Cast & Crew
At a private psychiatric clinic, Dr. Stewart McIver meets with a troubled young patient, Steven W. Holte, while Victoria Inch, the clinic's brisk administrator, orders new drapes for the institution's library. Stewart's wife Karen drops by and interrupts the session, and Steven becomes agitated at the sight of her. That evening, the McIvers quarrel bitterly, and after Karen accuses Stewart of neglecting her, he cancels their date for a concert and returns to the clinic for a meeting with the patients' committee. Stewart, who is trying to introduce a system of self-government among the institution's residents, listens as the patients propose designing and making the new drapes for the library themselves. Meanwhile, at the concert's intermission, Karen gets a call from her friend, influential clinic board member Regina Mitchell-Smythe, who will be coming to town the following week and proposes to handle the redecoration of the library herself. Delighted, Karen calls Victoria with the news, but the officious Victoria bristles at the interference and decides to complete the project herself. Karen then encounters medical director Douglas N. Devanal in the lobby and complains about Victoria's rudeness. Devanal appears sympathetic but is clearly interested in Karen, and asks her to meet him for cocktails the following day. In the morning, Steven speaks with Meg Faverson Rinehart, the clinic's new crafts director, who tells him that therapy helped her after her husband and son were killed in an accident four years earlier. Steven, a talented artist, creates designs to be used on the new curtains, and Meg and Stewart are impressed with his work. Meanwhile, Karen meets Devanal for cocktails, and vents her frustration over her relationship with Stewart. After work, Stewart stops by Meg's apartment to discuss the situation with Victoria and the curtains, then goes to Victoria's house and sternly reprimands her for standing in the way of the patients' project. Karen returns home late that evening and tells Stewart that she has straightened out the matter of the drapes with Devanal. Stewart angrily warns her that Devanal is a known womanizer, and after another bitter fight, the couple again retire to different rooms to sleep. The following day, Victoria confronts Devanal and demands to know if Stewart is really in charge of the clinic, as he told her the previous evening. Devanal, whose career is in a decline, confesses it is true, adding that he has even kept the transfer of power a secret from his wife. Shaken by the encounter with Victoria, Devanal begins to drink, and dictates a memo ordering that the patients' drapery project be cancelled. After going to the McIvers' home and making a futile pass at Karen, Devanal goes to a hotel room to get drunk. Meanwhile, Steven learns about the memo and flies into a rage, and Stewart angrily revokes Devanal's orders. Devanal calls Victoria and instructs her to prepare a negative report on Stewart that can be used to ambush him at the upcoming board meeting. Stewart visits Meg in the art studio and, after speaking wistfully of the early years of his marriage, says he is going to have to fight Devanal for control of the clinic. Meg invites him to her apartment for a drink, and they fall into an embrace. When Karen later calls the clinic and learns that Stewart is with Meg, she goes to the clinic library and hangs the drapes Regina sent her. In the morning, Stewart learns that Steven reacted badly when he saw the new drapes, smashing up the art studio and running away. A mood of unrest spreads among the patients, and Stewart is ripping down the drapes when Regina enters with Devanal. Stewart warns Devanal that he will hold him responsible if Steven commits suicide, then returns to his office to find Devanal's wife Edna waiting for him. Edna produces a damning report that details Devanal's professional shortcomings and marital indiscretions, and begs Stewart not to use it against her husband. Stewart examines the report and sees that it was written by Victoria. Stewart then goes to the river, where the police are searching for any sign of Steven. Meg joins him and, after sadly admitting that she was unintentionally using Stewart and Steven to replace her lost family, tells him their affair must end. Later, before the board meeting, Stewart speaks with Victoria, and at his urging, she does not present the report on Devanal. Stewart tells the board that he plans to continue the self-government program, adding that he now sees that an analyst's effectiveness is related to the way he lives his own life. After Stewart leaves, Devanal hands Regina his letter of resignation. Stewart and Karen go for a drive and talk out their problems, and when they return home, find a bedraggled Steven waiting for them. Stewart and Karen take the exhausted young man into their home and put him to bed on the couch, using one of Regina's drapes as a blanket.
Harry Harvey Jr.
Patricia S. Miller
Van Alen James
Harold F. Kress
David Stone Martin
Wesley C. Miller
Edwin B. Willis
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
They said Van Gogh was crazy because he killed himself. He couldn't sell a painting while he was alive, and now they're worth twenty million dollars. They weren't that bad then and they're not that good now, so who's crazy?- Steven Holte
'Dean, James' was originally cast to play Steven Holte.
The opening credits are followed by the following onscreen words: "The trouble began." At the end of the film, the words "The trouble was over" appear onscreen. Some reviews observed that the film differed from the novel by having "Stewart McIver" go back to his wife, and Saturday Review (of Literature) wrote disparagingly of the "Code-dictated ending," calling it "an affront to all the decently divorced." According to pre-production Hollywood Reporter news items, Robert Taylor was originally cast as Stewart, with Lana Turner and Grace Kelly in the lead female roles. James Dean was originally cast as troubled psychiatric patient "Steven W. Holte," but, according to modern sources, M-G-M and Warner Bros., Dean's studio, were unable to agree on a financial arrangement. According to a November 1954 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column, Joanne Dru was considered for the role of "Karen McIver." News items include Marjorie Rambeau in the cast, but she was not in the final film.
In their memoirs, both director Vincente Minnelli and producer John Houseman recalled that the first version of the film ran nearly two-and-a-half hours. Houseman wrote that when Minnelli refused to cut the film, he edited it himself: "When I ran it for him after hacking close to half an hour out of the film, including entire scenes that he had shot with loving care, he made a violent, lachrymose scene in the projection room, accusing me of insensitivity and treachery. I offered to let him recut the film, but he refused." Summing up the re-editing of the film in his memoir, Minnelli wrote merely, "We somehow managed to bring it down to a more manageable size."
The Cobweb marked the film debut of John Kerr and Susan Strasberg, the daughter of Actors Studio head Lee Strasberg. The picture also marked Oscar Levant's last screen appearance. Minnelli wrote in his memoir that he suggested that the role of "Mr. Capp" be tailored to Levant's well-publicized psychological problems: "He would more or less be playing himself." The Cobweb was Lillian Gish's first film for M-G-M since The Wind in 1928 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30).
Released in United States Summer July 1955
Susan Strasberg and John Kerr both make their screen debuts.
Released in United States Summer July 1955