Blu-Ray Review: Black Widow

Director: Bob Rafelson
Screenplay: Ronald Bass
Starring: Debra Winger, Theresa Russell, Sami Frey, Nicol Williamson, Dennis Hopper
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: 15


The late ’80s and early ’90s saw a slew of erotic or at least sexually charged thrillers that took the idea of the film noir ‘femme fatale’ and gave her a modern, more blatantly sexualised twist. At surface value, this might seem like a forward thinking trend of giving women powerful roles instead of throwaway ‘eye-candy’ appearances, but, as film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman discuss in the commentary included on this release, the reason behind this wave of strong villainous women was likely down to the still male-dominated industry (and male-dominated business world in general) being scared of the growing power women were enjoying at the time. Back in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when film noir was born, women were more frequently entering the workplace due to the war, so men were afraid of them taking their traditional places as the breadwinners. In the ’80s, women were finally starting to attain positions of power in the business world (although things still aren’t balanced), so the fear came back.

Black Widow was part of this wave and sees Theresa Russell play the titular Black Widow, a chameleonic character (of too many names to pick one here, so I’ll stick with the title) who makes a living by seducing rich men, marrying them, then undetectably murdering them, so she can keep their fortunes to herself. She then changes her identity and moves onto the next victim. So it’s very much playing into those ’80s fears then, but writer Ronald Bass put a bit of a spin on things to prevent the film from being too blatantly a symbol for male fear, by making the protagonist a woman too. Debra Winger plays Alexandra, a Federal Investigator who is bored of her desk-bound research job and longs to be in the field, solving cases first hand. She comes across some strange deaths of wealthy men and looks into the cases to find the wife of each victim looks similar, even if on paper they are different women. She begs her boss to let her take on the case, which he lets her do, as he thinks she’s crazy. There’s no evidence of murder and the Black Widow’s hair and make-up changes make it hard to prove she’s the same woman.

When Alexandra gets close to catching the Black Widow in the act though, her next victim, William (Nicol Williamson), is found dead. Alexandra is devastated as she had a chance to tell William about her theory about his wife, so she quits her job and heads to Hawaii (the last known location of the Widow) to put an end to her reign of terror herself. To do this, she must learn to be like her nemesis and the closer she gets to the Widow, the more she discovers her own sexual powers, turning from a tomboy into a ‘true’ woman.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Reckoning

Director: Jack Gold
Screenplay: John McGrath
Based on a Play by: Patrick Hall
Starring: Nicol Williamson, Ann Bell, Lilita De Barros, Tom Kempinski
Country: UK
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1970
BBFC Certificate: 12


Another of Indicator’s obscure British film re-releases this month (which also include The Deadly Affair, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and The National Health), is Jack Gold’s The Reckoning. As with the other titles, I hadn’t heard of this before, but it caught my eye due to some positive reviews knocking around and the press citing it as being similar and of equal standard to Get Carter (the original, not the God-awful Sylvester Stallone remake of course).

Like Get Carter, The Reckoning sees its protagonist travel up north from London to find a loved one murdered. This time around it’s Liverpool that Michael Marler (Nicol Williamson) travels to, as his father is dead. The doctors declare it a straight forward heart attack, but a friend of his father tells Michael he was attacked by some anglo-saxon teddy boys the day before, which caused his death. Unlike Carter however, Michael is no gangster out for revenge. He’s a businessman who moved down south from his Liverpool home and never looked back. He’s brutal in his approach to his line of work though and his working class Irish heritage requires him to deal with those responsible for his father’s death, as the police aren’t interested. So Michael spends much of the film tormented as to what to do about the situation. Meanwhile he finds being back home rejuvenating after feeling suffocated and bored with his high flying but superficial existence in the capital. In particular, he’s fed up of his cold-hearted wife Rosemary (Ann Bell) and the battle for a promotion in the company he works for. The trip up north seems to provide him the impetus to do something about this though.

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