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By the mid-1950's, Lauren Bacall was happily ensconced in domesticity. She still made an occasional film, but was content to let Bogart be the star of the family, and to be a wife and mother first. Late in 1954, a prestigious project fell into her lap.
Earlier that year, MGM had announced the film version of The Cobweb, a well-regarded novel about patients and staff at a private psychiatric clinic. The film would be produced by John Houseman and directed by Vincente Minnelli, the team that had made the very successful The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). It was to star Robert Taylor as a doctor, Lana Turner as his neglected wife, and Grace Kelly as the occupational therapist in love with the doctor.
By the time the The Cobweb (1955) began production, Taylor and Turner had been replaced by Richard Widmark and Gloria Grahame. Just before shooting began, Kelly dropped out, and Bacall was hired to replace her. It was her first MGM film.
The production was marked by strife. Minnelli insisted on casting Charles Boyer as an authoritarian psychiatrist, over Houseman's objections. Critics liked Boyer's performance, however, and also Lillian Gish's as a rigid administrator. The neurotic Oscar Levant, playing a patient with a mother fixation, proved as difficult as his character. During one battle, Levant snapped at Minnelli, "Don't try to tell me how to play crazy! I'm crazier than you could ever hope to be!" Bacall's rather pallid character was overshadowed by the more flamboyant ones.
The Cobweb was one of those all-star vehicles MGM had been doing so well since the days of Grand Hotel (1932). The reviews were respectful, but audiences found it hard to get excited about a film whose main plot point was who would choose the drapes for the patients' lounge. "Buy Venetian blinds and have done with it," declared one preview card from an early screening. Yet for all its shortcomings, The Cobweb remains a fascinating look at mid-century attitudes toward mental illness. Twenty years later, John Houseman commented, "it's more highly esteemed today among film buffs than when it was made."
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Producer: John Houseman, Jud Kinberg
Screenplay: John Paxton, based on the novel by William Gibson
Editor: Harold F. Kress
Art Direction: E. Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Richard Widmark (Dr. Stewart McIver), Lauren Bacall (Meg Faversen Rinehart), Charles Boyer (Dr. Douglas N. Devanal), Gloria Grahame (Karen McIver), Lillian Gish (Victoria Inch).
C-124m. Letterboxed. Close captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri