Black Widow (1954)

NUNNALLY JOHNSON

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

USA, 1954. . Story by , Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel Fatal Woman by . Cinematography by . Produced by Nunnally Johnson. Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Nunnally Johnson combines All About Eve with dinner-theatre murder mystery in this satisfying drama that was made the same year as his far superior Night People.

plays a big-time Broadway producer whose wife () is out of town when he attends a cocktail party thrown by his star actress , a grandiose but witty personality who holds court in the centre of her spacious living room (the role was originally offered to Tallulah Bankhead, who would barely have had to learn lines to play it).

Out on the balcony for some fresh air, Heflin meets a young woman () who has come to New York to be a writer and with whom he strikes up a friendly, sexless rapport, taking her out to a few dinners and allowing her to use his apartment to do work on her writing when she needs to get away from her crowded quarters with roommate . There’s nothing suspicious about the arrangement and Tierney is aware of the whole thing by the time she comes back from her visit to her ill mother, but when she arrives she finds a horrible discovery in her bedroom that throws the plot in a whole new direction.

Now, the police in the form of a wonderful are coming around asking Heflin questions about his relationship with Garner, suggesting that the two of them were up to no good and that he meant to do her harm. He protests that he was never anything more than friendly with her, but interviews with Leith, his housekeeper and Garner’s actor uncle () reveal that she had confided in them the secret of her love affair with Heflin, who she claims was planning to leave his wife for her.

The film’s billing actually gives away the biggest secret that is being saved for the end, but getting there is a great deal of fun thanks to a host of talented actors in the cast (though in Tierney’s case, it’s another example of her being brought in to basically stand in front of the furniture and look pretty) and a series of lushly elaborate sets.

Garner’s performance was one of her few attempts to break into adult roles after her Oscar-winning success as a young woman in films like A Tree Grows In Brooklyn and The Pied Piper; she doesn’t have quite the biting command of Anne Baxter’s Eve, but it’s a shame that her prospects in Hollywood didn’t go much further than this amusing film.

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