Friday, January 9, 2015

BLACK WIDOW 1954

Today to get the public to attend a picture show,
It’s not enough to advertise a famous star they know.
If you want to get the crowds to come around...
You’ve got to have Glorious Technicolor,
Breathtaking CinemaScope,
And Stereophonic Sound.
Cole Porter -1955 Broadway musical "Silk Stockings"

“The first big murder-mystery in CinemaScope!”, “The first crime-of-passion story in CinemaScope!" - Thus screamed the poster and newspaper ads heralding the 1954 release of 20th Century-Fox’s all-star, all-color, widescreen film noir, Black Widow. Well, seeing as I somehow never even heard of this movie until just last year (how that is even possible given the prominent role The Late, Late Show played in my movie fan developmental years is beyond me), I’m going to have to take their word for it being a "first" in the annals of CinemaScope. What I can attest to is that by combining the backstage bitchery of All About Eve (1950) with the murder-mystery-told-in-flashback structure of Laura (1944), and burnishing it all to a garish, high-gloss color palette reminiscent of How to Marry a Millionaire (1953); Black Widow succeeds in being a pleasingly campy goulash of disparate genre tropes and style conventions in search of a unifying tone.
Ginger Rogers as overbearing diva of the New York stage Carlotta Marin
Van Heflin as slow-witted theatrical producer Peter Denver
Gene Tierney as patrician stage star Iris Denver
George Raft as the Beau Brummel of the NYPD, Detective Lt. C.A. Bruce
Peggy Ann Garner as  Southern-fried "purpose girl" Nancy Ordway
Reginald Gardiner as lapdog househusband Brian Mullen
Promoted by movie studios in the 1950s to compete with the escalating popularity of television, CinemaScope is, like today’s mania for 3-D (that ship has struck dry-dock by now, hasn't it?), a technological advancement devised to enhance the moviegoing experience which doesn't necessarily translate to enhancing the actual film itself. In its time, CinemaScope was a spectacle-based invention that proved ideal for epics (The Robe – 1953), musicals (How to Marry a Millionaire – 1953), and scenic adventure films (Beneath the 12-Mile Reef – 1953). Black Widow, a murder mystery based on the novel, Fatal Woman by Hugh Wheeler (A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd) was an early experiment by Fox to try out its widescreen process (with blistering color by Deluxe) on a less visual, more narrative-driven genre.

Set in the glamorous world of the New York theater (although no one in the film ever sets foot on a stage), Black Widow feels more like Americanized Agatha Christie than full-blown noir. It throws together a colorful assortment of cliché Broadway luminaries, bigwigs, hangers-on, and bohemian Greenwich Village types, then stands back as this close-knit group of professional pretenders grows progressively unraveled by the inconvenient intrusion of a murder into their sheltered enclave. 
Virginia Leith as Claire Amberly
Although I always associate Leith with Ira Levin's A Kiss Before Dying (1956), fans of MST3K will recognize Leith as the disembodied talking head in 1962s The Brain that Wouldn't Die
While Black Widow is built around the noir staple of having an individual's life spiral out of control due to being falsely accused of a crime, missing-in-action is the hard-boiled dialog or requisite climate of fatalism necessary to make this overlit whodunit feel like a genuine sample of the real thing. Not helping matters is the fact that time better spent fleshing out character motivations or tangling them more convincingly into the central web of the mystery is given over to draggy amateur sleuthing that leans heavily on coincidence and relies too often on slow-witted police work.
Skip Homeier as John Amberly
Plot: Naive to the point of thick-headed producer, Peter Denver (Heflin), befriends guileless 20-year-old wannabe writer, Nancy Ordway (Garner), while his stage star wife is out of town (Tierney). However, the platonic nature of their friendship fails to prevent the raised manicured eyebrows and wagging, gossipy tongue of neighbor, Great Lady of the Stage, and all-around busybody, Carlotta Marin (Rogers), despite the demurred assertions of her cowed husband, Brian (Gardiner).
At the periphery of this innocent but potentially combustible situation are well-heeled sister and brother, Claire and John Amberly (Virginia Leith and Skip Homeier): she a slumming Greenwich Village artist, he a law student; Nancy’s uncle, Gordon (Otto Kruger), a low-tier stage actor; Anne (Hilda Simms), Nancy's sharp-as-a-tack co-worker; Lucia Colletti (Cathleen Nesbitt), the Denvers’ loose-lipped maid; and, once things take a nasty turn , Lt. Bruce (Raft), the steel-eyed, near-immobile detective.
Otto Kruger as Gordon Ling
The mystery at the core of Black Widow is handled fairly effectively, what with some throw-you-off-the-scent casting and a perhaps unintended lightness of approach helping to generate a few genuinely unexpected twists along the way. Also working in the film's favor is how the film uses the atmosphere of ruthlessness and duplicity common to movies set in the world of show business to create a mystery-friendly environment rife with homicidal potential. And I certainly can't find fault with the production itself, it being a veritable cavalcade of stagy sets, overdone fashions, and the apparent 50s vogue for unflatteringly short hairdos resembling gold-hued bathing caps made of tense, lambswool curls.
But in the end, neither the dark promise of its title, nor the camp excesses suggested by its gaudy visuals are ever realized in sufficient force to make Black Widow more than a handsomely mounted, slightly overdressed crime thriller.
Cathleen Nesbitt as Lucia Colletti

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
It isn't common for a film’s greatest strengths to be found in its weaknesses, but Black Widow is frequently at its most persuasive when serving up a brand of moviemaking so glossily old-fashioned that its patently theatrical artificiality begins to take on the characteristic of something resembling a style.
From the outset, Black Widow embarks on a narrative course endorsing a mode of dress (the crisp, stiff clothes all look like costumes), setting (95% soundstage, 5% NYC locations), and performance (all indication, little believable emotion), all supporting the theory of a concentrated effort on the film’s part to bear as little resemblance to real life as possible.
There's an alien "otherness" to the look of the film created by the lighting and composition requirements of the CinemaScope process. A process that turns New York into a sterile and oddly spacious environment (a basement Greenwich Village coffeehouse looks to be roughly the size of an airplane hangar) that puts it at direct odds with the kind of shadowy claustrophobia one associates with film noir.
The sort of natural, laid-back blocking only CinemaScope could offer
I sound like I'm complaining, but honestly (and this may be mere perversion on my part) I found the discordant visual tone to actually work to Black Widow’s advantage. Based on its initial scenes and not knowing anything about the film before I saw it, I thought Black Widow was going to be a light romantic drama. One of those 50s “woman’s pictures” combining elements of All About Eve (Tallulah Bankhead was first approached for the Ginger Rogers role), The Moon is Blue (that film’s star, Maggie McNamara, was first choice for the Peggy Ann Garner role), or a continuation of Rogers’ own Forever Female (1953), another age-centric rivalry set in the world of theater.
That these posh surroundings, pretty people, and harmlessly waggish conversations are setting the stage for a murder mystery took me totally by surprise. And so it remained throughout: Black Widow's key lit, musical comedy sheen works at such amusing variance with what one has come to expect from noirish suspense thrillers that it inadvertently serves as a device to keep the audience off balance.
Mabel Albertson (left), known to scores of classic TV fans as the smothering mother figure on Bewitched, That Girl, and The Andy Griffith Show, gets a chance to let her hair down (and, by the looks of it, her bosom) as Sylvia, the tough-broad proprietress of a Greenwich Village hangout

PERFORMANCES
Beyond the musicals she made with Fred Astaire, I’m not enough of a fan of top-billed Ginger Rogers to know if the divinely catty character she plays in Black Widow is as much a departure from type as it seems. She always displayed a charming brassiness in films like Stage Door and Golddiggers of 1933, so perhaps this isn't that much of a stretch, but with Van Heflin’s one-note performance and the obvious fragility of Gene Tierney (the actress was in the early throes of a mental breakdown during filming), Ginger Rogers' flamboyant energy is a godsend. Plus, she gets all the best lines.
In a role that amounts to little more than a bit part, Broadway actress Hilda Simms
gives the most  natural, convincing performance in the entire film
For former child star Peggy Ann Garner (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), Black Widow was a a bid for adult legitimacy on par with Patty Duke's Valley of the Dolls...and just about as successful. Given grief by critics at the time for not being a believable "type," I think she succeeds in the role chiefly for that reason. Garner's Nancy Ordway is a far more convincing babe-in-the-woods than, say, Anne Baxter's brazenly transparent Eve Harrington in All About Eve.
Pretty much the entire arc of Van Heflin's character

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
To convey the grand style of the New York theater folk at the center of Black Widow, 20th Century-Fox designer William Travilla whips up a drag queen's wet dream of ostentatious outfits for Ginger Rogers to parade around in. Happily, the longtime dancer is physically up to the task.

Carlotta - To put the kindest face possible on it, the girl was a little horror. A transparent, syrupy little phony with about as much to offer a man as 'cuckoo the bird girl.' Not even Peter with all of his radiant innocence about women could have been stirred for one instant by that dingy little creep.
Peter - Lottie, the girl is dead!
Carlotta - I know...and that’s precisely why I refuse to speak harshly of her!

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
For a movie written, produced, and directed by a single person (Nunnally Johnson of How to Marry a MillionaireThe Grapes of Wrath, The World of Henry Orient, etc.) Black Widow distinguishes itself by being almost completely lacking in distinction. Polished, well-made, and not nearly as vulgar as one might hope given the subject matter, Black Widow looks and feels like Hollywood product, circa 1954, that could have been directed by any number of studio contract professionals.
The tall, lanky fellow holding his hat is future TV producer Aaron Spelling.
Gene Tierney's health problems while making Black Widow necessitated her being seated in virtually all of her scenes
 
And perhaps that's why, for all its slick competence, Black Widow never coalesces into more than just a pleasantly diverting way to  spend 95 minutes. A crime-of-passion movie without passion is a cold affair indeed, and Black Widow, while lovely to look at and fun in a detached sort of way (imagine absent-mindedly playing a game of "Clue") is ultimately most rewarding as a time-capsule view of Hollywood in its final years before it was forced to change in the 60s.

Never intended to break new ground, Black Widow - a 40s noir retrofitted with color and CinemaScope - is but an example of 1950s Hollywood trying to hold onto its audience by giving them brighter and shinier versions of what they've always given them. Sorta like today today's digital, HD, CGI, 3-D opuses.

The black widow, deadliest of all spiders, earned its dark title through its deplorable practice of devouring its mate. 


Copyright © Ken Anderson

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for blogging about this somewhat "obscure" movie! It's an old favorite of mine--first saw it sometime back in the late 1970s on a Washington, DC "UHF" TV station. (I think I saw nearly EVERY 20th-Century Fox movie of the fifties on that channel--and, of course had no concept of "pan-and scan" at the time! Who knew we were only seeing "half" of the movie?!) Anyway, I remember LOVING "Black Widow"! I just found it SO entertaining, and I remember being genuinely shocked when the killer's identity was revealed! To tell the truth, I was enthralled!! For YEARS, I yearned to see it again--and throughout the 80s and 90s, I'd see "Black Widow" in the cable-TV listings--and get all “excited”!! But it was always the Debra Winger/Theresa Russell movie instead of the 1954 "Black Widow," of course! Finally--maybe two years ago--I had the chance to see the older "Black Widow" again, in "letterbox" and with no commercial interruption! It wasn't AS good as I'd remembered it being--few things are! But I think you make some great points in review--despite some faults, it's STILL "diverting" and fun--those HUGE, improbable sets, the costumes, the “milieu.” Ginger steals the show--but as you note, the rest of the cast seems either "grumpy" (Heflin) or somewhat "out of it" (Tierney). (Also, Reginald Gardiner is a fine actor, but I thought that his role probably should have been played by someone more "dashing"--George Sanders or somebody?) At the time I rewatched this "Black Widow," I thought that I could go without seeing again for ANOTHER 30-something years, but reading your write-up makes me want to watch again!!

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    1. Thanks!
      Your thoughts on this film echo my own on first viewing it! I really enjoyed it a great deal and was quite surprised by the murder mystery angle. I've really watched the film about 5 or 6 times now, somewhat dampening my original ardor, but it still remains a very watchable, diversion.
      Not a classic, but a thoroughly entertaining film from an era when all that artificiality was never seen as a deterrent to storytelling.
      The point you make about Gardiner's role is quite on point, and i agree. A more dashing kind of loafer would have been ideal (he does have the most wonderful voice, though).
      I never saw this in pan and scan, but the first time you saw this widescreen and without commercials must have been a revelation.
      I'm still at a loss for how I missed this film throughout my entire movie-obsessed youth. I would have worshiped it.
      By the way, that thing you experience with cable TV listings of "Black Widow" that turn out to be the Debra Winger film, duplicates my experience whenever I see "The Fan" listed on cable outlets. I always get excited thinking it will be the Lauren Bacall thriller and it's always the terrible Robert DeNiro/Wesley Snipes film.
      Nice to hear from someone who knows and likes this film and actually has a history with it!

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  2. Hi Ken - great choice to brighten up a dreary colorless winter day--Ginger Rogers as a consummate b*tch in vivid technicolor, Cinemascope and stereophonic sound! Black Widow is a great guilty pleasure - you know me, if it's described as artificial and "glossy" I am there like white on rice!

    I love Beef's memory of our beloved UHF stations and the treasures they'd play...I used to watch flicks like these on a black-and-white set with a snowy picture, using aluminum foil on the antenna to make the picture clearer! And pan-and-scan was a crime...remember that scene in Millionaire in the restaurant with Bacall and Powell, but all you could see was the lamp on the center of the table? I love that now, with our big horizontal TVs, we can enjoy Cinemascope as originally intended! I never mind the letterbox...
    Cheers, Ken!! Keep the cinema fires burning this winter!

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    1. Hi Chris
      I remember well all those widescreen movies I grew up watching on TV where the pan and scan device gave us images of the camera positioned awkwardly "between" the characters speaking on either side of the screen. i remember the first time I saw the letterbox version of "How to Marry a Millionaire"... entire performances materialized that I'd never knew were there!
      This movie seems the perfect escapist sort of fluff I would have eaten up had I even known it existed.
      Your memories of those snow-filled black and whiteTV sets with the antenna wires that had to be manipulated bring back childhood memories I've romanticized at my age. Like you, I really love the whole letterbox thing today. We really missed so muh on those old screens.
      Rodgers' character is hilarious in the opening scene with Bea Benaderet, and she remains is a welcome sight every time she reappears with one bitchy remark after another.
      Glad you enjoyed the post, Chris. And thanks for the memories!

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  3. I have nothing to add about the movie, having never seen it, except that any hairstylist who could make the ethereally lovely Gene Tierney look as plain as she does with that unflattering helmet hair deserves to have his/her scissors revoked!

    However, I must add my two cents to the "late show" nostalgia: when I got my first summer job (1974), I saved my money and bought a little black and white tv for my bedroom. The reception was terrible--I had to position the tv by a window with the antennae almost outside to get a picture. Then I would religiously pore over the TV Guide every week, circling the movies I wanted to see--and setting my alarm for, oh, three in the morning so I could groggily watch "Streetcar Named Desire" or "The Scarlet Empress." When I tell that to my kids, they look at me as if I'm telling them the old "When I was your age, I had to walk five miles to school" cliche. They don't understand what it meant to not be able to find almost anything you want to see almost immediately. I don't know, but there was something about really wanting to see those movies and making the effort to see them that has been totally lost today.

    /And you whippersnappers better stay off my lawn!

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    1. Hi Deb
      I don't know if it was the period or what, but I agree...how does one make the exquisite Gene Tierney look like a soccer mom? The women's hairstyles in this are the biggest crime and biggest mystery.
      I love your "Late Show" nostalgia tale. Your revery made me recall that I used to set my alarm for certain movies too. And that fact that you didn't know when/if you were going to see them again made them extra special.
      It's fun having one's favorite film on DVD, but I'm convinced my sentimental attachment to movies like "They Shoot Horses" and "Rosemary's Baby" is due to the fact that after seeing them once, months or years could go by before i could see them again, allowing for building up anticipation and stockpiling memories.
      In every area of life, one loses a great deal if one loses the excitement of anticipation (something only an old person would say).
      Great to hear from you!

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    2. That is an awesome story, DDD!
      I remember poring over the TV Guide too and looking forward to see "Butterfield 8" or "All About Eve" on the Saturday night late show!
      Of course, now I love being able to find just about ANYTHING on Netflix, streaming, cable, YouTube, etc!
      Rick

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  4. Spot on, as always, Ken! I need to find this movie...haven't seen it since I was a kid watching the afternoon movies on TV!

    Whenever I watch TCM with my sister, she always comments on how the hairdos of the '50s and early '60s made actresses look at least a decade older than they really were. Joan Crawford was the perfect example of this--short, severe, and shellacked--her hair, not JC herself ; ) Speaking of Joan, Ginger's role as diva Carlotta seems right up Crawford's alley, wonder how she missed this one?
    How strange that Gene Tierney was in such emotionally bad shape that they had to film her sitting--given the state of the film industry at the time and '40s actresses scrambling for work--I'm surprised they just didn't replace her! Also, though I love Gene with her '40s long hair, she still looks lovely here, and at least she didn't get in on the poodle perm action that Ginger and Peggy Ann apparently partook together!

    Cheers! Can't wait to check this out again!
    Rick

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    1. Hi Rick
      Thank you very much! I agree with you about those 50s hairdos...so severe and unflattering for the average star. That poodle perm (I'd forgotten that name!) is a particular horror.
      Crawford would have been a shoo-in for the Rogers role and one wonders if she was at all an early consideration. Hard to imagine she wasn't.
      As for Tierney, I know what you mean. Given how slight a role it is, any actress could have played it (one with "classy good looks, anyway) and I'm surprised she subjected herself to it under the circumstances. Was she a Fox contract star?

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    2. Gene was a Fox leading lady and was pretty much at the end of her career, and probably money, too...until she married her Texas millionaire in the 60s!

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    3. Thanks, Rick. So maybe there was perhaps a bit of studio loyalty playing a part in giving her the work and keeping her on when she was so obviously having a hard time of it. At least that's what I'd like to think.

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  5. Hi Ken,

    Delightful recap as usual! By chance one of the local stations happened to be showing this last evening so I gave it a re-watch before commenting.

    While the Cinemascope is beautiful you're right it's all wrong for the tenor of the tale. I love it in films like Woman's World where the ability to capture the sumptuousness of the surroundings adds an extra touch to the soapy goings on. But in something that should have taken place in grimy dressing rooms and back alleys it's a tension killer. You mentioned how Cinemascope was a gimmick like 3-D and at one time they were using it however inappropriately as is done here and as they now do with 3-D. I do think (and hope) the 3-D craze has passed what with the last few exercises in that sick making process flopping. I couldn't be happier about it, it gives me a headache and I have no desire to be in the movie I'm watching!

    I enjoyed the film but Johnson's direction was prosaic just letting the story dawdle along unlike a director such a Edgar Ulmer or Nick Ray who would have sheared about ten minutes off and had a much more lively movie. Gene Tierney's part could have been cut completely. Since the mystery was middling I'll focus on the cast, the obvious draw at the time anyway. Speaking of Gene and having read her bio I knew she was falling apart during the filming of this and while she looks good, for a star of her stature her part is remarkably small. Her serene countenance betrays nothing but it's a miracle considering what rough shape she was in at the time she was able to even get to the studio each morning.

    The first thing I noticed was that at the beginning this is a veritable dream for lovers of supporting TV actresses of the 60's with Bea Benaderet, Cathleen Nesbitt and Mabel Albertson with her shocking pink top (and bazooms!) popping in and out quickly. Always a plus for me!

    Loved your comment about those ghastly 50's hairdos which seemed to be a rebellion against the elaborate 40's dos which could take on skyscraper proportions. I adored those looks although you really had to have a certain demeanor and carriage to make them work. For instance they worked wonderfully on Rosalind Russell, Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth but on less distinct personalities they sometimes appeared to be getting ready to swallow the wearers head! The New Look swept them away and while the clothes of that wave were very cool the styling of women's hair seemed to age everybody by about ten years with its severity. It was toughest on ladies of a certain age and it's a bit ironic that queens of the screen such as Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Sheridan and Joan Crawford all hit career bumps concurrent with that vogue and the fact that it made them more matronly in appearance, as it does with Ginger Rogers in this film. Her outfits are eye popping but she seems to have squeezed every ounce of her old charm and sass out of her persona and is left with a brittle, affected very shiny husk that looks like Ginger Rogers but acts like a mannequin. From what I've read this was very much what the behind the scenes Ginger became as she aged, a haughty distant woman though she seemed to prefer feathers and flounces as opposed to the clean lines of her wardrobe in this movie. This was her last big budget film with only the likes of The First Traveling Saleslady and the frowziness of Harlow in her future.

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    1. Hi Joel
      Wonderful that "Black Widow" was on the air so you could share with all of us your thoughts of the film while they were still so fresh in your mind.
      It sounds as if you too were taken with the sumptuous look of the film, but felt it ill-served the story. You also seem to be on board with most everyone about that negative effect of those 50s short hairdos on actresses of a certain age. It's odd how much a distraction they prove to be, but maybe that's because we've seen the actresses appear to such better advantage in other roles.
      I had no idea this was Roger's last big budget film. i think whenI was a kid the only time I ever saw her in color was on "Hollywood Palace".

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  6. Now in regards to Peggy Ann Garner, as with Patty McCormack everything that was special about her as a child actress disappeared as she matured and she seems a not terribly individual girl with a hideous dye job and hairdo as well as an off putting way of speaking. It's in no way surprising that she didn't make the transistion to adult stardom. Virginia Leith although she overemphasizes her lines to within an inch of her life makes more of an impression in her few scenes than Peggy Ann does in hers.

    As you do I like Reginald Gardiner very much but for him to be the fulcrum of the piece is a trifle much. If the picture had been made fifteen years before perhaps but he's approximately the same age as Otto Kruger who plays Peggy Ann's uncle! In addition he's a lump with a nice plumy accent and not much else in the way of attraction. In his role I could see someone like Brian Aherne, Gig Young, Hugh Marlowe or maybe even George Montgomery making sense but Reggie just doesn't work.

    George Raft's stardom has always puzzled me, he wasn't really good looking, he lacked charisma onscreen-although apparently in person he was tremendously magnetic, and most of all he couldn't act worth a damn. He's typical somnibulant in this, a cigar store Indian would have brought as much to the role which is fortunately small.

    The other actor of note is of course Van Heflin. I'm a fan of his and he usually has a spiky, combative edge to his performances that make them lively but which is missing here. Maybe this was a contract assignment that he didn't want to do or he couldn't get a handle on how to make something out of his chump of a character but whatever it is he's off his game.

    As far as this overripe meller goes it's a feast for the eyes especially for those who like their wardrobe to look like costumes but dramatically it's a limp sister. There's a similar but much more effectively done little film out there called The Velvet Touch with Rosalind Russell, Claire Trevor and Sydney Greenstreet that gets right everything this one gets wrong. Have you seen it?

    Like you and the other commentors I also scoured the TV Guide the day it arrived searching for cinematic gold. I was lucky that we had a station, I think channel 48, that had a show devoted to classic films. It was on in the afternoon about two o'clock so if I hurried home from school I could often catch most of the movies they showed, jiggling the rabbit ears throughout the film to get a good picture!! Alas there were other films I wanted to see that were on in the middle of the night which I had to forgo at that point. I tried the alarm clock method but my mother put the kibosh on that when she caught me once struggling through the appropriately named Night Without Sleep with Linda Darnell at 4AM on a school night. I remember it specifically because I've never been able to find the film since! Grrrrrrrr.

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    1. Part II:
      I had to laugh at your summation of the cast! So funny to have them encapsulated so efficiently. I like that you took note of Leith's .enunciation. It is something about her that jumped out at me in "A Kiss before Dying"...it seems like she really went to a serious elocution teacher.
      i think I must be alone in liking Peggy Ann Garner. Which is strange since she kind of annoyed me as a kid. There's something about her flat voice and questioning delivery I found so terrific in her character.
      i am in full accordance with you on George Raft and the lack of appropriate dash provided by Gardiner. It's just not believable for m, either. But in a way that works wonderfully for the plot.
      And thanks for contributing your own childhood TV guide memory. I love that so many people did what I thought was a household routine restricted to my own household (that circling of the movies thing).
      I wonder what new memories kids will have to talk about? Maybe seeing "Frozen" 300 times and being able to quote it verbatim before they turn eleven or something.
      by the way, the "Night Without Sleep" memory is great (never heard of the film!)
      Thanks so much, Joel. I had a great deal of fun reading this.

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  7. Before I became a blogger, I was a devout imdb.com "user comment" person. I would FORCE myself to write a sizable review of every movie or TV-movie I viewed over the period of several years and this was one that fell into that time frame. Looking back at it now, I see that I didn't like Peggy Ann in this either. Unlike you, Ken, I thought she was staggeringly good as a child (It took me forever to finally see "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and when I did I was really moved), but I just couldn't take her in this! It's odd because we so often see eye-to-eye. But anyway....! It was great to see you highlighting this semi-obscure movie. If you haven't seen "The Velvet Touch, I, like Joel, can heartily recommend that one, too! Strange how symbiotic things can be. I just finished Gene Tierney's auto-bio and am in the middle of George Raft's bio! (Got them for a buck apiece during one of my flea market finds!) Now this review comes along. I knew less than nothing about Raft, but apparently he was an insatiable sexual dynamo (nicknamed "The Black Snake") with an average of two scores a day and sometimes more for many years! Who'd a thunk it?!

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  8. I've been loving this blog since I discovered it last month. Inspired by the entry on "Black Widow," I found a DVD copy on eBay for just a few bucks and grabbed it. It arrived today and was quickly viewed.

    First of all, I LOVED the ladies' hair. Elegant and drippin' wid class. Except for Peggy Ann Garner who looked like her wig was made from a skinned badger. Helen Turpin certainly knew her way around hair, so one must wonder how that happened to Miss Garner.

    These actors all had challenging work to do. The CinemaScope format consistently undermines all their dogged efforts to create mystery. What the CinemaScope didn't sabotage, the script did. Unless the hook was going to be that the man accused of the murder actually did it, then there was only one other choice. The fact that all the principal characters live in the same posh apartment building (on adjoining floors, no less!) gives it all away. It's too strange a circumstance that everyone is always at the scene of the crime, so it had to be for a reason, ergo....

    It also suffers from all its similarities to How to Marry a Millionaire. Costumes for this and for How To Marry a Millionaire are by Travila. Make up for both is by Ben Nye. Both were in CinemaScope and set in New York City. Both were written and produced by Nunnally Johnson. He directed Black Widow himself. Maybe he should have hired Jean Negulesco to direct.

    But he definitely should have asked Joe Mankiewicz to punch up this silly script. "Cuckoo the bird girl?"

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    1. Such a nice compliment, GW Tush. Thank you!
      I was thrilled by how enthusiastic your comments read, and I'm especially impressed that you picked up a copy of this film and viewed it so quickly.
      You certainly get points for being the first defender of the ladies' hairdos, although everybody seems to be in accord vis a vis Miss Garner.
      A wide array of intriguing observations on the challenges CinemaScope presented to the actors and filmmakers, also, I tend to agree that the writing is a little soggy.
      I was bothered by their having the Van Heflin character be so incredulous that anyone would cast a suspicious eye on his friendship with Garner. Also, his threat scene with Leith is a little creepy for me.
      Thanks a heap for sharing your thoughts on this film with all of us while they were still fresh in your mind. If this was your first gander at this colorful noir, you sum up your particular take on its pluses and minuses very entertainingly. Flattered that you like the blog and hope you visit again!

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    2. Your comments have prompted me to pick up several films. It is a testament to their quality and complexity that one cannot make a fast assessment of "3 Women" and "That Cold Day in the Park."

      "Black Widow" should be part of the curriculum of any film class focusing at all on noir. Thanks to "Black Widow" and its bizarre forbearance of the classic noir template, I now understand more about the look of noir, and its effectiveness as a narrative device. Though I doubt that black and white film stock and dramatic lighting could have saved flabby script.

      Now I have to find a copy of the novel by Hugh Wheeler that gave birth to this film. He is such a good writer that I can't believe his version of this weak plot was not much, much better. The dialogue, too!

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    3. That's very nice to think my enthusiasm for a film can sometimes be contagious. Both "3 Women" and "That Cold Day..." are such excellent examples of films that need repeat viewings and time to sink in a bit before being able to collect one's thoughts on them.
      "Black Widow" would be an interesting film class pairing with "Leave Her to Heaven", although not a CinemaScope picture, as a Technicolor noir, its a good contrast example of how to use color for mood. Something i think "Black Widow" for all its visual appeal, isn't very successful in achieving.
      Good luck with finding the book, I hope it's not as pulpy as the film leaves me to believe. Thanks, Tush!

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