Ellen Berent is the main antagonist of the 1945 film noir Leave Her to Heaven as well as its book. She is obsessed with the protagonist of the film, Richard Harland. She was played by the late Gene Tierney, who also received an Academy Award nomination for her role.
Initially, Ellen presents herself as being a very outgoing and polite young woman who becomes enraptured by Richard Harland because of his likeness to her late father whom she is implied to have had an incestuous relationship with. However, beneath that veneer of kindness belies a truly sociopathic individual who becomes insanely jealous of anyone she feels is a threat to her and her life with Richard. This even extends to his family. Ellen is also noted to have terrorized her family members for years, driving her father to the brink of death, and bullying her cousin Ruth. Her love for her father can also be easily interpreted as her valuing him as a possession. When she first met Richard, she seemingly pushes her deceased father to the curb, fixating herself onto Richard.
Leave Her to HeavenEdit
After meeting Richard at a train station New Mexico bound, Ellen introduces Richard to her family. While she was to marry an attorney named Russell Quinton, she cuts her ties with the ambitious attorney, and weds Richard. The two appeared happy with each other for quite some time, at least until Richard receives a call from his kid brother Danny. He explains that he was hoping to return to the Back of the Moon so he could live with the couple. Despite Ellen's protests, Richard allows his brother to stay with them. One day, the two decide to head out to the lake. Danny decides to take a quick swim in the lake, tasking Ellen with helping him keep track. Eventually, because of being a paraplegic, Danny's lower body began to stiffen. Danny calls out to Ellen for assistance, only to be met by her emotionless glare. Danny succumbs to his stiffening lower body, and goes underneath the surface of the water. Ellen then calls for Richard, ergo making Danny's death seemingly an accident.
Distraught over losing his brother, Richard began to grow distant from Ellen. Annoyed by this, Ellen asks Ruth for advice. Ruth suggests that she provide Richard with a child, and Ellen begrudgingly takes her up on that proposal. Her obsession with being the center of Richard's attention overpowers her yet again, and she intentionally falls off the stairs, resulting in a miscarriage. Unfortunately for her, Richard eventually implicates her as being responsible for both the deaths of his brother and unborn child. Ellen admits this, proclaiming that she would continue murdering as long as Richard is hers. As a final act of spite for Ruth, Ellen forges her cousin's handwriting and blames her for making threats against her. She laces her cup of coffee with arsenic and deliberately poisons herself.
As expected, Ruth is accused of the murder while Richard is drilled for answers regarding the death. He initially refuses to comply until he hears Ruth admit to have always loved him. With this insight, Richard labels Ellen as a monster who did everything in her power to make his life miserable. Ruth is acquited for the murder, but as for Richard, he is sentenced to two years in prison for withholding information.