivers a performance steeped in chilling fun, reminiscent of his previous portrayal in Night Must Fall. Bergman and Sanders, each wielding their own brand of charisma, infuse the narrative with a captivating allure. The are both stars of noirs.

With Christopher Isherwood lending his pen to the screenplay, the film gains a semblance of truth and purpose amidst its artificial theatrics, this is where Isherwood's genius touches film noir.

Romance, marriage, madness beneath the veneer of drama lies a stark reality—it's a tale as dramatic as it is contrived. While the poster lamely proclaims its dramatic nature, it inadvertently captures the essence of the film—a gripping descent into the depths of jealous human madness.

Our male lead is a man of the 40s, a psychopath before the idea has even been diagnosed. He's effectively an elite, a driven noir male lunatic, driven by his mother's smothering affection into a paranoid and lying male insecurity blanket of slowly dawning rage, as he worries about how attractive he is, nervously sitting his childhood treehouse in a his dinner suit, muttering fantasies of freedom from the domestic stress of being the boy to the manor born. 

Robert Montgomery in Rage in Heaven (1941)

And he would do anything for the innocent young objective of his psychopathic eye, including dying for her and if that won't be necessary, then killing for her, or just killing anything, like a cat, or dreaming up bonkers implement-impalement schemes. There has to be a mad and violent way got him to prove his life and exorcise his upper class English mother-smother demon.

Thus the setting for an English stately home madness scenario, as Robert Montogomery's character Phillip Monrell plays the class madness aspect up to the maximum as he proves to be a poor industrialist as well as a lousy husband.

This genre, the Lousy Husband Film Noir is characterized by its shadowy visuals, morally ambiguous characters, and intense emotions, provides a fertile ground for exploring the darker aspects of human nature. Oh and lousy husbands, they are the stuff that the Amercian Dream feared the most, and they louse things up, for everybody.

A Rage in Heaven, based on James Hilton's novel, thrusts us into a world where charm masks inner turmoil and paranoia festers like a hidden wound. Lousy.

Philip Monrell, the British steel mill owner, conceals his hereditary insanity behind a façade of charm and insouciance. His ability to sidestep responsibility by relying on his accomplished friend, Ward Andrews, hints at a deeper psychological struggle.

Born on March 21, 1889, in San Diego, California, Van Dyke initially worked as an assistant director to the legendary filmmaker D. W. Griffith. His early career involved collaborating with Griffith on several silent films, learning the craft of filmmaking.

Van Dyke gained prominence as a director during the transition from silent films to films with synchronized sound.

His efficient and pragmatic approach earned him the nickname "One Take Woody." He was known for completing scenes quickly and effectively, often capturing the desired shot in just one take. Notable films of high enjoyment from his very canon do include:

Tarzan the Ape Man  (1932) : Van Dyke directed this adventure film, which marked the first appearance of  Johnny Weissmuller  as  Tarzan .

The Thin Man  (1934) : A highlight of his career, this classic mystery-comedy starred William Powell  and  Myrna Loy  as the witty detective duo  Nick and Nora Charles .

San Francisco  (1936) : A dramatic film set against the backdrop of the  1906 San Francisco earthquake, featuring  Clark Gable  and  Jeanette MacDonald.

He directed six popular musicals starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, contributing to their on-screen chemistry and success.

Van Dyke's skilful direction led to several Academy Award nominations for his films. His legacy remains significant in Hollywood's golden age, as he contributed to shaping the early sound era of cinema.

Beyond the camera, Van Dyke was an avid big-game hunter and travelled extensively. He had a passion for adventure and exploration, which influenced his filmmaking style. Unfortunately, his personal life was marked by struggles, including health issues and alcoholism. Van Dyke passed away on February 5, 1943, at the age of 53.

His contributions to film continue to be celebrated, and his work remains influential in the history of American cinema. In summary, W. S. Van Dyke was not only a prolific director but also a man of adventure and determination, leaving an indelible mark on the world of movies.

Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood (26 August 1904 – 4 January 1986) was an Anglo-American novelist, playwright, screenwriter, autobiographer, and diarist. His father, Francis Edward Bradshaw Isherwood, was a professional soldier, and his mother, Kathleen Bradshaw Isherwood, hailed from a successful wine merchant family.

Notably, Isherwood was a cousin of the renowned novelist Graham Greene. At Repton School in Derbyshire, Isherwood met his lifelong friend Edward Upward. Together, they invented an imaginary English village called Mortmere.

Isherwood attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied history but left without a degree in 1925. His fictional autobiography, Lions and Shadows (1938), provides insights into this period of his life.

Isherwood gained prominence for his works set in Berlin during the early 1930s. Goodbye to Berlin (1939), a semi-autobiographical novel, inspired the iconic musical Cabaret (1966). His portrayal of the city's vibrant and tumultuous atmosphere captured the zeitgeist of the pre-war era.

A Single Man (1964), adapted into a film by Tom Ford in 2009, explores themes of love, loss, and identity. Christopher and His Kind (1976), a memoir, delves into his experiences and relationships, including his involvement in the Gay Liberation movement.

Isherwood was openly homosexual, and this theme permeated some of his writing. He became a U.S. citizen in 1946 and spent much of his life in Santa Monica, California. His legacy endures through his novels, plays, and candid diaries, which provide glimpses into his multifaceted existence.

Monrell's marriage to Stella Bergen triggers an obsession. He becomes convinced that Andrews aims to steal Stella away from him.

His paranoia distorts reality, leading to a tragic love affair between Andrews and Stella.

Unable to eliminate Andrews physically, Monrell devises a twisted revenge plan. He orchestrates his own suicide, leaving clues to frame Andrews for murder.

This desperate act underscores Monrell's unravelling mental state and the dangerous consequences of his paranoia.

Ingrid Bergman, playing Stella Bergen, grapples with a character inadequately suited to her. Her discomfort reflects the intensity of the story. Despite her reservations, Bergman's performance adds depth to the film, even as Monrell's paranoia threatens to consume all.

In this psychological drama, the battle between sanity and madness unfolds, leaving us questioning who truly holds the upper hand.

So when you place all these elements side by side, the fun noir narrative tells an intense story, of lousy husbands, and vaudevillian psychologists, and madness and self-impalement, and beauty and love, and love stifled and jealous assaulting rage and super-high social types in tragedy, from outwith smoke-filled rooms of film noir, jealousy simmers like a hidden poison, and plays the human field, delivering a stern fantasy of the domestic. 

Men the same on the outside in Rage in Heaven (1941)

The domestic permeates the narratives, leaving characters ensnared in a web of desire, suspicion, and treachery. The madness of Capital permeates the narrative, with more steel mill madness than there is in The Deer Hunter. Whether it's the femme fatale's calculating gaze or the detective's smouldering resentment, jealousy fuels the tension that defines this type of steel mill madness.

At the heart of many film noir plots lies a love triangle, where passion and possessiveness collide. The male protagonist, often a flawed antihero, grapples with his own inadequacies while coveting the woman who tantalizes him. 

The maddened and lousy weakened male's jealousy manifests in subtle glances, clenched fists, and desperate attempts to keep her close. In Jealousy (1945), the wife of an alcoholic writer takes up a taxi-driving job to make ends meet. When she befriends a young man, her husband's murder thrusts them into a sinister dance of suspicion and desire¹.

The man who identifies himself as Ward Andrews is a central figure in the story. Doctor Rameau's suspicion that Andrews might not truly be English reveals an element of paranoia. The doctor's need for the British consul's assistance to verify Andrews' identity underscores this.

Paranoia often involves excessive suspicion and doubt about others' intentions, leading to a distorted perception of reality.

Phillip Monrell's abnormal suspicion that his wife, Stella, and Ward Andrews are in love demonstrates classic paranoid tendencies. Despite no concrete evidence, Phillip's mind conjures up a scenario where his wife and Ward are romantically involved. This unwarranted jealousy fuels his paranoia.

Phillip's decision to invite Ward to visit and work at the family steel mill despite his suspicions is paradoxical. He simultaneously trusts and distrusts Ward, revealing his internal conflict.

His paranoia escalates when he attempts to kill Ward, believing him to be a rival. This violent act stems from irrational fears and distorted perceptions.

Stella's departure from her husband after a frightening moment further highlights the paranoiac theme. Her fear of Phillip's behaviour and her need to seek refuge with Ward emphasize the toxic environment created by Phillip's paranoia.

Foundry folly and the meltdown madness of men in Rage in Heaven (1941)

Phillip's plan to frame Ward by provoking a loud argument, knowing it will be overheard by a servant, showcases his cunning and desperate attempt to control the situation. His paranoia drives him to extreme measures, endangering others' lives.

In summary, the story weaves a web of suspicion, jealousy, and distorted perceptions, portraying the paranoiac aspects that drive the characters' actions and unravel their lives.

Sick with Rage in Heaven (1941)

The femme fatale, an archetype central to film noir, wields jealousy as a weapon. Her allure lies not only in her beauty but also in her ability to manipulate men. She stirs envy among rivals, playing them against each other like chess pieces. 

Man versus woman in film noir Rage in Heaven (1941)

In Gelosia (1953), an Italian noir gem of a beauty of a diller of a passionate cinematic hour and a bit, the titular emotion consumes the characters. The stunning Anna, caught between two brothers, navigates a treacherous path of passion and betrayal. Her jealousy becomes a catalyst for tragedy, blurring the lines between love and destruction².

Film noir detectives, perpetually shrouded in shadows, harbor their own jealous demons. Their pursuit of truth often intertwines with personal vendettas. As they unravel mysteries, they encounter duplicitous lovers, deceitful spouses, and envious adversaries. Their obsession with justice mirrors their inner turmoil—jealousy over lost love, missed opportunities, or unattainable redemption. These detectives are both hunters and hunted, their motives as murky as the alleys they tread.

Film noir revels in moral ambiguity. Jealousy blurs the lines between right and wrong, loyalty and betrayal. The femme fatale's eventual betrayal of her lover (or herself) remains as enigmatic as her feelings toward him. Is she driven by genuine affection or a calculated desire for self-preservation? The answers remain elusive, adding layers of complexity to the narrative. In this murky landscape, jealousy becomes a prism through which characters view their twisted desires.

Shades of Male in Rage in Heaven (1941)

In the chiaroscuro world of film noir, jealousy is more than a mere emotion—it's a catalyst for tragedy, a mirror reflecting fractured souls. As we watch characters grapple with their jealous demons, we recognize our own vulnerabilities. Perhaps that's the allure of film noir—the thrill of exploring the darkness within us, wrapped in the seductive cloak of mystery.

Rage in Heaven (1941)

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke

Genres - Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama, Marriage Drama  |   Release Date - Mar 7, 1941 (USA - Unknown), Mar 7, 1941 (USA)  |   Run Time - 82 min.


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