Sign in to follow this  
FredCDobbs

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

298 posts in this topic

I don't want to get into one of those endless and fruitless debates around the definition of "film noir". And in the interests of full disclosure, I will say again that I did not watch *Black Widow* all the way through (because it was so bad !)

 

However, I'm coming back to this thread because I'm still annoyed that people keep throwing around the phrase "film noir" in the same sentence as this film, *Black Widow*.

 

I will repeat: a murder, a crime investigation, does not in itself make the movie a "noir". People keep going on about lighting, b&w as opposed to colour, "highbrow" noirs ( ?@%$*?), and so forth.

 

To me - and I suspect if you go and read some of the early writings by those who came up with the concept - the main thing about noir, its key element, is an atmosphere of unease. Things feel out of balance, something's not right. Most lead noir characters exhibit signs of alienation from the rest of society, disillusionment, obsession, or simply ennui. It's more important that the mood be dark than the cinematography.

 

*Black Widow* demonstrates none of the above features. It's too busy trying hard to be intellectual, like so many mid-1950s higher-budget movies were.

And the Van Heflin character, while perhaps a little on the cynical side, is successful and most securely a part of mainstream society.

 

I have a pretty broad definition of what "film noir" is, but I'm starting to get a little impatient with people applying the term to every movie made before 1960 that has a murder in it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>And in the interests of full disclosure, I will say again that I did not watch Black Widow all the way through (because it was so bad !)

 

If it had been made in 1948, photographed in 4:3 and b&w, and if Van Heflin had narrated it all the way through, and run down some dark New York alleyways at night, and peered through several Venetian blinds at night, with lots of noir type side and back lighting and shadows and plenty of diagonal lines, you WOULD have watched it all the way through.

 

With two femme fatals, that great cast of noir actors, the mystery of the murder of the blackmailing girl, and the New York setting, this was a noir that belonged more in sweaty 1948 black and white than in 1954 air-conditioned Technicolor.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Silly! It seems like you are saying that if they had set BLACK WIDOW in the past by six years and tacked on an assortment of genre-specific cliches, then the average movie watcher would like it better. Also, you once again call the cast noir actors which gives short shrift to their work in other genres and art forms. They were highly trained versatile performers working across a broad spectrum of film, stage, radio and television media.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you don't get it, you just don't get it. I said, "if it had been made in 1948", not "set" in 1948.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm still waiting for the proper end to the story - where the Virginia Leith character sues Van Heflin for assault and gets awarded way more than the 50K that Peggy Ann Garner thought she could get via blackmail.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I might have watched it all the way through, but that would have been because the film would have been a completely different movie. As you describe it, there's nothing in common with what you envisioned and the movie *Black Widow.*

 

And as I went out of my way to emphasize, film noir is about more than dark shadows, gritty urban streets, Venetian blinds, etc. These are almost cliches of noir that people who don't know much about it associate with it. ( I'm not trying to insult you, Fred, I think you yourself know better.)

 

 

In real film noir, there's an atmosphere of desperation, of alienation from the rest of society -even before a crime occurs. Things are askew. The characters are bitter, disillusioned. Or they're caught in some kind of web that they can't escape - usually lust, but sometimes revenge, fear, or some other strange obsession.

True, Van might have been falsely accused, but this occurs in lots of movies that are not "film noir".

 

 

Look, I don't care if you guys want to argue and discuss if *Black Widow* is some kind of turning point in the history of American movies, big screen films vs television, whatever.

Just don't keep calling it a noir.

 

Edited by: misswonderly on Dec 28, 2012 10:57 AM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>I might have watched it all the way through, but that would have been because the film would have been a completely different movie.

 

That's my whole point.

 

It needed b&w, noir lighting, noir narration, Dutch tilts, sweat, heat, more dames in tight sweaters. Men and dames close together rather than on opposite sides of a wide screen. We needed to hear them breathing, not shouting at each other from across the screen.

 

But this film was modernized with color and Cinemascope and flat bright frontal key lighting, and thus it was ruined, and it marked a big change in Hollywood film style.

 

Just think of how SUNSET BOULEVARD, made just 4 years earlier, would have been ruined with Technicolor and Cinemascope.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Again, you seem to be romanticizing an era of filmmaking. Genres and storytelling evolve, that is what makes them fun to study.

 

What if GONE WITH THE WIND had been made in 1948 instead of 1939. What if GONE WITH THE WIND had been made with black-and-white and we had heard Scarlett's heart beating up against Rhett's chest. Would that have made it a film noir? According to your definition, yes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>film noir is about more than dark shadows, gritty urban streets, Venetian blinds, etc. These are almost cliches of noir that people who don't know much about it associate with it.

 

Exactly. You seem to be supporting a comment I made earlier in the thread. Somehow it does go back to how film noir is defined, and unfortunately for many, it is a definition cloaked in cliches and ignorance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>What if GONE WITH THE WIND had been made in 1948 instead of 1939.

 

You just don't get it.

 

Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, George Raft, Reginald Gardiner, Otto Kruger, and Ginger Rogers weren't in GONE WITH THE WIND, and that film wasn't a noir or a murder mystery. It was more of an historical drama like DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>I have a film buff friend who believe the classic film era ended when sound came in.

 

Right. And from interviews that Lillian Gish gave, I think she felt that way for sure.

 

We have a frequent poster on this board who clamors for films from the 1970s and 1980s on TCM. In his estimation, those are real authentic classics.

 

The determination of what is classic is subjective by age and generation and murky at best.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do get it, but I do not think you get it. I am taking the loose definitions, fairly broad assumptions and unintential funny comments you offer up and applying them in a way that I hope will prove their absurdity. If you do not get that, then there is nothing more one can do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well Fred, it might by your "whole point", but it's not mine.

 

As I said, the film as you describe it would be SO different, it wouldn't be the same film at all. You're not just talking about a few details, you're envisioning an entirely different movie altogether.

 

And my "whole point" was not about all the cliches of film noir that you list ( don't get me wrong, I love all that stuff), but that the essence of film noir is about more than dark visuals and a "dame". It's about malaise.

 

Anyway, putting aside the whole "noir" discussion here, the dialogue in *Black Widow* made me squirm. People don't talk like that, now or then. That stupid party scene! And that self-conscious young woman, everything she said sounded like she was trying to sound like the latest book she'd read.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>I do get it

 

No you don't. I'm talking about a norish type murder mystery with old noir stars in it, suddenly switching over to being made in bright, high-key light, Technicolor and Cinemascope. Ugh!

 

The dames in this film weren't even sexy, they were sort of Technicolor-Cinemascope neurotic. The way people were spread out across the wide screen, to make use of the Cinemascope image, made it look like a high school stage play.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think some of Johnson's dialogue in BLACK WIDOW is supposed to be cheeky. These are people who take themselves ultra seriously and in a way the viewer may be having fun at their expense. Ginger's performance gets knocked by some critics, but I think the goal was to make her character a little over the top because there are some people who do chew the scenery in real life. In BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, Diane Wiest's character is very much like this. The dialogue may not seem real or everyday to us, but it's a heightened form of reality and some people do live like that, where everything is over-dramatised.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>Well Fred, it might by your "whole point", but it's not mine.

>

>As I said, the film as you describe it would be SO different, it wouldn't be the same film at all.

 

Again, that's my point. If it had been a true noir, filmed in 1948 style, it would be a well-known noir today, because the plot, story, and dialogue are basically good (if photographed as a noir).

 

But as it is, very few people have ever heard of it. And the most important thing some viewers here noticed in the film was not the story but the 1954 fashions the ladies were wearing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think we get the fact you do not like this film. From the very beginning of the creation of this thread I figured you had an agenda to trash this beautiful picture and demonise the folks who produced it. Now it seems like you are implying that they went to Dogsville to cast the leads. Maybe instead of Ginger Rogers and Gene Tierney, they should have cast Mamie Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield to make you happy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>I figured you had an agenda to trash this beautiful picture

 

Stop being rude and insulting, and stop following me around.

 

I don't follow you around on your threads or insult you, and I expect you to be civil to me too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You do have a point about the story not moving along. If it were not for the aforementioned aesthetics of the film I would have changed the channel................................

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Aaargh ! Fred ! Did you read the rest of my post?? I've said this THREE TIMES now ! Forget about the visuals etc., this is what I said about noir that you're not responding to. And THIS is the main reason why *Black Widow* is in no way a noir. Please read:

 

*"..And MY "whole point" was not about all the cliches of film noir that you list ( don't get me wrong, I love all that stuff), but that the essence of film noir is about more than dark visuals and a "dame". It's about malaise."*

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Is it civil of you to keep telling me I don't get it and to keep trying to insult my intelligence, just because I happen to have a different viewpoint of this film? Also, to suggest I am following you around is paranoia because our classic film interests are definitely not synonymous and we seldom post in a lot of the same threads. I wish you would stop taking this personally and support your views with facts instead of opinions.

 

For someone who espouses the value of classic Hollywood filmmaking, it seems counterproductive to keep trashing a film that may have brought new viewers to TCM last night.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At first, missw, I was curious why Fred would like NIAGARA and not BLACK WIDOW, because both are color noir from 20th Century Fox. But then, when he blasted the female leads in BLACK WIDOW, I realised that he must like NIAGARA because Marilyn offers some form of titillation that Rogers and Tierney do not (in fact, he referred to these women as over-the-hill in an earlier post and presumably less attractive to him). So we are getting sexist attitudes thrown on to a discussion of noir, and I think this is where the feminist propaganda could be tossed in if anyone cares to do that.

 

If noir was all about dames and tight sweaters, then there would have been no need to cast anyone except a youthful Lana Turner in any of these pictures.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

>the essence of film noir is about more than dark visuals and a "dame". It's about malaise."

 

You can't have much malaise with high-key lighting, Technicolor, and Cinemascope.

 

It's the cast and murder mystery, and the wrongly-accused man, and the two femme fatales that give this away as being a neo-noir. The Technicolor and Cinemascope in a crime movie gives it away as being the result of a decision by studio bosses to switch styles with bright colorful visual gimmics to try to keep people going to theaters.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

> {quote:title=Geminigirl wrote:}{quote}

> You do have a point about the story not moving along. If it were not for the aforementioned aesthetics of the film I would have changed the channel................................

Thank you. I really don't care about how the film would have looked if it had been filmed five or ten years earlier or later. Just judging by what's on the screen, the film just plods through moments of banal dialogue, poor direction of scenes, and some mediocre acting only emphazized by strange casting. Ewww, I cringed when Garner had to kiss Gardiner. I could only imagine that this would have been their love child:

 

Being-There-1979-2.jpg

 

"I know, I said that I like to watch TV, but do I have to watch Black Widow?"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us