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.
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.