Thursday, July 3, 2008

Older actors are enjoyable, too

The 1954 movie Black Widow was on the Fox Movie Channel at lunchtime today, so although I'd already seen it before, I decided to watch it again. The fact that it was finally letterboxed was a big plus, but it's still a reasonably good mystery.

Set in the world of the New York theatre, Black Widow has a cast of stars who were slightly beyond their primes: Van Heflin is the lead, as a theatre producer who gets caught up in a dalliance with a young woman who has aspirations of making a name for herself in the theatre (played by Peggy Ann Garner) when his wife (Gene Tierney, unfortunately not looking nearly as hot as she was in Leave Her to Heaven -- the Cinemascope lenses must not have flattered her) is away. Eventually, she's found hanged in his apartment, and he's the natural prime suspect, being pursued by detective George Raft.

This being the New York theater, Van Heflin and his wife live in an impossibly nice apartment with huge rooms -- do they make rooms this size in New York apartments? An even more posh apartment, however, is that owned by actress Ginger Rogers and her husband, played by Reginald Gardiner, a floot above Heflin and Tierney. Rogers is a Margo Channing type in that she's dismissive of all around her, especially her husband, but also has a bit of Eve Harrington in her in that she seems to be a bit manipulative. Gardiner seems a bit mousy, although there's more to him than first meets the eye. (Of course, this being a mystery, there's more to everybody, including the victim, than first meets the eye.) I can't say that much more, however, without giving away the plot.

The actors, despite being a bit older than normal for an ensemble in a Hollywood movie (excepting those movies specifically dealing with old age), are fun to watch. Van Heflin is fine; he wasn't exactly endowed with matinee idol looks, but this role doesn't call for them. Instead, it works better as a slightly dumpy-looking man, the sort you'd expect to be going through a mid-life crisis. Gene Tierney would be fine if she had been given more to do; unfortunately, she's ignored for too much of the movie. George Raft's role is necessary but by definition not a starring role; he plays it quite appropriately, being understated and not overshadowing the various suspects, who are the real focus of the movie. Ginger Rogers is probably the best of the oldsters (although Garner as the victim is even better), although her role is a bit smaller than Heflin's. Seeing them all work together makes for eminently satisfying viewing.

Black Widow is available on DVD, which is a good thing. There was a completely different movie which also had the title Black Widow that was released in 1987; some TV listings mix up the two movies.

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