Tuesday, November 18, 2008


“The secret of love is greater than the secret of death.”


A pre-nuthouse Gene Tierney, the coolest guy named Van, awesome New York skyline matte paintings, a tap shoeless snobby Ginger Rogers, and a scheming purpose girl who stuffs her face and her well, you know.

More details here.


Peter Denver (Van Heflin) is a successful Broadway producer with an elegant actress wife (Gene Tierney) and resides in a hip, urbane, and chic apartment building in 1950s New York. Unfortunately, one of his neighbors is meddling diva Lottie Marin (Ginger Rogers) who holds socialite parties where her favorite pastime is humiliating ladies with bad hats and dressing down intellectuals with witty repartee. While the wife is out of town, Peter meets a young aspiring writer named Nanny (Peggy Ann Garner) at one of Lottie’s shindigs. Amused by her spunky attitude and dreamy literary desires, Peter strikes up a friendship with her and we are led to assume they are purely platonic. In a flashback, we witness Nanny’s arrival in New York, and a picture is painted of a smart bright-eyed youngster with dreams of becoming a novelist in the big city. But she gets her heart broken when she gets knocked up by a law student in the Village. With a talent to maneuver in the social network of upper crust Manhattan, she weaves a scheme to get into the moneyed world of Broadway to support herself, her career, and the bun in her oven. Unfortunately Nanny winds up rather dead in an apparent suicide. A tough cookie cop (George Raft) has his doubts and reveals that the suicide was a cover for murder and Peter becomes the primary suspect. And Lottie’s gossipy ways and his wife’s insecurities don’t exactly help. With the cops breathing down his neck, his neighbors sticking their fingers in his business, and his wife weeping all the way to divorce court, Peter has no time to lose and must find a way out of this tangled web before he becomes a tasty Vanwich.


I’m not fully convinced that Black Widow qualifies as a film noir. Yes, there’s a murder, there’s sketchy characters doing immoral things, there’s a tough as balls copper, and well, there’s the grim title of the picture. But where’s the stark visuals? Where’s the sexy seductress? Where’s the fallen man? Where’s the gruesome violence? OK, maybe I’m reducing the genre to a set of clichés, so I guess my main problem lies with the titular character herself and the fact that the movie often feels like a melodrama wrapped around a mystery. Maybe the question lies with figuring out who exactly is the Black Widow of the picture. Mrs. Denver is never fully developed to qualify her for the distinction. And Lottie, played terrifically to the bitchy hilt by Rogers, is certainly a frontrunner. But the suggestion points to Nanny, who besides being a cunning schemer, is never convincing as a masterful manipulator, cutie-pie psycho, and devourer of men’s souls. Well, at least that was my expectation. The always reliable Heflin isn’t given much to do besides narrate Nanny’s origin, befriend her to get the ball rolling, and then look desperate in the third act. Helflin’s natural down-to-earth style is more than enough to make the ride enjoyable. The movie is presented in colorful Cinemascope and is brightly lit and stagey, making it feel even less than a traditional noir. But it’s nice to look at and there are some nice shots of mid-century New York to add to the urbane atmosphere. Director Nunnally Johnson’s approach looks more like a television program and less than an engaging dark drama. But the pace is right, the actors turn in fine performances, and the plotting is decent enough to make this a respectable murder mystery.

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