A woman secretly suffering from kleptomania is hypnotized in an effort to cure her condition. Soon afterwards, she is found at the scene of a murder with no memory of how she got there and seemingly no way to prove her innocence.
A married Broadway producer is taken with an innocent young woman who wants to be a writer and make it on Broadway. He decides to take her under his wing, but it's not long before the young lady is found dead in his apartment. At first thought to be a suicide, it is later discovered that she has been murdered, and suspicion immediately falls on the producer. He begins his own investigation in order to clear his name, and one of the first things he finds out is that the young woman wasn't quite as naive and innocent as she appeared to be.Written by
Nunnally Johnson originally offered the role played by Ginger Rogers to Tallulah Bankhead, who called the writer-producer and, in a 25-minute phone conversation, gave him her reasons for rejecting the role. Rogers turned the part down as well, but had a change of heart after Johnson sent her a letter asking her to reconsider, on the proviso that she could take the relatively minor role and make it into a star-turn. See more »
Early in the movie, at Lottie's party the waiter first pauses with a full tray of assorted drinks--then passes uninterrupted through the crowd to offer the single remaining drink to Peter Denver. See more »
Tightly constructed, beautifully filmed, straight up high society suspense
Black Widow (1954)
An early full color Cinemascope drama, loaded with starts, and written by a high powered but somewhat forgotten stage and screen writer of the 40s and 50s, Nunnally Johnson. And this is one of a handful of films he directed, too. It's really quite a fully blossomed drama, and it grows with complexity as it goes. And it's packed with stars. The leading man has always impressed me even though he's not the handsome or powerful sort that usually commands the first credits, Van Heflin. he's really amazing, subtle and perfectly sophisticated and well meaning and (eventually) tortured.
His wife is played with usual cool cheerfulness by Gene Tierney, and their neighbor and friend is a haughty and ridiculous (perfectly so) Ginger Rogers. Rogers takes her role to the hilt, both in arrogance and frivolity and later in emotional breakdown.
What ensues is not just highbrow Broadway theater culture, but eventually a criminal (or psychologically suspenseful) tidal wave sweeps over the relatively lightweight beginnings, and the effect is kind of remarkable in its own way. I mean, it's so completely theatrical and melodramatic, and yet it really works as an interpersonal and heartfelt (and probing) drama, too. The writing is smart, nuanced, and it plays the line of being exactly what it is--meaning that it's about the very world that Johnson lives in.
The cop in this case is George Raft, always a little stiff and stiff again here, but he does his job. The seductress who is the center of all these talents is Peggy Ann Garner. Who is she? Well, after several years of being a successful child actress, and except for a small role in an obscure 1951 Fred Zinnemann film as an adult, Garner was a television actress (including some t.v. movies) bouncing from one series to another. Then, at the end of her career, she had small roles in three more features. And in many ways, she's the weak link here--she's supposed to be sleeping her way to success in the theater world, and yet there's something not quite right about her in this role. I suppose I underestimate middle aged rich men.
The plot this girl weaves for those around her is elaborate and devilish. And when it goes wrong for her, it really goes wrong for our main man Heflin. At the point the film is very much like Hitchcock film, with the apparently innocent man accused of a crime. Unlike Hitchcock, Johnson uses flashbacks at key points near the end., which do their job but also have a way of deflating the suspense.
See for yourself!
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