Monday 9 April 2018

Black Widow - 1954 film review

Black Widow is a popular title for crime films. The one I'm discussing today showed up recently on the wonderful Talking Pictures TV channel. I've made many fascinating discoveries thanks to Talking Pictures. As with forgotten books, there are some forgotten movies that really ought to be left in peace. But Black Widow, I was delighted to find, is based on the book of the same name by Patrick Quentin. I've read quite a lot of Quentin books (and novels by the PQ alter ego, Q. Patrick) and they are invariably well-plotted. Black Widow is no exception.

The film was made in Cinemascope, and the bright colours slightly distract from the darkness of the storyline. It's almost a film noir in mood, if not in look. The cast is very strong, with Van Heflin, a dependable performer, playing the hero, Peter Denver (in the books, Peter Duluth - was that surname deemed "too difficult" for audiences of the time?) At the start of the film, Peter is waving goodbye to his beloved wife Iris (Gene Tierney) at the airport. She's off to look after her sick mother, and she urges him to show his face at a party thrown by an actress who is starring in Peter's current show, and who lives in the same block as the Denvers.

The actress is "Lottie" Marin, played by Ginger Rogers (who doesn't dance in this story.) She's a famously unkind woman with a huge ego and a sharp tongue. Her husband Brian (Reginald Gardiner) is a weak character who allows her to bully him. At the party, Peter meets a young woman, Nancy (Peggy Ann Garner) and they become friends. Their relationship is platonic, but Peter invites her to stay in his apartment while Iris is away, and on the day of her return, Nancy is found there, dead. It appears to be a case of suicide, but soon questions arise. Is it possible that Peter has killed her?

The plot is pleasingly convoluted, although I found Nancy's psychology slightly baffling. Peter, naturally, tries to find out what is going on, but the official detective work is undertaken by a cop played by George Raft, whom one associates more with gangster roles. Even as a detective, he is pretty menacing. The film wasn't a huge box office hit, but it's worn pretty well, mainly because of the cast and the strength of the plot twists. Overall, definitely worth watching.

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