Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         


THE SPIDER. Fox, 1945. Richard Conte, Faye Marlowe, Kurt Kreuger, Martin Kosleck, Mantan Moreland, Ann Savage. Written by Lowell Brentano, Anthony Coldeway, Irving Cumings Jr., Scott Darling, Jo Eisinger, Fulton Oursler and Ben Simkhovich. Directed by Robert D. Webb.

   No, I never heard of it either, but when I saw it on a cheap DVD at Cinevent and glommed that cast, I had to go for it.

   The Spider isn’t all that memorable, but it does offer a fine bunch of thespians trouping cheerfully through the banality. Conte is a sharp, wise-cracking PI, Faye Marlowe the mysterious female client who (as usual) is not what she seems, Mantan Moreland (in a bigger-than-usual part at a major studio) plays the comic-relief assistant, as only he can, and Ann Savage, that bitch-queen of the B-movies, is ideally cast as a vicious and venal double-crosser.

   There’s also a bit of effective New Orleans atmosphere (everyone seems to be sweating) and a neat red-herring turn by Martin Kosleck, but I’m afraid that’s where the film runs out of redeeming qualities.

   Spider is strictly a noir-by-rote, with perfunctory shadows, routine femmes fatales, a suave obvious killer, standard-issue PI and the thick cops typical of B-movies.

   There’s also a shadowy figure who seems to have nothing to do all day but follow Richard Conte around and kill whoever he talks to. Director Webb tries hard to make it look sinister, but the more we see of this dark presence, the more it looks like The Phantom Blot.

   Story? Well, Faye Marlowe has information that her missing sister may have been murdered, but the mysterious woman who holds the evidence wants her to have Richard Conte pick it up for her — don’t bother asking why, because the writers apparently never thought much about it. In time-honored tradition, the person with the vital clue dies before our hero can get it, leading to a chase around New Orleans (and the Fox backlot) with Marlowe, Conte and the shadowy killer constantly jockeying for position.

   Okay, The Spider isn’t a terrible film, and if you’re in the mood it can even be mildly entertaining. But the chief mystery for me was how it took eight (count’em) eight writers to stamp out such a boiler-plate story.