The Black Widow Persona
What do people see in the thriller Black Widow (1987), in which a sirenlike serial killer weds and sheds rich husbands and the FBI operative who sees through her mask is also female? “Which part do you figure a woman isn’t up to, the seduction or the murder?” fascinated bureau analyst Alex (Debra Winger) asks her skeptical superior. The beautiful suspect Catherine (Theresa Russell) assumes the persona of her mark’s ideal soulmate, so potential husbands see what they want to see. What does Alex see – and does her preoccupation with Catherine go beyond an investigator’s zeal? Written by Ronald Bass (Rain Man) and directed by Bob Rafelson (the 1981 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice), Black Widow spins a tantalizing tale of desire, menace and sexual attraction that was unique when it played theatrically and even now, 28 years and dozens of screen femme fatales since, still packs a punch because Winger and Russell play all the shades of their cat-and-mouse duel with breathtaking mastery. During an interview that touched on Black Widow’s prominent place in her filmography, Russell said that the Ingmar Bergman film Persona (1966) – about two women, an afflicted actress and her nurse, whose personalities merge over the course of the film – came up as a point of reference in conversations among Winger, Rafelson and cinematographer Conrad Hall. It makes sense and the film is stronger for it. Indeed, film historian David Thomson, not a fan of Russell’s work here, suggested that the movie might have been better with the roles of Winger and Russell reversed. What film does he see? Twilight Time Film Historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman will enthusiastically discuss the movie they see on a captivating Audio Commentary as Black Widow comes to hi-def Blu-ray from TT on October 13; pre-orders open on September 30.