Black Widow (1987)

Black Widow (1987), directed by Bob Rafelson.

A smooth, no-mystery thriller of two strong women: a femme fatale who marries and murders rich men, and the federal agent who is on to her.

Debra Winger and Theresa Russell are both fine and when they get to Hawaii, Conrad L. Hall's photography makes lovely work of lithe, swim-suited bodies. Brief nudity by Russell: just enough for an R rating.

Russell (last seen in The Razor's Edge (1984)) is good at her work: the planning, seduction, invisible murder and cashing out. But she is not superhuman: we see her nervousness when her story is being checked out, and her screaming rages when she is frustrated. She cries after every death and probably loved each husband in her own way -- but she loved the money more: "Being rich is a problem. You never feel you are quite there".

Winger (last seen in Cannery Row (1982)) is not as glamorous but she has her own appeal and we are hoping she can take charge of her life. She doesn't date and seems a bit nervous about sexual matters. Late in the story she gets laid and becomes more confident.

With two powerful female antagonists and all that scuba diving, sexual tension between them seems inevitable in a "neo-noir" thriller. Neither has satisfactory love lives. Why not engage with each other? You can see them thinking about it, but neither is willing to pretend there is no problem. Both know the truth and know the other knows, and neither is going to give in.

It's all about the duel. I think audiences wanted more action, of some sort.

Rich set of supporting actors: Dennis Hopper, Nicol Williamson, Terry O'Quinn, James Hong, Diane Ladd, Mary Woronov (the scuba instructor; I didn't recognize her).

Rafelson had been away for several years before this, as had cinematographer Hall.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, and pretty good looking. Commentary track by the usual pair: Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. I've become quite fond of their work.

They point out that just as 1970s film had a fascination for the Great Depression, the 1980s "neo-noir" genre moved on to mimicking the 1940s.

They also suggest that "real" sex in film faded out after this period. Later it became more cinematic presentations of slamming people up against the wall and performing erotically aerobic exertions on them.