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FredCDobbs

Black Widow (1954), beginning of the end of the classic era

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Hi, tonight at 8 PM Eastern Time, BLACK WIDOW (1954) is a good movie, but I want everyone to notice how drastic a change this movie is from the style of the old 1940s film noirs that it imitates.

 

I think this movie is the most symbolic one that represents the beginning of the end of the old-style classic Golden Age of Hollywood.

 

First note the year and the cast: 1954, Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, George Raft, Peggy Ann Garner, Reginald Gardiner, Virginia Leith, Otto Kruger.

 

All OLD. Good actors still, but no longer in their film or youthful noir prime.

 

Next, and most important: Look at the photography..... all high-key brightly lit mainly from the front. Also, very wide screen. So wide that they feel obligated to show one person on the far left of the screen, talking to another person on the far right of the screen. Like that type of screen situation is somehow going to save Hollywood from death by television.

 

So, what we have here is a MODERN brightly lit (no shadows), vividly colored (no b&w), wide screen (no 4:3) film noir imitation, filled with our favorite but old and over-the-hill noir actors.

 

(Anyone who disagrees with my historical perspective, please feel free to let me know.) :)

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>Anyone who disagrees with my historical perspective, please feel free to let me know.

 

Historical perspective or historical lecture? This, of course, is all your opinion.

 

It sounds like you are almost trashing this picture. I happen to like it a lot. It's a continuation of 20th's experimentation of the genre with color, following NIAGARA.

 

Paramount made a color noir called TRACK OF THE CAT which is another one of my favorites. Noir does not mean black and white as much as it means dark. Color can be dark.

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>following NIAGARA

 

Niagra was pretty good for an experiment in color noir.

 

But BLACK WIDOW was not a good experiment. It was a totally new technique in the hands of guys who had no experience with how to shoot wide-screen color noirs. It was mainly too brigtly lit. If not for the old noir actors in it, we couldn't even call it a noir. We could only call it a mystery movie.

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Really? I think it had less to do with the actors than with the directors and the subject matter. But maybe you are right to some extent. The filmmaking industry was certainly evolving in the mid-50s. Now you did mention wide screen and CinemaScope was a novel approach to noir.

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Another interesting color noir is John Alton lensed Slightly Scarlet.

 

Based on a James M. Cain novel "Loves Lovely Counterfeit", and staring John Payne, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl and Ted De Corsia.

 

The film has a weird juxtaposition of color, light & shadow. Its this Lynchesque look that is sort of indescribable, unless you've seen it, the the set designer, flamingly went overboard, (even in the extremely noirish seqments) and filled the screen with a pallet of colors, its like "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" meets "Blue Velvet, except where Blue Velvet and Niagara used color, the colors were somewhat muted, in this film they basically run riot. The film even recalls somewhat the pallet of Warren Beatty's comic book film "Dick Tracy".

 

All in all a living pulp fiction magazine/paperback book cover shot extravaganza I call it "Pulp" Noir,

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Speaking of John Payne, he stars in another color noir called HELL'S ISLAND which was produced at Paramount and directed by Phil Karlson. It is in VistaVision.

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1954, are you sure Fred? The intro made the claim that it was made nine years after ALL ABOUT EVE and we all know that was made in 1950.

 

Just kidding Fred, it wasn't your error. One more for the research staff.

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I am a huge Raft fan. He may be wood, but he is the most attractive piece I've ever seen................................................

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I like the fashions and the location shooting, but the story just sits there. Some of the scenes are so flatly directed, so stage bound, it's almost like watching an early talkie. Nunnally Johnson is a better writer than he is a director. Even his most praised film, THE THREE FACES OF EVE, fails to impress me cinematically and getting through THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT is something that I found tough going.

 

As a writer or producer, he has his name on a good number of classics.

 

 

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>the story just sits there. Some of the scenes are so flatly directed, so stage bound

 

I agree. I think it looks like a stage play because the screen is so wide, it looks like a stage.

 

However, it is a pretty good mystery movie. :)

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I'm delighted to see this play on TCM and an DVD recording it. Ginger Rogers' wardrobe was fabulous...the designer, Travilla, later designed the wardrobes for the prime time soap opera *Knots Landing*, as well as others. Ginger looked wonderful. I always liked Van Heflin, and Reginald Gardiner spoke so beautifully. Peggy Ann Garner (forever Francie Nolan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to me) was quite an actress. The same age as Elizabeth Taylor, her career never really took off, and she died of pancreatic cancer (I think) in her 50s. .

 

Gene Tierney's part in this was disappointingly small. Anyone could have played that role, not a star of her caliber. But she looked pretty, if a little older than her age (she was just 33 at the time).

 

Very entertaining movie!

 

BLU

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Yes, it's a good movie. But I use it as an example of the end of old-style film noir type b&w photography. But I guess those dresses wouldn't look as good in b&w. :)

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I seem to be the only here who thought *Black Widow* was bad. Now, to be fair, I turned it off before the girl even gets killed ( I heard she does - and I can understand why ! She's very silly and irritating !). So I only saw the first half-hour or so. I don't usually turn movies I've started watching off, I like to give them a chance. And maybe it gets better, once the murder investigation begins.

 

But what I did see of it was utter rubbish. This Peggy Ann Garner's acting was so bad, even I couldn't handle it. And I'm not very judgemental about acting. EVen if it's bad, if I like the movie, I overlook it.

The look of the film bothered me, it felt stagey and artificial.

 

But the worst thing about it was the dialogue, which had that self-consciouly "intellectual" flavour that a lot of those "thinking person's" films from the mid-50s had. So much name-dropping of writers who were big at the time ! (Some of them are good writers, but it felt so calculatedly "high-brow", the way their names were introduced in the dialogue.)

The editing was choppy and weird. And I couldn't get interested in any of the characters, not even Van Heflin, who I like.

 

And why are you all referring to it as a "noir"? It's the least "noir" movie from that era I've ever seen. And not because it was in colour, I have no problem with colour noirs. But there was nothing about it that was what I consider to be noir. Just because there's a murder in a film, and suspicion falls on an innocent man, does not make it a noir.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I thought *Black Widow* stunk.

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Beginning of the end of the classic era. First, 1954 is not the end of the classic era. SCHINDLER'S LIST is a classic and it was made in the 1990s. It is in black-and-white and contains a great deal of criminal activity.

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missw,

 

You're usually more fair in your judgments. I think what happened is that you lost your normal suspension of disbelief. I would come back to it again in January when TCM reruns it and give it a second look. It is also available as a Netflix rental which is where I saw it a few years ago and fell in love with it.

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It had some old noir stars in the cast. It could have been called a murder mystery with other non-noir actors. But with those actors and the murder mystery, and the innocent man running around trying to avoid police and prove he is innocent, that makes it a noir type, as far as the studio people were concerned. So it was an attempt to bring noir films into the "modern" post-TV era, with bright Technicolor and Cinemascope.

 

As a result, I think this film represents a "crossover" film, from the old style 4:3 b&w noirs of the 1940s, to the new modern air-conditioned color wide-screen era in Hollywood. A few old style films were made after this one, but this one was one of the first of the new wide-screen color "noirs", which are no longer noirs because they are wide-screen and color. :)

 

This photography style eventually killed the old noir style as more and more studios made murder mystery films in wide-screen and colour.

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>Gene Tierney's part in this was disappointingly small.

 

She recently had a nervous breakdown. It probably was about the largest part she could handle. Her film career was in decline, and she was now playing supporting roles. This is Ginger's film, not hers.

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>So it was an attempt to bring noir films into the "modern" post-TV era, with bright Technicolor and Cinemascope.

 

This was not the post-TV era. We are still in the TV era. It was the golden age of television.

 

One thing you keep failing to mention is that there were black-and-white films in CinemaScope.

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Its a Cinemascope episode of "Law and Order" . Peggy Ann Garner lacked the sex appeal to play such a devious character who seemed irresistable to both men and women. Is the Virginia Leith character suppose to be a lesbian? I thought there was going to be a twist involving her "brother".

 

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> {quote:title=TopBilled wrote:}{quote}missw,

>

> You're usually more fair in your judgments. I think what happened is that you lost your normal suspension of disbelief....

>

Possibly, TB, but what I have always said about "suspension of disbelief" is that one has to be engaged in the film, it has to be good, at least in some ways, for me to uh, suspend my disbelief. An adjective often applied to that phrase is "willing" suspension of disbelief. The viewer willingly suspends their disbelief of the sometimes unbelievable elements in a movie if said movie is good enough or at least entertaining enough to deserve it.

To "suspend one's disbelief" does not mean simply to accept a poorly-written or performed film. The thing still has to be good, one way or another.

 

However, if it's being shown again in a few weeks, I'll try and give it another chance. I suppose one should watch a movie all the way through before dispensing judgement on it.

 

 

But you'll never convince me it's a noir.

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Dec 27, 2012 10:18 PM

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