Black Widow (1954) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: David Steigman
  • Review Date: Dec 18, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Black Widow (1954) (Blu-ray Review)


Nunnally Johnson

Release Date(s)

1954 (October 16, 2018)


20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: B
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B-


Not to be confused with the more well-known 1987 thriller Black Widow, this 1954 film noir of the same name focuses on jealousy, blackmail, adultery, and murder. Shot in CinemaScope, Black Widow was written and directed by Nunnally Johnson with a star-studded cast that includes Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, and George Raft. Without even seeing the film, the cast alone should be more than enough to pique the interest of classic movie fans.

Popular actress 'Lottie' Marin (Rogers) hosts a party in which happily-married Broadway producer Peter (Heflin) reluctantly attends. Also present is an ambitious young writer named Nancy (Peggy Ann Garner), who gets acquainted with Peter and shares her ambitions of wanting to hit the big time. The two decide to work together at his apartment while Peter’s wife Iris (Tierney) is away, but when he later picks up Iris from the airport, they return home to find Nancy dead. Believed at first to be a suicide, lieutenant Bruce (Raft) soon discovers that it was actually murder. Amidst rumors of a love affair between he and Nancy, Peter becomes the prime suspect and is determined to prove his innocence, leading him down a path of discovery as to who Nancy really was.

Black Widow is a wonderful mystery thriller with great performances. Van Heflin does an excellent job, giving life to his down-to-earth and easygoing character. George Raft, a major star from the 1930s and 1940s, was in decline at the time and this role revitalized him. Gene Tierney also hands in a fine performance as Iris and Ginger Rogers is fantastic at portraying a Hollywood diva. Rogers initially turned down the job, but reconsidered with the promise that her role would be more substantial than it was originally.

Outside of the headliners, the film also has an excellent supporting cast, including Otto Kruger (The Colossus of New York), Reginald Gardner (Christmas in Connecticut), Virginia Leith (“Jan in the Pan” from The Brain That Wouldn’t Die), and Skip Homeler (The Ghost and Mr. Chicken). There's also an uncredited appearance by future Hollywood icon Aaron Spelling as well.

Writer and director Nunnally Johnson managed to put together a great story with enough plot twists to hold one's attention. While it's mostly considered to be a film noir, even previously released on DVD by 20th Century Fox as part of their noir series, Black Widow lacks the atmosphere one would expect in that genre of filmmaking, feeling more of a mysterious melodrama of sorts. However, it’s easily a five-star film no matter what label you put on it.

Twilight Time once again taps into the 20th Century Fox catalogue and releases Black Widow on Blu-ray with very nice results. The color palette seems to have too much blue, which dominates a few scenes, but outside of that, everything appears much brighter, sharper, and more detailed than before. Skin tones look more natural, black levels are rich and deep, and characters, clothing, and building interiors have deep textures.

The three audio options include English 5.1, 4.0, and 2.0 DTS-HD. The 2.0 track seems to be the strongest with greater depth while the 4.0 comes in at a close second. The 5.1 option is the mildest of the three and requires volume adjustment to hear it properly. Otherwise, there are no detectable issues worthy of note. Even Leigh Harline’s lovely musical score comes through perfectly, whichever option is chosen.

Some of the special features have been carried over from the film's 2008 DVD release, which includes an isolated music audio track; an audio commentary with film historian Alan K. Rode; Ginger Rogers at Twentieth Century Fox; Gene Tierney: Final Curtain for a Noir Icon; and the original theatrical trailer. Also included is a scroll-through of the current Twilight Time catalogue and an 8-page insert booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo, which is always an excellent addition. As with the majority of Twilight Time’s releases, this offering is also Region Free.

Black Widow is worth more than just a mere spin. The production values, performances, score, and direction are all terrific, making the film a masterpiece. And for those who own the previous DVD, Twilight Time's Blu-ray is definitely worth the upgrade.

– David Steigman