Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Black Widow (1951)

An American man is driving through the British countryside when he's attacked by a thief and left on the side of the road, while the police give chase, resulting in the thief's death. The man stumbles to a nearby ranch, where he's tended to by local girl Sheila and her family, and a doctor soon checks him out. He's diagnosed with amnesia, caused in part by the nasty blow on his head, but also from an unknown shock that must have happened earlier that night. Under hypnosis, he's able to recall a strange forest from his dreams, and a name-Christy...

A forgotten relic from the early days of Hammer Studios, Black Widow is an eerie little picture. It gets off to a mysterious and thrilling start, then settles down for a few minutes to let you get to know the lead, and his new friends. Afterwards, the main plot becomes apparent, and it's an entertaining ride. The atmosphere here is effective, and from the glimpses we get from Mark's dreams, we'll dread going into this mysterious wood!

The title is a bit of a spoiler as to what's ultimately going on, but it's not that egregious. There's no mystery once Mark regains his memory, so it's not like the title gives away a twist that only comes to light in the last 5 minutes or anything. The story is good once we figure out the truth, even if it is comparatively simple to what I was expecting (i.e. monsters, conspiracies, secret cults, etc). I liked the way the lead reacts once he discovers the truth. He's very smart/clever about it!

The score is a great addition. There's tense and unsettling music, which really sells the feeling of something unknown being terribly wrong. There is one moment though that sounds like a truck horn blaring right in your ear.

The 50 minute length is suitably short for the most part. You'd think the film will have to hurry to pack an entire story in such a time frame, but I feel the type of plot this is is perfectly suited . Not too long, not too short, with just the right amount of character, and intrigue. However, there is one particular spanner in this cog! The ending, or lack thereof. That was the only thing about Black Widow that disappointed me. It's not abrupt per se, but it feels like the film is missing its final scene. There should've been a proper ending, with Mark hanging out with Sheila and the others back at the ranch, but there never is, and the movie just stops right after the climax.

The acting is all quite good. Robert Ayres is a likeable lead who we care about and want to follow, while Jennifer Jayne is sweet as Sheila. Christine Norden is cold and calculated as Christine, and Anthony Forwood does well as the somewhat conflicted [asshole] Paul.

Whether as an example of early Hammer before it became  what it was known for, or as a general example of general British thriller cinema, Black Widow is a good time! A little too short, but still worth watching all the same...

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