“I want to un-mix this mix-up about the drapes.”
A psychiatrist (Richard Widmark) at an upscale clinic decides it would be good therapy for his artistic patient (John Kerr) to create silk-screen designs for a set of new drapes — but the clinic’s controlling business manager, Miss Inch (Lillian Gish), wants to buy simple cotton drapes, while the psychiatrist’s neglected wife (Gloria Grahame) has more expensive ideas of her own. Meanwhile, Dr. McIver (Widmark) grows closer to his female co-worker (Lauren Bacall), while Grahame seeks attention from her husband’s alcoholic boss (Charles Boyer).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Charles Boyer Films
- Fay Wray Films
- Gloria Grahame Films
- Lauren Bacall Films
- Lillian Gish Films
- Marital Problems
- Oscar Levant Films
- Paul Stewart Films
- Richard Widmark Films
- Susan Strasberg Films
- Vincente Minnelli Films
Vincente Minnelli’s widescreen, all-star melodrama — based on William Gibson’s bestselling novel — is a truly puzzling venture. While it seems impossible that any movie starring Richard Widmark, Gloria Grahame, Lauren Bacall, Lillian Gish, and Susan Strasberg (and taking place in a mental institute) could be a clunker, this one comes awfully close. Part of the problem stems from the format of the film itself, with the characters literally engulfed by the widescreen camera:
Equally problematic — and common to many ensemble films, especially those adapted from dense novels — is how underdeveloped each of the characters ultimately is, with none given enough screentime to truly shine. Bacall (a nominally “central” character) is especially underserved:
while Strasberg’s admittedly minor role as an inmate is so slight she barely registers.
Some have noted that the film’s very premise — curtains — is enough to push it into the realm of enjoyable camp:
but I failed to see it this way. Ultimately, The Cobweb is only worth seeing for the lead actors, who do their best with limited material.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Richard Widmark’s sympathetic turn as Dr. McIver
- Gloria Grahame as McIver’s neglected wife
- Charles Boyer as tippling Dr. “Dev”
- Fine cinematography and production values
No; it’s unclear to me why this overstuffed melodrama has developed a latter-day following.