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  Black Widow Come Into Her Parlour
Year: 1987
Director: Bob Rafelson
Stars: Debra Winger, Theresa Russell, Sami Frey, Dennis Hopper, Nicol Williamson, Terry O'Quinn, James Hong, Diane Ladd, D.W. Moffett, Lois Smith, Leo Rossi, Danny Kamekona, Rutanya Alda, Mary Woronov, Wayne Heffley, Raleigh Bond
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Catharine (Theresa Russell), if that is her real name, has just suffered a bereavement, as her husband has died. He was a very rich man and has left her a substantial amount in his will, but when she gets back to the mansion they shared she heads straight for the whisky decanter and pours its contents down the bathroom sink, then washes the container out - could there have been something in it other than alcohol that she did not want others to find out about? Her husband was supposed to have died peacefully in his sleep, but was there more to it? Catharine tells his family that she is going off to Europe for a while to get away from it all, but after a short amount of time they do not hear from her. Could this be down to her remarriage?

Black Widow was not a huge success when it was initially released, but it has gone on to find an audience on television and on home video formats, possibly because its central relationship was so intriguing. Not the ones between Catharine and her husbands, but between her and the federal investigator who is tracking her down, having suspected something is amiss when she realises that two millionaires passing away from the same cause in such a short passage of time might just be suspicious. She was Alexandra and played by Debra Winger, who had originally been earmarked to play Catharine but she preferred what to her was the more interesting and understandable role, though she did stipulate if Russell didn't play her rival she would not do the movie.

This demonstrated some canny casting abilities for Winger, who after a while in her career became better known for the films she turned down than the ones she actually took up, for the dynamic between the two characters provided the most electricity in the story. It was a while before they met in the course of Alexandra's sleuthing, so we could establish that she was living a thwarted existence working in a desk job for the government and never going out on dates - her boss (Terry O'Quinn) wakes her up to her cowed lifestyle, and even makes moves towards romancing her, but she's either not interested or not able to form a relationship with her psychology being what it was at that point in time.

However, this was not really a psychological yarn, or if it was Ronald Bass's screenplay played its cards very close to its chest, which was the motive behind its fans' fascination with it. Precisely what was the connection between Catharine and Alexandra besides hunter and hunted? Was there an attraction, and if so what form did it take? There were coy hints that there may be a sexual angle in their regard for one another as Alexandra inveigles her way into Catharine's life, she having already done away with three rich husbands and moving onto number four, Paul (Sami Frey) at a resort where he has been planning a new hotel near a volcano... cue a scene where Frey and Russell visit an actual volcano which while visually impressive also begs the question, who could sleep when that roaring racket was going on outside the window?

Anyway, we're supposed to think it's cool in a how the other half live kind of way, but Alexandra approaches Catharine when they are at a scuba diving class held by Mary Woronov (!) - there was quite a cast here, with Dennis Hopper and Nicol Williamson among the widow’s husbands, for example, barely there when the leading ladies were the focus. Catharine twigs that she is being investigated fairly quickly, but continues to see Alexandra for yet more reasons that are unclear, probably because she thinks she can frame her for murder to get her out of the way, yet also thanks to a curious feeling of flattery when the dowdier woman so patently covets the wealthy experiences that the more capable woman has such easy access to. You get the idea, you were always trying to read whatever was going on in these two characters' heads and not always working it out, so while Winger was perhaps too forceful a personality to be essaying the role of a bookish wallflower, Russell was for once very well cast in a part she could genuinely get to grips with away from her artier movies. Black Widow was far too leisurely for a thriller, but it did get under your skin. Music by Michael Small.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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