Bob Rafelson is a fascinating figure, he is responsible for forming The Monkees for their TV Show. His debut directorial effort was the acid drenched Monkees vehicle Head and his follow-up was the bonafide classic Five Easy Pieces and then lesser known but equally great The King of Marvin Gardens. His career took a turn for the noir in ’80s firstly with the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice and that gets us to his second noir infused feature The Black Widow.
The Black Widow is about a Department of Justice agent Alex Barnes (Debra Winger) who is tracking a woman who she suspects is responsible for the deaths of many rich men who died in mysterious circumstances and left a large fortune to their widows. The woman in question is played Theresa Russell whose true name is never revealed but she goes by many different names in the film. Alex eventually tracks her down to Hawaii and they becomes friends and they both complete for affections of Paul played by French New Wave star Sami Frey. There is also a small lesbian subtext to their relationship if you want to see it and it was discussed in the pre-production to be more explicit but the filmmakers decided against it.
The performances by Winger and especially Russell who embodies the femme fatale in such a seductive way. Russell’s run in the ’80s mostly in the films by her then husband Nicolas Roeg where she played equally unbalanced woman is extraordinary, shame her career went downhill. Dennis Hopper shows up in an all too brief cameo as one of the many rich husbands which is a shame because Hopper always even in his most drug addled gives his all in any role. The real star however is Winger who perfectly captures a boxed up woman who inhabits a world of men.
Overall The Black Widow is a partially successful attempt to recapture the noir feel and contains strong performances but it reveals too much too soon. The cinematography by Conrad Hall is strong but you wouldn’t expect anything less from the master. The disc from Signal One is impressive with new interviews from Ronald Bass and son of Conrad Hall who also worked as an assistant cameraman on the film. The disc also includes commentary from Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman which is from the US Twilight Time disc.