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Year:
1987
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Drama, Thriller
IMDB rating:
6.3
Director:
Bob Rafelson

 

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Dennis Hopper as Ben Dumers
Sami Frey as Paul Nuytten
Danny Kamekona as FBI security
D.W. Moffett as Michael
Nicol Williamson as William McCrory
Mary Woronov as Shelley
Debra Winger as Alexandra 'Alex' Barnes
Leo Rossi as Detective Ricci
Lois Smith as Sara
Theresa Russell as Catharine Petersen
Terry O'Quinn as Bruce, Alex's Boss
Rutanya Alda as Irene
James Hong as H. Shin - Honolulu private investigator
Diane Ladd as Etta
Black Widow Storyline: Catherine is a black widow. "She mates and then she kills". Black Widow is the story of a lady (Catherine) who marries lonely millionaires, waits until they've changed their will to leave all to their beloved wives and then murders them to inherit the fortune. With each man Catherine marries, she changes her appearance to suit the mans personality. Only there's one problem. Alexandra is a smart cookie and has found a link between these unexplained mysterious deaths and the partners wives. But now her only problem is proving that a killer is on the loose and saving herself from the deadly Black Widow.
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Reviews
Great plot and excellent performances
The first time I saw Black Widow I was 13 and I didn't have a long movie history behind me, of course. I Hadn't seen any films noirs from the 40s or 50s, hadn't heard of Double Indemnity or Gene Tierney yet. So when I witnessed Theresa Russell's identity changes from classy businessman's trophy wife to tacky Texas doll to well-read ancient coin expert, I was in movie heaven. The revelation, though, did not come from Russell but from Debra Winger's performance : from then on I worshiped her and awaited her next role with feverish excitement. Now that I have viewed it about 1 million times on tape, I still think it's a terrific movie with great performances (actually Theresa Russell has rarely been better than here), and there are tons of stuff I love about it : the dialogue, the cinematography, the opening credits, the symbolic mini-scenes (think winger in the shower just before the wedding), Winger's looks. It's a cult classic, on my video shelf anyway.
1999-07-04
Theresa Russell with A LOT of chemistry with A LOT of people...
A really clever thriller written by Ron Bass & unexpectedly directed by Bob Rafelson. Debra Winger is a government agent who insinuates herself into the life of the much-married Theresa Russell, knowing full well that the gold digging Russell mates and kills her wealthy husbands. There's undeniable (and quite erotic) chemistry between Winger & Russell...and between Russell and Dennis Hopper...and between Russell and Sami Frey...you get the point. Rafelson weaves a complex and very satisfying tale. Winger gives a powerhouse performance and Russell is perfect as an utter psychopath. The large cast also includes Diane Ladd, Lois Smith, Nicol Williamson, Terry O'Quinn, James Hong (as a decidedly sleazy private eye), and, briefly, Mary Woronov.
2011-10-01
Average and Automatic…Good Looking Greedy Eighties Story
Good Looking Film that has Disappointment Written All Over it. It is Sleek, yet Surprisingly Unsuspenseful. Theresa Russell Steals the Show Showing some Depth to the Title Character but Ultimately the Movie is Brought Down by Some Sloppy Editing and Rushed Exposition.

It has Sheen but is Short on Thrills as it Often Cuts from or Eliminates Scenes that Seem Essential and Adds Others that are Supremely Superfluous or Silly (like the shower part with Winger). Speaking of Debra Winger, She is Boring, Clichéd, and Bland as a Modern Professional Woman that has Joined the Workforce, so Therefore Must be Written as "one of the boys". Much has been Read Into that.

With No Dating Skills and Frumpy Clothes She Buys a Gun for Some Reason and then has it set off the Alarm at the FBI (this is supposed to be a smart Agent) and is Lectured on Firearms by Her "smart" Boss that Tells this Law Enforcement Officer to "Take it back to Sears." The Motivation Behind that Scene is Anyone's Guess.

There is a bit of Chemistry Once the Investigation Collides and the Two Women Meet Near the Bedroom Battlefield, but that Part of the Film, while the Best Part, is Short and Leads to a Muddled Conclusion that is about as Unsatisfying as the Film Itself.

Overall, this is a Feminine Fantasy, some Perverted Wish Fulfillment for Eighties "Greedy" Women, who were Left Out of the Market and do Their "Gordon Gekko" not with Stock Manipulation, but with a More Natural and Organic Talent.
2014-08-28
liked the two actresses
Catharine (Theresa Russell) is a black widow marrying rich old men and then killing them off. She changes her looks and identity after each kill. Her next victims are toy maker Ben (Dennis Hopper) and rich sociologist McCrory. Dept of Justice investigator Alexandra (Debra Winger) is examining the seemingly natural death of a mob-related guy. She notices that there are other similar deaths and the wives all look alike. Her boss Bruce (Terry O'Quinn) doesn't buy it but lets her investigate on her own. After McCrory dies, Alex follows Catharine to Hawaii with new adventurous man Paul Nuytten. Shin (James Hong) is the unhelpful weasel local P.I.

I really like the performances of the two actresses. I don't find Catharine's seductions that compelling and the movie doesn't need it. It's perfectly fine to keep that part mostly mysterious although Theresa Russell gets to show a little bit of skin. Alex's investigation is more fascinating with her trying to be one of the boys in an all-men's world. The investigation does lack tension since there is no mystery. The two women collide midway through the movie and the story changes into something else. The movie turns into a bit of mean girls drama and overwrought hardboiled tension. James Hong is funny. I'm not sure that it's dramatic enough but it seems to have fun with playing it over the top. It feels like style over substance at that point. Quite frankly, I'm not sure why there is the final sting or what it actually achieves other than a surprise twist for the movie.
2015-04-07
An Unforgettable Neo-Noir
When the ambitious federal investigator Alexandra 'Alex' Barnes (Debra Winger) reads the cases of two wealthy men that have just died and left their fortunes to their younger and younger wives, she suspects that the woman might be the same. She believes that the woman might be killing the millionaires without a trace to inherit their fortunes.

Alex travels and tracks down the mysterious female inheritor Catharine Petersen (Theresa Russell) but she finds nothing about her identity. Alex believes that the Catharine might have traveled to Hawai and she takes vacation to follow her instincts. Alex finds and befriends Catharine in the hotel and becomes close to her. When Alex meets Catherine's boyfriend Paul Nuytten (Sami Frey), she has a crush on him. Will her passion for Paul and her friendship with Catharine jeopardize her investigation?

"Black Widow" is an unforgettable neo-noir of the 80's, with the sexy and gorgeous Theresa Russell and Debra Winger playing a cat-and-mouse game in the lead roles. This film is one of my favorite from the 80's and slightly recalls "Body Heat" from the early 80's. In those years, Theresa Russell was one of the sexiest actress of the cinema industry and the role of Catharine Petersen is tailored for her. Unfortunately the Brazilian DVD has no Extras. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "O Mistério da Viúva Negra" ("The Mystery of the Black Widow")
2012-08-18
Guilty pleasure
Hilariously contrived and utterly compelling, Black Widow is always worth a re-viewing when the video shelves are dry. It's beautifully filmed, competently acted, and contains some of the most rousingly misguided plot twists known to this cinephile.

No spoilers here, but the ending is a knee-slapper, as is the otherwise quite capable Theresa Russell's foray into a southern belle accent. It's all very slick, but in a good way, with the considerable lily gilded by attempts at intellectualizing a movie which could be refilmed with startlingly few changes for a Cinemax Late Night soft-core extravaganza. Kudos to Russell, of course, Winger, James Hong and Mary Woronov just for being Mary Woronov for at least one scene; it's just a shame that a movie which makes a stab at well-rounded female characters (at the very least by making the male characters so weak [truth is, I can scarcely remember the names of any of the male characters] that one cannot help but invest all subjectivity with the female characters) operates under the notion that the Debra Winger character discovers her womanhood vicariously through the exploits of the sensuous, if surprisingly (in context) asexual, man-killer Russell, which is not exactly the most progressive notion. Essential viewing nonetheless.
1999-11-27
Subtle Femme Fatale Suspense Thriller that Relies More on Character than Action--Hollywood Rarely Makes Films Like This
If there is a word to describe "Black Widow", it's "subtle". And yet subtlety is what is lacking from most "suspense" thrillers made today which really means taking the "suspense" out of suspense films. However, this film relies heavily on almost pure suspense for its main thrust and makes for a very satisfying viewing experience, especially for those who saw it 20 years ago and have not seen it again since. The other plus for this movie is the two outstanding female leads who keep the interest constantly high, not through conventional action sequences, but through a dynamic in which the viewer is quite in the dark regarding what they will do next. It is nice to see a suspense drama that relies on the feminine sensibility, which you rarely see in Hollywood today. You have to go back to the film noir days of Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s to find movies centering around the "femme fatale", such as "The Postman Always Rings Twice" or "The Maltese Falcon".

The plot is relatively simple. A beautiful young woman, presumably in her early 30's, consciously courts older rich men in order to later dispatch them and inherit their money. Theresa Russell in the best role of her acting career plays the "Black Widow" with much understated deviousness coupled with seductive femininity. Somehow Russell makes it work. It is never over-the-top which would have ruined the whole dynamic. She finds that fine line where, in only certain moments, do we see her take on a darker cunning expression to hint of her ulterior motives. The rest of the time she plays the role of the perfect female spouse to whomever she is either courting or married.

The best feature of her portrayal is when she assumes a new identity for each of her potential victims to trap her men in a relationship that, as one of her victims put it, "seems too good to be true". She researches her intended victims with the veracity of a graduate student preparing a PhD thesis. Another element that is left up to audience speculation is why, other than for the money, she engages in these seduction-murder episodes. Her motivation is never fully explained which, for some reason, works best for the film, leaving the audience to ponder her inner psychology. I feel the only shortcoming of the film is that sometimes the seduction sequences seemed a little rushed where they maybe needed one more scene. Russell does such a good job of transforming her character into someone who would be attracted to her intended victims that I wanted to see just a little more of it. Dennis Hopper and Nicol Williamson each play victims of the "Black Widow" and I would have liked to see their segments extended just a bit longer.

Debra Winger plays a federal data clerk at the Justice Department who, during the course of her inputting myriads of computer information, presumably of a criminal nature, starts to notice an unnerving trend of rich men dying shortly after having married younger women. She begins to ponder whether these men were seduced by the same woman. She asks her boss to allow her to investigate further into the matter and overnight she becomes a field agent. The unstated rhetoric is that a male investigator might be unable to go inside the head of the "black widow" in order to stop her. At one point, Winger says "If you want to catch her, if you have to think like she does." But even Winger admits that no one knows why anyone does anything. She might be able to understand the black widow's schemes but not her motivations. Winger is a perfect compliment to Russell as she projects less sexual allure and more the work-a-day woman. Now the black widow is being pursued.

Overall, a great suspense movie of the "femme fatale" variety that is currently an under-explored area of film storytelling. Since about 1990, we have been in the age of the male dominated screen persona which makes a lot of Hollywood's offerings too cookie-cutter. Filmmakers could learn from "Black Widow". The female point of view is equally worth exploring as its male counterpart. For some reason, female centered stories are often characterized as not being universal. Which seems strange when you consider that 55% of the world's population is female.
2008-12-17
Film noir without the noir (spoilers)
Black Widow is a somewhat entertaining but contrived story about a female serial killer (Theresa Russell) who seduces, marries, then murders, a succession of wealthy men. An FBI researcher (Debra Winger) notices the statistical anomaly of the rare disease with which her victims are diagnosed and sets out to stop Russell.

First off, the plot meanders around as Russell disguises herself as very different characters, playing different ages and regional dialects. The problem with this approach is that Russell is a terrible actress, and she never appears to be anything else than a bad actress trying to find ways to emote through bad accents. Winger does much better as the earnest FBI agent (because she is undeniably a very good actress); I wonder if it would have worked better with the roles reversed. We get to see several husbands bumped off before Winger assertively injects herself into Russell's path, leading to many complications (and a lesbian subtext that is hardly subtle, to say the least).

** SPOILERS **

Russell is not the only problem with the movie. The mood should have been film noir, but almost every scene is brightly lit with bright primary colors abundantly dispersed. The cinematography has that plastic 1980s feel to it, almost completely without texture. Most egregiously, the ending is almost completely revealed with exposition dialogue in a jailhouse visit between the two women, spoiling Sami Frey's climactic re-entry. Why not re-create the events spoken about, providing narration to explain? The scene also provides the nadir of Russell's performance, which doesn't help matters at all.

In short, this movie was not well made, well acted (excepting Winger and a few supporting roles), or well written. Other than that, you'd probably enjoy it. I give it a 5.
2002-10-04
Now frequently on Fox Movie Channel...
This film is a guilty pleasure from the go, go 80's, when money was a balm for all things, and everything over the top was fun.

Teresa Russell is very good as the elusive "Black Widow", a beautiful and mysterious chameleon who marries wealthy businessmen, somehow rids herself of them, and financially profits in the process. She goes from NYC society matron, to Texas redhead, to Seattle museum doyenne, to Hawaiian princess. She looks the role, and Debra Winger is very good as the frumpy FBI detective who must catch her.

There are also some memorable cameo roles here, Lois Smith as a former sister-in-law, and Diane Ladd as the suspicious relative in Texas who is bought off with a substantial six-figure gift.

The sets are believable, and the final set in Hawaii is also balmy and mysterious. Sami Frey portrays the final husband, and there is a twist at the end. 9/10. Recommended.
2008-10-14
a classic
*possible spoilers so proceed with care* There are plenty of plot summaries here, so let's concentrate on a few specifics.

-- Colors. Pay attention to who is wearing red and who is wearing blue or green. The green painted window behind Winger's boss's desk, the green painted windows of the PI in Hawaii. I'm sure there's more going on with this, but I'll have to see it again to pick it up.

-- Just for fun, watch this movie pretending Winger's character is male. The whole movie hangs together just fine with very few exceptions. Her name is even androgynous.

-- For the people who were unhappy with the ending, I'd like to suggest this: They went ahead with the faked death in order to give Winger a chance to get a confession to the other murders, to satisfy her curiosity. This movie was made back in the days when something like this wasn't beyond the realm of possibility, let's say less improbable than it is today. It may have been something that suffered in the editing. All it would take is a very quick scene with that Hawaiian cop talking to Winger:

Cop: "You were right, Alex, we found the poison in the brandy. We could arrest her now, but we're not going to. We're going to play out this little charade idea of yours, mainly to give her time to break the will, which will further incriminate her as part of her past pattern. I know you're afraid she'll pretend this murder was a once-off thing, that she was wild with jealousy about Paul sleeping with you, and so we need time to fly Aunt Sarah out from the east coast to confirm her identity for that other murder. I know it's important to you that we convict her for those other men too, especially the one you met in Seattle whose death you feel responsible for."

Winger: "OK."

That would have solved the whole problem.

-- There are a whole slew of really entertaining supporting roles in this movie, which to me is a mark of a well-made film. Check out that hostile cop in Seattle who is having a very bad hair day. The Hawaiian private investigator I remember so well from Blade Runner. That babe in the tanning bed is Diane Lane.

This is one of those movies that's often shown on TV badly edited to make it fit between the commercials in the proper time slot -- which cuts out a lot of the "smaller" scenes. So that's where you saw this movie, you missed a lot. Rent the uncut version. A much richer, better developed story.
2005-07-21
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