Black Widow (1954 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Produced by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Screenplay by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Story by||Hugh Wheeler|
|Music by||Leigh Harline|
|Cinematography||Charles G. Clarke|
|Editing by||Dorothy Spencer|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||95 minutes|
|Box office||$2.5 million (US rentals)|
Peter Denver (Van Heflin) is a renowned Broadway producer attending a party—hosted by the viciously haughty and celebrated actress Carlotta "Lottie" Marin (Ginger Rogers) and her quiet husband Brian Mullen (Reginald Gardiner)—when he meets Nancy "Nanny" Ordway (Peggy Ann Garner). Ordway is a seemingly naïve, 19-year-old, aspiring writer, who hopes to make it big in New York and convinces a reluctant Denver to let her use his apartment to work during the day, while his wife is away but with permission from his wife, Iris (Gene Tierney), who is also a famous actress. When the Denvers, returning from a trip, find Nancy hanging dead in their bathroom, a variety of the people Ordway has recently met in New York begin revealing deeper and darker connections with her. Lt. Bruce (George Raft), the detective assigned to the case, soon discovers that this apparent suicide was in fact a homicide and believes Denver, quickly suspected of having an affair with Ordway, to be the murderer. Denver evades arrest and seeks clues to discover the real murderer; the case becomes cluttered when he and Lt. Bruce begin to independently realize that Ordway's dealings in New York have not been as innocent as her superficial personality. Ordway has recently stayed with an artist roommate, whose deceived brother she evidently agreed to marry, while also staying for some time with her uncle. A series of flashbacks reveal that, all along the way, Ordway was craftily piecing together a scheme that would help her climb the social ladder and, later, that would conceal the identity of an apparent secret lover, while falsely implicating Denver; this mysterious romance is confirmed by an autopsy, which reveals that Ordway was indeed pregnant at the time of her death. Everyone Ordway knew is suddenly a suspect in the murder case, including Lottie Marin and Brian Mullen, who live in the same apartment building as the Denvers. In the end, Mullen, who can no longer keep quiet to his friend Peter Denver, reveals that he was Ordway's secret lover, though he swears that he did not kill her. Having bugged Mullen's apartment, Lt. Bruce barges in, now charging Mullen with the homicide, until finally Marin admits that she in fact strangled Ordway for having the affair with her husband, and set up the killing to look like a suicide.
When the film was released The New York Times film critic panned the screenplay and the actors, writing, "...Black Widow, which was discovered at the Roxy yesterday, bears little or no resemblance to the recent local spider scourge, except that it is moderately intriguing and considerably overplayed. It is merely an average whodunnit, stretched out on the CinemaScope screen and performed by a fancy cast of actors so that it looks more important than it is...The major fly in the ointment—or, should we say, in the web—is Peggy Ann Garner, playing the little Southern girl. Miss Garner's endeavors to give out with a rush of peach-blossom charm are beclouded with affectation. And the idea that she could be the greedy and ruthless little vixen that is finally revealed is hard to believe...And, finally, the shrill and shoddy character that Ginger Rogers plays—a poison-tongued Broadway actress—is indifferently written and performed. It is asking a lot of an audience to believe that she could display anything but clothes. George Raft as a poker-faced detective acts with flat-toned indifference, too, and Gene Tierney and Reginald Gardiner barely manage to live through their roles."
In a recent review, film critic Dennis Schwartz also panned the film, writing, "It's a flimsy story that is apathetically written, poorly paced and overacted with shrill performances by both Ginger Rogers and Peggy Ann Garner. The B-film crime drama might have been better served as a cheapie production, with some of its filler scenes lopped off."
Some other critics, however, have been more impressed. Craig Butler, reviewing it for allmovie.com, calls the film ‘entertaining’ and notes that the ‘cinematography is frequently stunning’. He refers to some ‘marvelous dialogue’ and continues: ‘the film moves along at a nice, steady clip, and it's enough fun that most viewers will overlook …[the] flaws.' He particularly praises the performances of Peggy Ann Garner and Ginger Rogers, noting the latter’s ‘standout performance’.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p249
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
- Black Widow at the Internet Movie Database
- Everett Aaker, The Films of George Raft, McFarland & Company, 2013 p 161
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, October 28, 1954. Last accessed: February 9, 2011.
- Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, July 5, 2008. Last accessed: February 9, 2011.
- Black Widow at the Internet Movie Database
- Black Widow at allmovie
- Black Widow at the TCM Movie Database
- Black Widow at DVD Beaver (includes images)
- Black Widow film trailer (the crime scene)