The Glass Web (1953)

The Glass Web (1953) is a blackmail and murder film noir set in and around a television show which profiles true crime.

The movie The Unsuspected (1947) starring Claude Rains and Audrey Totter must be the most immediate antecedent to this type of story, a film in which a true crime broadcast becomes the setting for an actual murder.

There is a great open gulf of questions spanning the hundreds of films that weer made across theses six years however, and The Unsuspected and The Glass Web are different prospects entirely.

One could accuse The Unsuspected of being proper noir, insofar as it is amoral, fun and shot plenty in the dark, with mystery and shadow playing with fantasy and romance, a veritable dance with the dark side but not taking itself so seriously, as they never did all the time in the film noir era.

The Glass Web is a brighter kettle of noir and is a television age movie. The Glass Web is brightly lit and shot without expression or contention, or mystery or shade, nor shadow much either and yet The Glass Web - - for all its 3D radiance - - is still a film noir.

The cigarette advert for the fictional brand of cigarettes Colonial, will be massively enjoyed by all fans of the era and is in its discreet way deconstructs the process and the power, with the blatant lie of smoking enjoyed live and in an extended examination of the advertising methods of television. The world of this movie is tobacco sponsored television.

During that time, tobacco companies heavily promoted their products through various advertising channels, including television. It was common to see commercials featuring popular brands such as Marlboro, Camel, and Lucky Strike. These advertisements often portrayed smoking as glamorous, sophisticated, and socially acceptable.

A tricky and manipulative story it is true, but there is none of the fantasy and mystery of forties noir in The Glass Web (1953) which announces television in a strange and subtle way. Because whereas the word web is fairly noirish it is interesting that the title of this film refers to none other television as the web, despite television being the hero herein.

Noir does not like television as a whole and it is maybe seen as its most powerful in the cycle in the Fritz Lang classic While The City Sleeps (1956) in which television is used to track and torment and capture a psychopath, although the psychopath in question is very much a product of the televised media in the first place.

Edward G. Robinson in The Glass Web (1953)

The growth of television in the 1950s provided audiences with an alternative form of entertainment. Television offered a different storytelling format and brought a variety of genres to the small screen, which could have affected the popularity of certain film styles, including film noir.

While television contributed to the changing landscape of entertainment, it was part of a broader evolution in the film industry and cultural shifts. Film noir did not completely disappear; instead its influence persisted, and elements of the style continued to be seen in subsequent films and television shows.

Kathleen Hughes in The Glass Web (1953)

Kathleen Hughes was five years into her big screen career and only about a half of her fourteen roles so far were credited. She is an evil dream and a beautiful nightmare, just plain conniving and fun, with the most wicked motives and tactics, most enjoyably so.

As for the inappropriate office me-too noir Kathleen Hughes was twenty five and Edward G. Robinson was sixty at the time, and so Robinson's character Hayes would be a pretty unlikeable and lecherous sap of a chap but Edward G. Robinson does manage to make him a terrifically sympathetic character.

The sap aspect is classic film noir, and Robinson played the sap as often as the villain. Here he is a former court reporter who figures himself for a better writer than he is and instead has an attention to detail that is admirable, but also perhaps not needed- -  this is television after all. Either way he is stuck at the end of his career and in the shadow of the much more successful Newell, played by John Forsyth.

Paula is a femme fatale with two marks in this movie, which makes her character a lot of fun. She is hard-line on Newell, and gives him no slack, once out of the sack and on the rack she extorts him ruthlessly over a pair of pajamas, and it hurts. 

With Edward G. Robinson's character she plays the long tease, allowing him a touch of the arm but then excusing herself, even though there is hard evidence in Robinson's trouser that this affair is on and has been going a bomb.

Cats in film noir — The Glass Web (1953)

The consequent cat in The Glass Web (1953) is probably one of the most significant uses and appearances of cats in film noir, in terms of the cat's capacity to influence the plot, which it does by means of controlling the electricity supply. More habitually the cat in film noir is employed as a atmospheric or even decorative device, lending an air as it were.

This cat is a more developed cat in film noir, even if its activity is odd.

Jack Arnold made this in the same year he made the incredible It Came from Outer Space. A flexible guy he here offers solid noir-core: it's a classic triangle of pain involving this Paula Ranier, writer Don Newell (John Forsythe) and consultant Henry Hayes (Edward G Robinson), and it unwinds in a complexity  of sex, jealousy, betrayal, blackmail and humiliation.

In her way she is one of the meanest in all noir, and you may admire her capacity for blackmailing and extorting the men who fall for her, because she has her own reasons, even if they aren't much examined.

Kathleen Hughes in The Glass Web (1953)

John Forsythe in The Glass Web (1953)

 It’s a solid job of film-making, with John Forsythe suitably harried as the philandering writer, Edward G. Robinson (recalling his role in Double Indemnity) playing the obsessed Hinge, and a very effective Kathleen Hughes as the predatory Paula, whom the writers contrive to kill at the start of the movie and kill again later on.  There’s a wonderful scene early in the film, well-played and tightly-written, between Robinson and Hughes that sketches their pathetic relationship perfectly. And if the wrap-up goes a bit over the top, it at least makes for fun watching.

Edward G. Robinson in The Glass Web (1953)

Finally Paula has had enough of Henry and spells it out for him,”You’re a fussy little character with a tiny little job….all you ever did for me was hand me a laugh.”

Paula is later found dead. Her long deserted husband is arrested while Henry suggests Don write about the murder for their show.

Vienna's Classic Hollywood, March 2013 

Hugh Sanders in The Glass Web (1953)

Photographed in 3-D, but available to exhibitors also in 2D, this murder mystery melodrama should prove interesting to most picture-goers, despite its slow pace and lack of exciting action. What helps to put the picture over is the fascinating background of a television station and the interesting manner in which the programs are put on the air. As to the story itself, there is some excitement and suspense toward the end, where Edward G. Robinson corners John Forsythe and Marcia Henderson in a vacant TV studio and prepares to kill them to cover up his own murder tracks, unaware that everything he was saying and doing was being telecast.

“The Glass Web” with Edward G. Robinson, John Forsythe and Kathleen Hughes

( Univ.'Int'l , November; time, 81 Twin.)

 I wasn’t jiving with the film for much of its running time but then felt like a fool for not “getting” Arnold’s television-proscenium perspective—a subversive gesture the director uses to assess the lecherous relationship between reality and reality-television. Edward G. Robinson and John Forsyth are writers for a Big Tobacco-sponsored television program Crime of the Week that airs live renditions of real-life murders. Both men are having an affair with one of the shows bit players (Kathleen Hughes), whose murder involves the two men and later becomes fodder for the show’s season finale. (Will the show be renewed? Will Forsyth be blamed for the murder? Stay tuned!) The film doesn’t seem to have very many fans, maybe because its real-versus-reel commentary isn’t profound and calls too much attention to itself, but in this sad age when reality television reigns supreme, the film almost feels prescient. 

John Forsythe in The Glass Web (1953)

Despite not being a Grade A great movie with a superb script and novel and ingenious twists and noirish complications driving The Glass Web (1953) into the upper echelons of film fame, this picture does tick two important boxes for lovers of the style.

Richard Denning in The Glass Web (1953)

The first of these is the ever-popular subjects of cats in film noir. In a way cats and noir are a natural combinations.  Cats are elusive and can navigate in and out of the dark, and they are also independent and sly, and could be either good or bad.

Like many of  noirs’ male and female heroes cats are not bothered about how they achieve their aims, and like a  good old fashioned femme fatale, are sleek and beautiful on the outside and fatally destructive and mean when the moment is right. Like true film noir, cats are mysterious and seductive, and make for mystery wherever they appear.

Driving your suspect mad - - Edward G. Robinson and John Forsythe in The Glass Web (1953)

The cat in The Glass Web (1953) is one of many noir curiosities that may never be explained. However it is an interesting plot device in this movie that the seductive, blackmailing and ambitious female lead played by Kathleen Hughes owns a cat which has a habit of pulling out electric cables, just when needed.

This cat features quite prominently in The Glass Web (1953) and it remains a mystery as to whether or not it was trained to pull out electric cables from their sockets, or whether it was naturally endowed with this ability.

Television shows Crime Of The Week in The Glass Web (1953)

If naturally endowed, then the script must have been written around this cat, which is odd. If the script required that a cat be hired and trained to pull at the electrical sockets, one can imagine production ceasing for six months while this animal was trained. Either way, The Glass Web (1953) is a prominent entry into the cats in film noir files.

The second unusual but exciting and dynamic element to The Glass Web (1953) is the fact of its closeness to the television. Don't sit so close to the television, film noir!

Most startling of all for fans of the television screen is the presence in this film noir of John Forsyth, the man who played Blake Carrington in Dynasty, and also incidentally, the same who provided the disembodied voice of Charlie in Charlie's Angels

The opening of The Glass Web is as strange a piece of cinema as it is a beautiful bit of television. A noir-o type drives a woman up to an old mineshaft, but she is not impressed with this date and walks away. he then shoots her bloodlessly in the back. Then he picks up her body and throws it down the shaft.

As the camera pulls back we see that this has been taking place in a television studio, and here excites and concludes a terrific and novel film noir opening, the magical breaking of the fourth wall and the revelation that the magic is but tacky stage furniture. Except of course we are still in a film noir and it is set on the sets and production rooms and in the lives of some television people.

The Glass Web (1953)

Directed by Jack Arnold

Genres - Mystery, Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Thriller  |   Release Date - Nov 11, 1953 (USA - Unknown), Nov 11, 1953 (USA)  |   Run Time - 81 min.

The Glass Web (1953) at Wikipedia

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