Sunday, December 18, 2011
Black Widow (4 stars)
Black Widow, from 1954, is a film noir/drama of the whodunit kind. Starring Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, and George Raft, it is one of those films that keeps you guessing up until the very end. It's also one of those films that has enabled me to see Van Heflin in a new light, which is really saying something, since not all that long ago, I really didn't like him (thought him very milque-toasty). Since seeing this and a half dozen or so other films, though, I really see Mr. Heflin as a romantic leading man.
Van Heflin's role in Black Widow is as play producer Peter Denver. As the film begins, he is putting his wife, Iris (Gene Tierney), on a plane to visit her ailing mother. Before departing, Iris reminds Peter that he is expected at Lottie Marin's (Ginger Rogers) party that evening. Though he doesn't much care for Lottie and really would prefer not to attend the party, Peter knows it is essential that he put in an appearance. The lead actress in one of Peter's plays, Lottie is quite high maintenance, so Peter knows her ire would be raised if he didn't attend.
Mingling among the guests at Lottie's party, Peter strikes up a conversation with Nancy Ordway, a young aspiring writer. With completely pure motives and a desire only to be kind, Peter invites Nancy out to eat after the party is over. The two strike up a very innocent friendship, and very soon, Nancy has convinced Peter to allow her to use his fancy apartment while he is at work. Saying that her own apartment isn't cheerful for writing and promising to be out of the apartment before Iris returns to town, Nancy obtains Peter's permission to access his place during the day. Lottie and her husband, Brian, who live in the same apartment building as Peter and Iris, are very aware that Nancy is spending time at Peter's apartment. They see her coming and going all the time, and they wrongly conclude that she and Peter are involved.
Eventually, Nancy turns up dead in Peter's apartment, and as the case is looked into, it would appear that he was, in fact, very much involved with her...that it wasn't the strictly-friends relationship he maintained it was.
How everything plays out is the balance of this very interesting film.
As I said, Van Heflin was really great in this role. His acting was solid, and I very much saw him as a romantic leading man. Gene Tierney, beautiful as always, was definitely underused here. There wasn't a whole lot for her character to do. George Raft, who was beginning to show his age (but who still looked extremely good!), was underused as well. As the police officer investigating the death, he didn't have a whole lot to do either. Top-billed Ginger Rogers was terrific, as always, but her character was definitely unlikeable, and I didn't really like how she was made up...she seemed harsh to me, but maybe that was in fitting with her character, or maybe it was her age. (Though she was only in her early 40's here, she just wasn't the beautiful Ginger my husband knows and loves.)
Black Widow is definitely an entertaining viewing experience, especially when watching it for the first time when you don't know how everything is going to play out. The film is out on DVD and should be quite easy to track down.