Drama Mystery/Noir

The Web

When I was in graduate school, I shared an apartment with a fellow student who was also a film buff. One night we were watching television and saw a commercial announcing that our cable provider would soon start carrying a channel called “American Movie Classics”. We sat there mesmerized as the advertisement trumpeted that the new service would start with a series of films with Barbara Stanwyck, followed by a run of Cary Grant movies, and then a Gary Cooper retrospective.

We sat in stunned, dry-mouthed silence for a moment, until I said “Well, we’ve got to make a decision: do we cancel cable or drop out of graduate school so that we have more time for old movies?”.

My roommate responded immediately: “Totally drop out of graduate school”.

We resisted somehow, despite becoming AMC addicts and later TCM addicts. One joy of these channels was re-watching old favorites, but a distinct pleasure was viewing a quality film that had somehow been lost — not generally remembered, not listed in most film guides, but still able to entertain an audience if ever it were rediscovered. One such movie with which I had the latter experience is The Web.

This 1947 film, which is also shown under the title Black Velvet, is a nicely crafted noir featuring Edmond O’Brien as a dedicated, hard-charging young lawyer named Bob Regan. Regan falls under the spell of wealthy corporate powerhouse Andrew Colby (Vincent Price) and his sultry secretary/mistress Noel Farady (Ella Raines). He begins working for Colby on what seems a simple assignment, but it quickly takes a violent turn that draws him into a web of murder, intrigue and lies. He is meanwhile attracted to Noel, and she seems to reciprocate, but only to a point because Colby’s hold over her is strong. Meanwhile, hard-nosed police lieutenant D’Amico (William Bendix) watches over the developments with suspicion, and wavers between acting like Regan’s friend and his enemy.

The Web (1947) | It's a double-cross – a triple murder, with ...

Many people only know Vincent Price as “the King of the Grand Guignol”, but he had a fine career in Hollywood before all those scary movies. Otto Preminger’s excellent Laura is probably Price’s most widely-respected non-horror role, but he’s even better here: Silky smooth, handsome, assured and at the same time devious and dangerous.

Ella Raines is also at the top of her game, exuding a Bacall-esque sassy/tough sexuality as she is torn between the two leading men. O’Brien gives an appealing and believable performance as a man in way over his head, and Bendix plays the tough cop memorably as a sort of wiser older brother (and for once in a film noir, the cops are actually smarter than the hero!).

To be an all-time noir classic, The Web would have needed slightly tighter pacing and more quotable lines of dialogue, but it’s still an entertaining, well-made film that with the aid of cable classic movie channels (God Bless ’em) has been re-discovered by a new generation of viewers. Make yourself one of them.