Created by Lowell Brentano & Fulton Oursler
In The Spider Woman, a likably cheesy 1945 B-film from Twentieth Century Fox, ex-cop turned slick New Orleans private eye CHRIS CONLON, is caught up in a web of crime.
A “web” of crime.
It starts out with Conlon (played by Richard Conte) being hired by Judith Smith (Faye Marlowe), who’s worried about her sister. She asks the detective to retrieve an envelope from his own partner, Florence Cain (Ann Savage), that allegedly contains evidence of Judith’s murder. Florence, it turns out, is a few degrees shy of scrupulous, and is running some sort of scam.
But she isn’t long for the world. After Conlon storms off to meet his partner at his apartment to get the envelope, and he complains about her involving him in one of her shakedowns, the same Shadowy Figure who’s apparently tailing first Smith and now him, sneaks in and strangles Florence, while the detective is conveniently in another room. Convinced he’ll be suspected of the crime, he and a friend drag the corpse back to her own apartment.
And that’s the kind of film this is. Nobody does anything logical, and there are holes in the plot you could sail the an aircraft carrier through. All the standard noir tropes are: shadowy streets, a hard-boiled P.I., femme fatales, dumb cops, dumber crooks, mysterious characters, twins, some intrusive “comic relief,” and a few jaw-dropping coincidences. They get kudos for a half-hearted swipe at some actual New Orleans atmosphere, but this film itself is about as noir as Wonder Bread.
The main hook, from which the film gets its title and a few stylistic flourishes, is just plain goofy. It turns out that Judith isn’t her real name–she’s actually Lila Neilson, aka “The Spider Woman,” part of an arachnoid-themed phony baloney mind-reading act, featuring The Great Garonne (Kurt Kreuger). Other people are also after the envelope, of course, including the Shadowy Figure, and in the course of events several of them are bumped off (usually just before they reveal an important clue), red herrings are tossed about, and plenty of questions are never answered.
My recommendation? Not awful, but best served with a case of two-four, and a snarky friend or two.
- THE SPIDER
(1945, Twentieth Century Fox)
Based on the play by Lowell Brentano & Fulton Oursler
Screenplay by Scott Darling and Jo Eisinger
Additional dialogue by Irving Cummings Jr.
Uncredited writers: Anthony Coldeway, Ben Simkhovitch
Directed by Robert Webb
Starring Richard Conte as
Also starring Faye Marlowe, Kurt Kreuger, John Harvey, Martin Kosleck, Mantan Moreland, Walter Sande, Cara Williams, Charles Tannen, Margaret Brayton, Harry Seymour, Odette Vigne, Ann Savage, Jean del Val, James Flavin, Roy Gordon, William Halligan, Eddie Hart, Ruth Clifford, George Beranger