Peter Denver (Van Heflin) sees his wife Iris (Gene Tierney) off at the airport. Iris is a famous actress and is spending some time with her ill mother. Iris makes Peter promise to go to Carlotta “Lottie” Marin’s (Ginger Rogers) party. Peter is a Broadway producer and Lottie, another famous actress, is starring in one of his plays. Peter and Iris live in the apartment downstairs from Lottie and her husband Brian Mullen (Reginald Gardiner). Peter is hopeful that he can just run in and run out again.
At the party Peter meets Nancy “Nanny” Ordway (Peggy Ann Garner). Nanny is a twenty year old fledgling writer, new to New York. Peter takes Nanny to dinner just to have company. That night he dutifully tells Iris about meeting Nanny and about dinner.
Nanny contacts Peter again. They have dinner a couple times and Peter allows her to use the apartment during the day to write. Nanny lives with Claire Amberly (Virginia Leith). Claire’s brother John (Skip Homeier) is attracted to Nanny and falls in love with her but innocent naïve Nanny is a player.
After a few weeks Iris returns from her mother’s. Peter picks her up at the airport and brings her home. At the apartment they find Nanny hanging dead in the bathroom. Detective Lt. C.A. Bruce (George Raft) is assigned to investigate the case. What at first blush looks like suicide starts to take on a darker aura. There are hints that Nanny was having an affair with a married man.
Nanny’s roommate Claire tells the police that Nanny was in love with her brother but then started seeing a married man. The Denver’s maid Lucia Colletti (Cathleen Nesbitt) says that when she came to work one day Nanny was asleep in the Denver’s bed wearing Iris’s pajamas. Then it is discovered that Nanny was pregnant. When Peter finally learns that Nanny didn’t commit suicide she was murdered he panics. He knows the police are looking at him as the culprit. Peter is determined to find out the truth about Nanny. Who was the father of her child and did that person kill her?
“Black Widow” was released in 1954 and was directed by Nunnally Johnson. It is a mystery with film noir elements. It was based on the 1952 novel by Patrick Quentin. The movie was also produced by Johnson and he wrote the screenplay.
The film is a colorful high society mystery. The sets and costumes were quite lavish which takes away from some of the noir aspects of the film. I had some trouble getting into the movie. The first part just seemed more like a Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm tale. Eventually the tone changed and when it did it changed quickly. The vision of the shadow on the wall of Nanny’s hanging body was incongruous with the richly appointed apartment. At that point things go downhill quickly for Peter.
Despite the slow start the film ended up being more enjoyable than I expected. Although Nanny looks like the adolescent country girl she is more than adequate at playing the game to get what she wants. Peter, the big city producer, ends up being the naïve one in the relationship. And quite often as dumb as a box of rocks.
If you’re thinking that George Raft may have killed the victim, forget it. He actually plays a good guy in the movie. According to director Johnson, Raft was quite pleased with himself for being cast to play the cop. Usually he plays mob bosses and all around general gangsters, although he did play a cop in “Nocturne” 1946. As for playing bad guys he had some good teachers having been associated with people like Owney Madden and Bugsy Siegel.