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A married Broadway producer is taken with an innocent young woman who wants to be a writer and make it on Broadway. He decides to take her under his wing, but it's not long before the young lady is found dead in his apartment. At first thought to be a suicide, it is later discovered that she has been murdered, and suspicion immediately falls on the producer. He begins his own investigation in order to clear his name, and one of the first things he finds out is that the young woman wasn't quite as naive and innocent as she appeared to be. Written by
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Fading stars breathe life into artificial murder mystery set on Broadway
No matter how pretentious the cocktail party, never escape by asking another wallflower out for dinner. That was theatrical producer Van Heflin's mistake when, on the terrace of Broadway diva Ginger Rogers' apartment, he took pity on hopeful young writer Peggy Ann Garner. Just a few months later, she was found hanged in the bathroom of his apartment.
It was all very innocent, though. While his wife, another star on the Rialto (Gene Tierney), was away tending to her ailing mother, Heflin let Garner use his place as a daytime office so she could write in quiet comfort. (Well, not so quiet: She listens to `The Dance of the Seven Veils' from Salome incessantly and fixates on a line from the opera: `The mystery of love is stronger than the mystery of death.') But when it turns out not only that she was pregnant but that she was murdered, the police sensibly enough find in Heflin their prime suspect.
Black Widow, written and directed by Nunnally Johnson, assembles an impressive array of Hollywood luminaries across whose resumés long shadows were beginning to creep. Along with Rogers, Tierney and Heflin, there's George Raft as a police detective, Otto Krueger as Garner's actor uncle and Reginald Gardiner as Rogers' whipped spouse. It's an ensemble-cast, 40s-high-style mystery movie, made about a decade too late but not too much the worse for that (even allowing for its color and Cinemascope).
Heflin's technically the center of the movie the patsy racing around to prove his innocence. But the meatier parts go to the women, except for Tierney, all but wasted in the recessive role of the elegant but dutiful wife. Garner makes her abrupt exit early in the movie, but returns in startlingly revisionist flashbacks. And, as the grande dame (named `Carlotta,' perhaps in homage to another grande dame of the stage, Marie Dressler's Carlotta Vance in Dinner at Eight?), Rogers strides around in big-ticket outfits and fakes a highfalutin drama-queen accent. For most of the movie it seems like ill-fitting role for the essentially proletarian Rogers, but it's shrewdly written, and near the end she shows her true colors, becoming, briefly, sensational.
Like Repeat Performance and All About Eve, Black Widow uncoils in a high-strung, back-stabbing theatrical milieu that's now all but vanished all the money and the glamour have moved west. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but the tiny part of a struggling Greenwich Village actor is taken by television producer Aaron Spelling, now one of the richest men in Hollywood.) The movie cheats a little by withholding information essential to our reading of the characters, but it's a forgivable feint; the characters are all `types' anyhow. There is, however, one baffling omission there's not a single widow in the plot.
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