Black Widow (1954)

Black Widow (1954) is a colour DeLuxe mystery Broadway cocktail suicide murder CinemaScope motion picture with film noir leanings. 

Attention spans alerted everyone this slider of a slow noir is another object lesson in the class of colon noirs which feel their way in a cinematic dark so much of the time and are managerially staid with a tragic inability to fill the vacant screen space created by colour-vision and wide screen tech. A double whammy of screen emptiness.

Come diving headlong into the murky waters of a slow burn noir flick that's as sluggish as a slug on a warm sidewalk. This one's a textbook case of those colour noirs that stumble in the shadows, groping blindly through the cinematic darkness, like a gumshoe with one too many shots of rum, yum. Yeah, it's got all the fancy-pants tech — living colour, widescreen — but it's like watching paint dry in a rainstorm. A double-barreled blast of cinematic emptiness that hits you square between the eyes.

We're talking about a flick that's as lively as a corpse at a wake with more dead air than a flat tire on a moonless night. George Raft out of the prison of black and white and into this.

Sure, they're in living color, but it's like someone sucked all the life out of the frame and left nothing but a hollow shell. You're left squinting at the screen, trying to find something, anything, to latch onto, but it's like searching for a cigar during a blackout.

You'd think with all that extra wide screen real estate, they'd have room to spare, right? Wrong. It's like they're allergic to filling up the space. Instead, you're left with these gaping voids on either side of the action, yawning chasms of nothingness that swallow up any hint of excitement or tension.

But hey, it's not all bad. Maybe there's some deeper hidden meaning lurking beneath the surface, like buried treasure in a sea of mediocrity. Or maybe not. Either way, you'll be scratching your head and wondering why you wasted two hours of your life on this snooze-fest.

Peggy Ann Garner and Van Heflin in Black Widow (1954)

In the opulent tapestry of "Black Widow," a Technicolor marvel crafted by the deft hand of Nunnally Johnson, Van Heflin emerges as a figure shrouded in suspicion amidst the glittering backdrop of New York's sophisticated Broadway elite. Set against a tableau of luxury and intrigue, this cinematic opus boasts a constellation of familiar faces, each imbuing their roles with a depth and nuance befitting the grandeur of the silver screen.

At its heart lies Peggy Ann Garner, a young ingénue whose ascent into the inner sanctum of New York society culminates in a tragic demise within the opulent confines of producer Peter Denver's lavish abode. As the layers of deception are peeled away, Heflin finds himself ensnared in a web of suspicion, his very innocence called into question amidst whispers of foul play.

Peggy Ann Garner, Van Heflin and Ginger Rogers

Yet, amidst the turmoil, there lies a beauty in the chaos—a glimpse into the inner workings of a world where glamour and deceit reign supreme. Ginger Rogers, resplendent as the acid-tongued Iris, commands the screen with a presence that belies her tumultuous past, while Gene Tierney, though relegated to a supporting role, exudes a quiet elegance befitting her status as Heflin's wife.

As the mystery unfolds with all the grace of a meticulously choreographed dance, the panorama of New York unfolds in all its splendor, a testament to the grandeur of a bygone era. And while the occasional imperfection may mar the cinematic canvas—a faint echo in the dubbing, a fleeting moment of hesitation—the allure of the narrative remains unblemished, drawing the viewer ever deeper into its tangled web of intrigue and betrayal.

In the end, "Black Widow" stands as a testament to the enduring power of cinema—a mesmerizing journey through the corridors of wealth and privilege, where nothing is quite as it seems and every shadow hides a secret waiting to be unearthed. It is a film of rare beauty and undeniable allure, a captivating odyssey that lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled—a symphony of light and shadow, woven together with the threads of mystery and desire.

Envision, if you will, the sacred sanctuary of cinematic artistry, where the ethereal whispers of creativity intertwine with the tangible fabric of expression. Here, amidst the hallowed halls of celluloid wonder, a profound enigma looms large, casting a shadow over the illustrious domain of color film noir, that gem of artistic endeavour. It is a quandary, a puzzle of sorts, that grips the soul of this revered realm, threatening to obscure its inherent brilliance with a veil of uncertainty.

Peggy Ann Garner in Black Widow (1954)

In the shimmering glow of Carlotta "Lottie" Marin's opulent soirée, attended by the luminaries of Broadway's elite, Peter Denver, a titan of the theatrical realm, finds himself entangled in a web of deceit and treachery. As he mingles amidst the glittering guests, he encounters Nancy "Nanny" Ordway, a doe-eyed ingenue with aspirations as lofty as the skyscrapers that adorn the New York skyline.

Peggy Ann Garner and Van Heflin in Black Widow (1954)

In a display of guileless charm, Nanny confides in Peter her dreams of literary stardom, entreating him to intercede on her behalf with his wife, Iris, a luminary in her own right. Persuaded by Nanny's earnest plea, Peter agrees to grant her access to their Manhattan abode, a sanctuary where she hopes to craft her literary opus.

However, the jubilant atmosphere of the party soon gives way to a grim tableau of tragedy when the lifeless form of Nanny is discovered hanging in the Denvers' lavatory upon their return from a journey. What initially appears to be a heart-wrenching suicide unveils itself as a chilling murder, casting a pall of suspicion over all who knew the young writer.

Looking for a light in Widescreen in Black Widow (1954)

Enter Lieutenant Bruce, a dogged detective with a keen eye for deception, who swiftly discerns the tangled threads of deceit woven into Nanny's seemingly innocuous existence. As he delves deeper into the labyrinthine tapestry of her life, Lt. Bruce uncovers a sinister plot orchestrated with meticulous cunning.

Through a series of revelations and flashbacks, the true extent of Nanny's machinations is laid bare, revealing a calculated scheme to ascend the social hierarchy while concealing a forbidden liaison. Her clandestine affair with Brian Mullen, the quiet husband of the imperious Lottie Marin, emerges as a central piece of the puzzle—a forbidden romance steeped in secrecy and betrayal.

The fault of all of this lies with Nunally Johnson, and it has to. The reason we find this movie hard to watch is down to the static cameras and the lack of edits and cuts, which normally enliven movie conversation.

As suspicion mounts and alliances crumble, Peter finds himself ensnared in a deadly game of cat and mouse, pursued by both the relentless Lt. Bruce and the specter of a vengeful killer. With each twist and turn, the boundaries between truth and deception blur, leading to a climactic showdown where the dark heart of human nature is laid bare.

What is in fact a decent film noir style story of infidelity, female domination and murder, all bound up in the best of all possible tropes, the innocent man accused, somehow becomes lost in the expanses of cinemascope and this static, heavy, stock still and unmoving camera that captures lengthy dialogue exchanges which come with none of the verve of theatre and none of the intimacy of the screen.

In the end, it is not the glitz and glamour of Broadway that prevails, but the stark reality of human frailty and ambition. As the dust settles and the truth emerges from the shadows, the facade of innocence crumbles, revealing the ruthless machinations that lurk beneath the surface of New York's glittering façade. And amidst the wreckage of shattered dreams and shattered lives, one question lingers—what price will be paid for the pursuit of fame and fortune in the unforgiving landscape of the city that never sleeps?

Indeed, it is a sorrowful truth that within this enchanted realm, the actors—those valiant knights of the silver screen—appear burdened, as if shackled by the weight of an unspoken dread. Their movements are hesitant, their expressions veiled in a cloak of reticence, as if tiptoeing on the precipice of artistic endeavour, fearful of plunging into the abyss of wasteful extravagance.

Gene Tierney in Black Widow (1954)

In their performances, a palpable inertia reigns supreme, an inexplicable stillness that lingers in the air like a lingering fog, obscuring the vibrant potential that lies just beyond their grasp. One cannot help but discern a poignant hesitancy, a reluctance to fully embrace the vast expanse of the canvas before them—a canvas imbued with the radiant hues of the colour film, beckoning them to dance upon its expansive surface with unrestrained fervour.

20th Century Fox, a den of cinematic intrigue, secured the coveted film rights to Patrick Quentin's gritty 1952 novel, "Black Widow." In the smoky corridors of studio power, the edict came down from the enigmatic Darryl Zanuck himself, entrusting the project to the seasoned hand of Nunnally Johnson, a master of the quill who had recently penned the script for the sizzling sensation, "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953).

As whispers of anticipation swirled through the studio lots like the murmur of secrets shared in shadowy alleyways, Johnson, now donning the director's cap for the first time, envisioned a cinematic masterpiece—a gripping tale of suspense and intrigue that would rival the timeless allure of "All About Eve."

The casting carousel spun with the precision of a roulette wheel, as leading men came and went like shadows in the night. Gregory Peck, the epitome of rugged charm, was slated for the male lead, only to be replaced by the brooding presence of Van Heflin after the role slipped through the fingers of William Holden, a man haunted by demons of his own.

In a casting coup that sent ripples through the Hollywood elite, Johnson extended the role of flamboyant stage siren Carlotta Marin to the legendary Tallulah Bankhead, her name dripping from his lips like honeyed venom. But when Bankhead's star burned too brightly for the confines of the silver screen, the torch was passed to the indomitable Ginger Rogers, a beacon of glamour and grit in a world of shadows and deceit.

The role of Nanny Ordway, a femme fatale in the making, proved a crucible of contention and compromise. Maggie McNamara, a rising starlet under the Fox banner, was poised to take the reins until illness laid her low, leaving the door open for Jean Peters to step into the breach. Yet fate had other plans, as former child prodigy Peggy Ann Garner emerged from the shadows to claim her moment in the spotlight, a phoenix rising from the ashes of her own past.

Amidst the chaos of casting, one figure stood resolute—a beacon of stability in a sea of uncertainty. George Raft, the silver screen's quintessential gangster, shed his nefarious persona to embody the stalwart presence of an investigating police officer, his steely gaze piercing through the veil of deception that shrouded the case like a cloak of midnight.

As cameras rolled and tension mounted, the stage was set for a cinematic showdown unlike any other—a tale of betrayal, desire, and redemption played out against the backdrop of a city teetering on the brink of darkness. And in the heart of it all, Nunnally Johnson stood as maestro, conducting his symphony of shadows with the deft hand of a true master of suspense.

George Raft and Van Heflin in Black Widow (1954)

Here lies the crux of the matter, the heart of the conundrum that plagues the very essence of film noir in the age of colour. For it is within this boundless expanse, this wide-screen panorama of artistic possibility, that the quintessence of noir finds itself ensnared in a web of contradiction. The very medium it seeks to inhabit, with its panoramic vistas and limitless horizons, stands in stark contrast to the intimate confines of the noir aesthetic—a world cloaked in shadows, where every whisper carries the weight of impending doom.

One cannot help but marvel at the irony that pervades this discordant symphony, as if fate itself has conspired to trap film noir in a labyrinth of its own making. The monochromatic elegance of yesteryear, once a bastion of artistic purity, now fades into obscurity, overshadowed by the radiant brilliance of modernity's Technicolor tapestry.

And yet, amidst the chaos and upheaval of progress, there exists a yearning—a longing for the simplicity and grace of a bygone era, when shadows danced upon the silver screen with an allure unmatched by the vivid splendour of contemporary fare. It is a nostalgia that tugs at the heartstrings, a wistful remembrance of a time when artistry knew no bounds, and creativity flowed like a river of endless possibility.

George Raft in Black Widow (1954)

In this battle of old versus new, tradition versus innovation, lies the very essence of the cinematic experience—a struggle to reconcile the allure of the past with the inexorable march of progress. It is a battle waged upon the canvas of history itself, a testament to the enduring power of artistic expression in the face of adversity and change.

BLACK WIDOW (1954) on Wikipedia

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