Black Widow (1954 film)

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Black Widow
Black Widow 1954.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nunnally Johnson
Produced by Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson
Story by Hugh Wheeler
Based on Black Widow
1952 novel
by Patrick Quentin
Starring Ginger Rogers
Van Heflin
Gene Tierney
George Raft
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • October 28, 1954 (1954-10-28) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,095,000[1]
Box office $2.5 million (US rentals)[2]

Black Widow is a 1954 DeLuxe Color mystery film in CinemaScope, with elements of film noir, written, produced and directed by Nunnally Johnson and starring Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, and George Raft.[3][4]


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, 20-year-old, aspiring writer, who hopes to make it big in New York. She convinces a reluctant Denver to let her use his apartment to work during the day, while his wife, Iris (Gene Tierney), also a famous actress, is away, but with her permission. After the Denvers return from the airport and find Nancy hanging dead in their bathroom, a variety of people Ordway has recently met in New York begin to reveal 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 that Denver, quickly suspected of having an affair with Ordway, is the murderer. Denver evades arrest and seeks clues to discover the real murderer; the case becomes cluttered when he and Lt. Bruce independently realize that Ordway's dealings in New York have not been as innocent as her superficial personality.

Ordway had 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, 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 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, although he swears that he didn't kill her. Having bugged Mullen's apartment, Lt. Bruce barges in, charging Mullen with the homicide. Finally Marin admits she in fact strangled Ordway for having the affair with her husband, and set up the killing to look like a suicide.



20th Century Fox bought the rights to the novel in 1952. Head of the studio Darryl Zanuck assigned the project to Nunnally Johnson who worked on it after writing the script for How to Marry a Millionaire.[5] Johnson then made his debut as director in Night People starring Gregory Peck and Peck was announced as the lead for Black Widow. Eventually Van Heflin played it. Johnson said the film would be the "All About Eve of suspense pictures."[6]

Maggie McNamara was supposed to play the role of the writer but withdrew due to illness. She was replaced by Peggy Ann Garner. There was location filming in New York.[7]

Nunnally Johnson said Raft came on set word perfect and looked fifteen years younger than he was.[8]


Critical response[edit]

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."[9]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz panned the film in 2011: "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."[10]

Craig Butler, however, reviewing it for, calls the film "entertaining" and notes that the "cinematography is frequently stunning". He refers to some "marvelous dialogue", noting "the film moves along at a nice, steady clip, and it's enough fun that most viewers will overlook …[the] flaws." He praises Garner and Rogers, noting the latter's "standout performance".[11]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 249. ISBN 0-8108-4244-0. 
  2. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
  3. ^ Black Widow on IMDb
  4. ^ Aaker, Everett (2013). The Films of George Raft. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-7864-6646-7. 
  5. ^ Special to The New York Times. (1952, Aug 11). FOX PRODUCER GETS NEW MURDER FILM. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  6. ^ By, A. B. (1957, Dec 15). Latest report on criminals at large. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times. (1954, May 31). RAFT WILL CO-STAR IN DRAMA FOR FOX. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. ^ HEDDA HOPPER. (1954, Jul 10). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  9. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times film review, October 28, 1954; accessed February 9, 2011.
  10. ^ Schwartz, Dennis, Ozus' World Movie Reviews film review, July 5, 2008; accessed February 9, 2011.
  11. ^ Butler, Craig. Film review at; accessed March 17, 2014.

External links[edit]