Black Widow


1h 35m 1954
Black Widow

Brief Synopsis

A young stage hopeful (Peggy Ann Gardner), is murdered and suspicion falls on her mentor, a Broadway producer (Van Heflin).

Film Details

Genre
Crime
Mystery
Release Date
Nov 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 27 Oct 1954; Los Angeles opening: 3 Nov 1954
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States; New York City--Music Box Theatre, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Black Widow by Patrick Quentin (New York, 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1
Film Length
8,475ft (11 reels)

Synopsis

On 6 June, as Broadway producer Peter Denver is bidding farewell to his actress wife Iris, who is leaving to visit her mother, Iris reminds him to attend a cocktail party being held by the star of his current show, Carlotta Marin. Even though Lottie and her husband, Brian Mullen, live in the same building as the Denvers, Peter does not want to go, as he dislikes the overbearing Lottie. Nonetheless, Peter goes and meets wistful Nancy "Nanny" Ordway, a twenty-year-old would-be writer who is among the many uninvited guests. Wanting to get away from the noise, Peter invites Nanny to dinner and assures her that his intentions are strictly platonic. Later that night, Peter talks to Iris on the phone and tells her about the young woman, and Iris laughingly assumes that Nanny will ask Peter for help finding a job. Three months earlier, on 6 March, Nanny arrives in New York: Nanny goes to Greenwich Village and unexpectedly visits her uncle, Gordon Ling, who is a minor actor in Peter's play. Within a week, the ambitious Nanny begins making her way "uptown" by obtaining a job at Sylvia's Café. There, she meets socially prominent artist Claire Amberly and her brother John, a law student who is attracted to Nanny. Nanny soon inveigles an invitation to move in with Claire and begins dating John. Then, in early May, Nanny visits the theater where Gordon is working. Gordon has already left, however, and Nanny bumps into Brian, who charms her with his self-deprecating quip that he has no personality of his own because he is married to such a famous woman. Later, ten days after she met Peter at the cocktail party, Nanny calls him at his office, and he again takes her out. After their dinner, Peter takes Nanny to his and Iris' luxurious apartment, where Nanny dramatically declares her intention of becoming an important author. Nanny states that she could write better in such wonderful surroundings, and Peter, always willing to help a newcomer, allows her to work at the apartment during the day, while he is out. Two weeks later, Peter picks up Iris at the airport and when they arrive home, is irritated to find that Nanny is still there playing records. Iris, who is aware of Peter's efforts to help Nanny, is horrified to find her corpse hanging in their bedroom. Lt. Detective Bruce arrives to investigate the apparent suicide and questions Peter about a drawing he finds of Nanny hanging, with a quotation from her favorite opera, Salome . Peter explains his relationship with Nanny, and that she often scribbled drawings, although he claims to have no idea why she would kill herself. Lottie then barges in with Brian and pointedly tells Bruce that he should not suspect Peter of having an affair with Nanny. The next day, Claire informs Bruce that Nanny had told her that she and Peter were in love, and when Peter confronts her about the statement, Claire reveals that Nanny had turned down John's marriage proposal because of her supposed relationship with Peter. Peter returns home, where Lottie has been telling Iris that he was involved with Nanny and urging her to leave him. The irate Peter castigates Lottie for her interference, and after she storms out, Brian reveals that an autopsy has determined that Nanny was pregnant. The afternoon post contains a letter to Iris, mailed by Nanny, informing her of her feelings for Peter, and the hurt Iris moves out. Later, Bruce questions Brian in his apartment, where he pockets a piece of paper on which Lottie had scribbled some doodles. After Bruce announces that Nanny was choked to death, then hanged to simulate suicide, Brian calls Peter to tell him, and, believing that he is about to be arrested, Peter flees. Peter goes to Claire's and learns that Nanny first told her about her involvement with a married man on 2 June. Peter next questions a waitress who knew Nanny, and learns that she had been staying with her uncle. In Greenwich Village, Gordon tells Peter that he was aware of Nanny's affair, as she used his apartment for her assignations, and relates that she had named him as her lover, although at first all she would say is that her lover had a famous wife. That night, Peter sneaks into his apartment, and is relieved as Iris, who realizes he could not be a murderer, returns home. Peter explains that he could not have been Nanny's lover, as he did not meet her until 6 June, and she had already told Claire about the man on the 2nd. Peter suspects that Brian was Nanny's paramour, and asks Iris to take Lottie out so that he can question Brian alone. When they talk, Brian admits his involvement with Nanny and relates how desperate he was to be loved for himself after being overshadowed by Lottie. Brian then reveals how, on the day of Nanny's death, she told him of her pregnancy and her plan to frame and blackmail Peter so that they would have enough money to marry. Brian was appalled by the sudden revelation of Nanny's scheming, avaracious nature and refused to cooperate, but when Nanny threatened to expose him instead, he wearily acquiesed. Brian's story is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Lottie, who is infuriated to hear about his adultery. Lottie is followed by Bruce, who had planted a microphone in the apartment. Brian insists that he did not kill Nanny, however, and assumes that Peter did because of Nanny's blackmail scheme. Lottie then states that she came home early that afternoon and heard Peter and Nanny violently arguing. Bruce substantiates Peter's alibi for the time of Nanny's death, however, then offers his own theory about the crime: Lottie, having come home without Brian's knowledge, eavesdrops on his phone conversation with Nanny about their affair, then goes to the Denvers' apartment to confront Nanny. Lottie orders Nanny to leave New York, but after the jealous girl yells that Brian despises her, Lottie, overcome by anger, strangles her. Bruce then concludes his story by revealing that the crime laboratory has established that Lottie's doodles and Nanny's suicide drawing were done by the same person, with the same pen. Later, Iris wonders what will happen to Lottie, and Peter states that because she is such a great actress, she will surely persuade the jury to find her not guilty.

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Film Details

Genre
Crime
Mystery
Release Date
Nov 1954
Premiere Information
New York opening: 27 Oct 1954; Los Angeles opening: 3 Nov 1954
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States; New York City--Music Box Theatre, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Black Widow by Patrick Quentin (New York, 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.55 : 1
Film Length
8,475ft (11 reels)

Articles

Black Widow


In 1943 Gene Tierney had successfully kept her new pregnancy a secret from the cast and crew of Heaven Can Wait. The shoot was scheduled to wrap in April 1943, but before then, Tierney attended a morale-boosting event for servicemen and women at the Hollywood Canteen. She was mobbed by well-wishers, including a Marine who had secretly sneaked out of quarantine to see her. Seven months later, Tierney's daughter Daria was born with severe birth defects and mental retardation, brought on by prenatal exposure to German measles. Privately, guilt and regret permanently unhinged Tierney, but she never lost her knack for playing cool in moody noirs like Laura (1944) and Night and the City (1950). "As long as I was playing someone else, everything was fine," she later recounted. Even at the edge of the penultimate breakdown that effectively ended her career, she could do it again in Black Widow (1954).

A noir-flavored whodunit shot in Cinemascopic color, Black Widow evokes the spirit of the mate-devouring arachnid in its cautionary tale of a Broadway producer (Van Heflin) who gets wrapped up with the wrong femme fatale -- not Tierney, who plays his elegant wife, but with the mousy, unassuming ingénue Nancy (Peggy Ann Garner, a former child actor transitioning to adult roles after appearing in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)). Meeting Nancy at a party while his wife is away is the first step in his torturous downfall -- and when the law starts closing in, the lead actress in his latest stage production (Ginger Rogers) starts to wonder what exactly he's been up to.

While Tierney dished out the same cool sophistication her fans had come to expect, Ginger Rogers was giving audiences something new. She'd recently hung up her dancing shoes and migrated to Fox, hoping to prove she was more than a hoofer in memorable comedic roles like Roxie Hart(1942), Dreamboat(1952) and Monkey Business(1952). While the role of opinionated, theatrical grande dame Carlotta Marin was (natch) originally slated for Tallulah Bankhead, Daryl Zanuck felt Rogers could do the part justice. (Despite her sunny musical comedy reputation, Rogers possessed a formidable, iron-willed personality that helped her keep pace with ultra-perfectionist Fred Astaire.)

Rogers was vacationing in Rome with actor husband Jacques Bergerac when Zanuck called about Black Widow, opening the conversation with "Ginger, this is the opposite of the nice lady you usually play," and ending the call by exhorting "I demand that you do it!" Rogers trusted Zanuck (they'd been longtime friends since, after seeing her playful rendition of "We're in the Money" in Pig Latin on the set of Gold Diggers of 1933, Zanuck included it in the film) and took his counsel seriously. (Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was not impressed, however, dismissing her character as "shrill and shoddy" and unfairly sniffing "It is asking a lot of an audience to believe that [Rogers] could display anything but clothes.")

Rogers and Tierney both radiate professionalism in their performances in Black Widow, but only Tierney was under a terrible secret mental strain. "I was not well, my mind was playing tricks," she recounted in her autobiography Self-Portrait. While the other actors remembered her generosity and graciousness on set, she had difficulty learning her lines and recognizing people's faces. At night she was haunted by dreams of Daria (who had been institutionalized since the age of four) and would prowl the house looking for her absent daughter. "I held together by force of habit," she wrote, but just barely. She may have fooled her co-stars this time, but she didn't fool Humphrey Bogart when the two were cast in The Left Hand of God (1955) the following year. Bogart's sister suffered from depression, and, recognizing Tierney's dire mental state, tried to alert the studio. Tierney entered psychiatric treatment, was hospitalized, received mind-scarring electroshock treatments, and after her release had to be coaxed back from a window ledge in an aborted suicide attempt. After that ordeal she only worked sporadically until her death in 1980. Usually it's an insult to compare an actor to a wax dummy, but in Tierney's case, her smooth, serene, noir-cool performance in Black Widow is a testament to her professional self-control.

Producer: Nunnally Johnson
Director: Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson (screen play); Patrick Quentin (novel and story)
Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke
Art Direction: Maurice Ransford, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Leigh Harline
Film Editing: Dorothy Spencer
Cast: Ginger Rogers (Carlotta 'Lottie' Marin), Van Heflin (Peter Denver), Gene Tierney (Iris Denver), George Raft (Detective Lt. C.A. Bruce), Peggy Ann Garner (Nancy 'Nanny' Ordway), Reginald Gardiner (Brian Mullen), Virginia Leith (Claire Amberly), Otto Kruger (Gordon Ling), Cathleen Nesbitt (Lucia Colletti), Skip Homeier (John Amberly)
C-95m.

by Violet LeVoit

References:
Vogel, Michelle. Gene Tierney: A Biography.
Rogers, Ginger. Ginger: My Story.
Tierney, Gene, Mickey Herskowitz. Self-Portrait.
Orth, Maureen. "Cassini Royal" Vanity Fair, Sept 2010
Demaret, Kent. "Gene Tierney Began Her Trip Back From Madness On A Ledge 14 Floors Above The Street." People, May 7 1979
Crowther. Bosley. "'Black Widow' Bows At The Roxy Theater." New York Times, October 28, 1954.
Black Widow

Black Widow

In 1943 Gene Tierney had successfully kept her new pregnancy a secret from the cast and crew of Heaven Can Wait. The shoot was scheduled to wrap in April 1943, but before then, Tierney attended a morale-boosting event for servicemen and women at the Hollywood Canteen. She was mobbed by well-wishers, including a Marine who had secretly sneaked out of quarantine to see her. Seven months later, Tierney's daughter Daria was born with severe birth defects and mental retardation, brought on by prenatal exposure to German measles. Privately, guilt and regret permanently unhinged Tierney, but she never lost her knack for playing cool in moody noirs like Laura (1944) and Night and the City (1950). "As long as I was playing someone else, everything was fine," she later recounted. Even at the edge of the penultimate breakdown that effectively ended her career, she could do it again in Black Widow (1954). A noir-flavored whodunit shot in Cinemascopic color, Black Widow evokes the spirit of the mate-devouring arachnid in its cautionary tale of a Broadway producer (Van Heflin) who gets wrapped up with the wrong femme fatale -- not Tierney, who plays his elegant wife, but with the mousy, unassuming ingénue Nancy (Peggy Ann Garner, a former child actor transitioning to adult roles after appearing in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)). Meeting Nancy at a party while his wife is away is the first step in his torturous downfall -- and when the law starts closing in, the lead actress in his latest stage production (Ginger Rogers) starts to wonder what exactly he's been up to. While Tierney dished out the same cool sophistication her fans had come to expect, Ginger Rogers was giving audiences something new. She'd recently hung up her dancing shoes and migrated to Fox, hoping to prove she was more than a hoofer in memorable comedic roles like Roxie Hart(1942), Dreamboat(1952) and Monkey Business(1952). While the role of opinionated, theatrical grande dame Carlotta Marin was (natch) originally slated for Tallulah Bankhead, Daryl Zanuck felt Rogers could do the part justice. (Despite her sunny musical comedy reputation, Rogers possessed a formidable, iron-willed personality that helped her keep pace with ultra-perfectionist Fred Astaire.) Rogers was vacationing in Rome with actor husband Jacques Bergerac when Zanuck called about Black Widow, opening the conversation with "Ginger, this is the opposite of the nice lady you usually play," and ending the call by exhorting "I demand that you do it!" Rogers trusted Zanuck (they'd been longtime friends since, after seeing her playful rendition of "We're in the Money" in Pig Latin on the set of Gold Diggers of 1933, Zanuck included it in the film) and took his counsel seriously. (Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was not impressed, however, dismissing her character as "shrill and shoddy" and unfairly sniffing "It is asking a lot of an audience to believe that [Rogers] could display anything but clothes.") Rogers and Tierney both radiate professionalism in their performances in Black Widow, but only Tierney was under a terrible secret mental strain. "I was not well, my mind was playing tricks," she recounted in her autobiography Self-Portrait. While the other actors remembered her generosity and graciousness on set, she had difficulty learning her lines and recognizing people's faces. At night she was haunted by dreams of Daria (who had been institutionalized since the age of four) and would prowl the house looking for her absent daughter. "I held together by force of habit," she wrote, but just barely. She may have fooled her co-stars this time, but she didn't fool Humphrey Bogart when the two were cast in The Left Hand of God (1955) the following year. Bogart's sister suffered from depression, and, recognizing Tierney's dire mental state, tried to alert the studio. Tierney entered psychiatric treatment, was hospitalized, received mind-scarring electroshock treatments, and after her release had to be coaxed back from a window ledge in an aborted suicide attempt. After that ordeal she only worked sporadically until her death in 1980. Usually it's an insult to compare an actor to a wax dummy, but in Tierney's case, her smooth, serene, noir-cool performance in Black Widow is a testament to her professional self-control. Producer: Nunnally Johnson Director: Nunnally Johnson Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson (screen play); Patrick Quentin (novel and story) Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke Art Direction: Maurice Ransford, Lyle Wheeler Music: Leigh Harline Film Editing: Dorothy Spencer Cast: Ginger Rogers (Carlotta 'Lottie' Marin), Van Heflin (Peter Denver), Gene Tierney (Iris Denver), George Raft (Detective Lt. C.A. Bruce), Peggy Ann Garner (Nancy 'Nanny' Ordway), Reginald Gardiner (Brian Mullen), Virginia Leith (Claire Amberly), Otto Kruger (Gordon Ling), Cathleen Nesbitt (Lucia Colletti), Skip Homeier (John Amberly) C-95m. by Violet LeVoit References: Vogel, Michelle. Gene Tierney: A Biography. Rogers, Ginger. Ginger: My Story. Tierney, Gene, Mickey Herskowitz. Self-Portrait. Orth, Maureen. "Cassini Royal" Vanity Fair, Sept 2010 Demaret, Kent. "Gene Tierney Began Her Trip Back From Madness On A Ledge 14 Floors Above The Street." People, May 7 1979 Crowther. Bosley. "'Black Widow' Bows At The Roxy Theater." New York Times, October 28, 1954.

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Voice-over narration by Van Heflin, as his character "Peter Denver," is heard intermittently throughout the film, which also contains numerous flashback sequences. Excerpts of Patrick Quentin's novel appeared in the July 1952 issue of Cosmopolitan. According to contemporary news items, Maggie McNamara was originally cast as "Nanny" but fell ill and was replaced by Peggy Ann Garner. A modern source states that Tallulah Bankhead was originally considered for the part of "Lottie." Although Hollywood Reporter news items include Jimmy Murphy and Steffi Sidney in the cast, their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed. According to a June 1954 New York Times article, the picture was partially shot on location in New York City, and the Music Box Theatre was used for the "Copley Theatre," at which "Peter's" play is running.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 1954

CinemaScope

Released in United States Fall November 1954