|My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched BLACK WIDOW (1954) this afternoon. Although the DVD we watched was part of the 20th Century Fox Film Noir collection, I'm honestly hard pressed to classify this film as a true noir.|
For one thing, it's in color (by De Luxe) and CinemaScope, neither of which are commonly associated with film noir. Another thing is that the film plays like a standard "whodunit" murder mystery more than anything else. However, whether it's a noir or not, BLACK WIDOW is one weird film.
BLACK WIDOW, which was written, produced and directed by Nunnally Johnson, borrows heavily from the far better ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) and with the presence of the lovely Gene Tierney in the cast, one cannot help but be reminded of the brilliant noir, LAURA (1944). The story revolves around a young lady, Nanny (Peggy Ann Garner) who comes to New York City with an eye towards sleeping her way to the top. She makes the acquaintance of Broadway producer Peter Denver (Van Heflin) at a party at the beginning of the film. Denver's actress wife, Iris (Gene Tierney) is out of town for an extended period and Denver has dinner with the young lady. He tells his wife all about it later that night. There is clearly nothing going on between the man and the young woman.
But Nanny, who has ambitions to be a writer, soon begins spending afternoons writing in Denver's apartment while he's at work. Again, it's strictly platonic. The upstairs neighbors just happen to be Lottie Marin (Ginger Rogers), a Broadway diva and her husband, Brian (Reginald Gardiner). When Iris returns to the city, she and Peter enter the apartment that evening to find Nanny dead, an apparent suicide. Things take a turn for the worse when the suicide is determined by police detective Lt. Bruce (George Raft) to have been a murder. Oh, and Nanny was also pregnant.
All of the evidence and testimony from those involved points towards Peter. He goes on the run trying to clear his name. It is at this point that the film takes a brief detour into noir-ville. But not for long. All of the suspects are eventually assembled as more information is brought to light and the identity of the killer is revealed in the final reel.
BLACK WIDOW is not a bad film. It's fun to watch, the cinematography is sharp, as are the sets and costumes. The cast is good but the film is talky and slowly paced. There's no real sense of urgency even though Peter is in a real jam for most of the film. A jam that somehow doesn't include his assaulting and threatening Nanny's girlfriend at one point to get information from her.
Tallulah Bankhead was originally considered for the part of Lottie Marin but director Johnson decided to go with Ginger Rogers instead. Rogers plays against type here in a role that very much resembles Bette Davis's turn as Margo Channing in ALL ABOUT EVE.
Everyone involved in BLACK WIDOW did both better and worse work in their respective careers. I enjoyed watching it but I'd never recommend it to someone just discovering film noir.