5 Great Films Starring Gene Tierney

Classics featuring the luminous actress from the 1940s

A luminous actress who started her career on Broadway, Gene Tierney was discovered by studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and rapidly became a leading lady in the early 1940s. Tierney starred in films directed by such overbearing personalities as Ernst Lubitsch, Otto Preminger, and Fritz Lang, but always managed to hold her own. It was with Preminger that she made her most famous film, Laura (1944), a classic film noir that elevated her career. Though she continued acting well into the 1960s, it was the classic era of the 1940s where Tierney made her largest impact.

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'Heaven Can Wait' – 1943

The Criterion Collection

After being discovered by famed studio executive, Darryl F. Zanuck, while performing on Broadway, Tierney signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. She quickly rose to leading status and starred in this screwball comedy directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Heaven Can Wait starred Don Ameche as Henry Van Cleave, a 70-year-old man who dies and tries to convince a skeptical Satan (Laird Cregar) that hell is where he belongs. Henry tells his life story in order to recount his sins, which includes stealing the lovely Martha (Tierney) away from her fiancé (Allyn Joselyn). Tierney delivered a quality performance and showed strong chemistry with Ameche, despite her struggles with the "tyrant" Lubitsch behind the scenes.

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'Laura' – 1944

20th Century Fox

A classic film noir directed by Otto Preminger, Laura proved to be Tierney's most remembered film. The actress played the title character, Laura Hunt, a woman we learn at the start who's been murdered. Tough New York detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates the crime and beings interrogating the top suspects, including a charismatic newspaper columnist (Clifton Webb), a trust fund playboy (Vincent Price), and a wealthy socialite (Judith Anderson). McPherson grows more obsessed with the case, and with Laura, the deeper he goes, only to discover that she's really alive. That kicks off an even deeper dive into who was really killed and why. Laura was one of the greatest film noirs ever made and helped catapult Tierney to greater stardom.

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'The Razor's Edge' – 1946

20th Century Fox

A romantic drama adapted from the Somerset Maugham novel, The Razor's Edge featured Tierney perfect cast opposite Tyrone Power. The film starred Power as Larry Darrell, a disillusioned veteran of World War I who makes his way to Paris and joins famous members of the Lost Generation. Of those include socialite Isabel Bradley (Tierney), who marries another man for wealth despite Larry's love for her. Larry moves on to a romance with the unstable, alcoholic Sophie (Anne Baxter), only to see Isabel reenter his life and try to break them apart. After Sophie's death, Larry shuns Isabel's advances, blaming her for Sophie's death, and goes back to America a changed man. Tierney's performance was hailed by critics, but she was largely overshadowed by Baxter's powerhouse Oscar-winning turn.

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'Leave Her to Heaven' – 1946

Twilight Time

One of the few Technicolor film noirs from the era, John Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven gave Tierney the opportunity to shine as a femme fatale. Told in extended flashbacks, the film starred Tierney as Ellen Berent, a beautiful, but unstable socialite who meets novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) on a train, and immediately falls in love with him. The two quickly marry, but Ellen shows her pathological jealousy whenever Richard displays any kind of affection toward someone else, leading to a series of "accidents" that result in the deaths of Richard's handicapped brother (Darryl Hickman) and his unborn baby. Eventually, Ellen kills herself and tries to pin it on her adoptive sister (Jeanne Crain), though it's Richard who winds up paying a price. Tierney was excellent as Ellen and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, but ultimately lost out to Joan Crawford's iconic performance in Mildred Pierce.

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'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir' – 1947

20th Century Fox

A romantic fantasy from director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir featured fine performance from Tierney and her costar Rex Harrison. Tierney played the titular Lucy Muir, a young widow who escapes her impossible in-laws by moving into a seaside cottage with her daughter (Natalie Wood). Despite being warned that the cottage is haunted, Lucy moves in anyway, only to discover that it is indeed haunted by the spirit of a profane sea captain, Daniel Gregg (Harrison). Lucy refuses to be frightened and Daniel takes a shine to her, leading them down the path of friendship, collaboration, and eventually love. Tierney and Harrison gamely performed their roles, displaying excellent chemistry together, despite the movie's far-fetched premise. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was later adapted into a short-lived TV sitcom in the late-1960s.