Follow TV Tropes


Film / Black Widow (1987)

Go To

Every man she marries is mysteriously murdered. Finally, one woman has uncovered the truth. But proving it could be fatal.

Black Widow is a 1987 thriller film directed by Bob Rafelson, starring Debra Winger, Theresa Russell, Dennis Hopper, Nicol Williamson, and James Hong.

A mysterious woman (Russell) uses different identities to charm old wealthy men. After marrying them, she poisons them and inherits their fortune. Justice Department agent Alexandra Barnes (Winger) is puzzled by the similarities between the death of several men and she comes to the conclusion that they were killed by the same woman who used different identities. She manages to locate the suspect in Hawaii. In order to expose her, she uses a cover identity and befriends her.

Black Widow, a 2007 made-for-television movie produced by RHI Entertainment and starring Elizabeth Berkley, Alicia Coppola and Adriana DeMeo, is a loose remake of this film.

Also not to be confused with the unrelated Marvel Cinematic Universe Black Widow movie. Though both this film and that movie are now owned by Disney thanks to their buyout of 20th Century Fox.

Black Widow provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Alex says that her father beat her. Subverted because she was joking.
  • Animal Motifs: The character played by Theresa Russell is compared to a black widow, a spider that eats her mate after reproduction. Alex even offers her a pendant shaped like a spider and she immediately understands the symbol.
  • Black Widow: Of course. The title character seduces, marries, and then murders wealthy men, extensively researching each target so she can present herself as the girl of their dreams.
  • Boyfriend Bluff: Alexandra Barnes and "Renée Walker" (the Black Widow) are taking a scuba diving class. An unattractive woman with a cold asks to be Renée's partner, but Alexandra intervenes and says that she and Renée had already agreed to be partners, much to Renée's relief. This example fits the trope because there is considerable subsequent romantic subtext between Alexandra and the Black Widow, including two kisses.
  • Chekhov's Gun: William McCrory's MedicAlert, which means that he is allergic to penicillin. Of course, the Black Widow uses this information to kill her husband later.
  • Clear My Name: The Black Widow frames Alex for Paul Nuytten's murder. Alex is arrested. Subverted: The police did not believe the Black Widow's charade and Alexandra's arrest was a trap to catch her.
  • Da Chief: Alexandra's boss, Bruce, does not believe her at first, but he finally gives her some leeway to investigate the case.
  • Defective Detective: The private investigator Shin is a heroin addict. The Black Widow gives him a choice of dying high or painfully so she can make it look like an overdose.
  • Engineered Public Confession: The Black Widow visits Alex in prison. The police, Sara, and Paul secretly listen to their conversation.
  • Fair Cop: Justice Department agent Alexandra Barnes (Debra Winger). Her colleagues try to seduce her. The Black Widow is attracted to her. Paul Nuytten is attracted to her and he wonders how a girl like her can be single.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The theatrical release poster (see above) features the floating heads of Debra Winger and Theresa Russell.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Between Alex and the Black Widow. As soon as they meet, they practice the Kiss of Life. Later, the Black Widow gives a "Take That!" Kiss to Alex on the mouth at her wedding party.
  • Foreshadowing: The instructions given by the scuba diving instructor foreshadow Alex's later accident and the way the Black Widow saves her.
  • Frameup: The Black Widow frames Alex for Paul's murder: she hides poison in her apartment and hires Shin to gather evidence of Alex's relationship with Paul.
  • Freudian Excuse: Discussed. Alex tells Bruce that she tries to understand the Black Widow. She says that she must hate older men. She says that her father beat her. Then she asks Bruce if he believed her.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Given that this movie was made in The '80s, there's a surprising amount of lesbian subtext between the two main characters (while a Psycho Lesbian or Depraved Bisexual villain was nothing unusual, having The Hero share the attraction was).
  • Hula and Luaus: The main part of the film is set in Hawaii. At the airport, a girl gives necklaces of flowers to the people coming out of the plane. The volcanoes are shown. Alex and the Black Widow practice scuba diving.
  • Kiss of Death: The kiss the Black Widow gives to Alex Barnes at her wedding party. Aside from providing some Lesbian Subtext, it also shows that the Black Widow intends to mess Alex over by framing her for Paul's death.
  • Kiss of Life: Alex and the Black Widow first meet during a scuba-diving course where they practice this trope on each other, an early sign of their homoerotic Foe Romance Subtext.
  • Loophole Abuse: Paul rejects the idea that the Black Widow is after his money, as it all goes to charity if he dies. It turns out he's a resident of Florida where the spouse has the right to overturn the will.
  • Love Triangle: Paul Nuytten is attracted to both "Jessie" (Alex) and "Renée" (the Black Widow). He finally decides to marry "Renée". There is also a Homoerotic Subtext between Alex and the Black Widow.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The men killed by the Black Widow: two deaths are misdiagnosed as Ondine's curse. A third murder looks like a heart attack. Shin's death looks like an overdose. Ironically, it's this trope that first arouses Alex's suspicions; one of her victims was in organised crime, so having him shot dead would have been less suspicious.
  • Media Scrum: In the end, many journalists want to interview Alex, but she goes away.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The plot is set in motion by the death of Sam Petersen.
  • Poison Is Evil: The villainess, the Black Widow, uses poison to kill her victims.
  • Police Are Useless: Detective Ricci of the Seattle Police Department does not believe Alex's theory and he does not help her. Even after William McCrory's death, he does not acknowledge she was right.
  • Pool Scene: The Black Widow swims naked in Paul's swimming pool to win him back after he slept at Alex's. Soon, Paul joins her.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Literally; Alex is on the verge of warning one potential victim, but as she has no evidence, she balks at doing so. This causes her a lot of guilt when he dies shortly afterwards.
  • Private Detective: Shin. First, Alex asks him to locate the Black Widow. Then the Black Widow asks him to gather evidence of Alex's relationship with Paul.
  • The Reveal: Paul Nuytten was not poisoned and Alexandra's arrest was a trap to catch the Black Widow.
  • Serial Killer: The Black Widow is ostensibly killing for money, but as she's continuing to do so long after she is wealthy it's clear that this is also a compulsion.
  • Skinny Dipping: The Black Widow swims naked in Paul's swimming pool, to win him back after he slept with Alex. Soon, Paul takes off his clothes and joins her.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: When Alexandra gives Renée a piece of "black widow" jewelry (letting her know that Alexandra knows she's a Black Widow), Renée kisses her as a challenge.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: The usual way the Black Widow kills her victims: she puts poison in their drinks. She also puts penicillin in the toothpaste of a victim who is allergic to it.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: The Black Widow has sex with Paul in his swimming pool.
  • The Vamp: The Black Widow is a serial killer of rich men she married, ostensibly for their money.
  • Weaponized Allergy: One husband is killed by adding penicillin, which he's allergic to, to his toothpaste.