Debra Winger

Black Widow (1987, Bob Rafelson)

Black Widow is an odd film. Ronald Bass’s script starts being about Debra Winger as a Justice Department analyst who can’t get her male colleagues to take her seriously when she discovers a woman (Theresa Russell) killing her rich husbands. The film never discusses Russell’s motive, though one can assume they’re awful guys since every guy in Black Widow is a sexist jerk. Even the nicer guys are still sexist jerks. Or at least mild perverts.

Rafelson and Bass juxtapose all Winger’s opposition with Russell seducing a new husband–Nicol Williamson. Williamson’s fantastic, by the way; easily the best performance in the film.

But then once Russell discovers Winger is after her, the movie moves to Hawaii where the two women have a bonding movie together. They see the sights, have some vaguely homoerotic scenes together. The trip to Hawaii doesn’t serve the film at all, just the cast and crew who got a paid vacation.

And in Hawaii, Winger falls for this perfect Indochinese millionaire, played by Sami Frey (who looks way too young to be the older gentleman he’s portraying). He’s a great guy though, nothing like the pigs she encountered earlier. Must be the accent.

Rafelson’s direction is acceptable. Good photography from Conrad L. Hall, truly great editing from John Bloom.

Both Russell and Winger give fine technical performances, but they can’t overcome the script. Terry O’Quinn, D.W. Moffett and Diane Ladd excel in small parts.

Black Widow‘s tedious and shockingly predictable. It’s downhill from the start.



Directed by Bob Rafelson; written by Ronald Bass; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by John Bloom; music by Michael Small; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Harold Schneider; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Debra Winger (Alexandra), Theresa Russell (Catharine), Sami Frey (Paul), Dennis Hopper (Ben), Nicol Williamson (William), Terry O’Quinn (Bruce), Lois Smith (Sara), D.W. Moffett (Michael), Leo Rossi (Detective Ricci), Mary Woronov (Shelley), Rutanya Alda (Irene), James Hong (Shin) and Diane Ladd (Etta).

Slumber Party ’57 (1976, William A. Levey)

I think Slumber Party ’57 is supposed to be a titillating sex comedy but the lame jokes invalidate the latter and the exploitative misogynistic creepiness hopefully nullifies the former.

Before getting to the acting, I do want to mention director Levey’s transitions. At times, it’s hard to tell if they’re intentionally strange, but when he fades from a Boris Karloff preview at a drive-in (showing the night sky) to the present action and then stretches the frame up… it’s clear he and editor Bill Casper got ahold of a really fancy seventies editing machine. The kind the local news stations used.

Anyway, the vapid premise sets Party up to be a clunker. A group of slutty high school girls (played by actresses old enough to take off their tops) have a slumber party because the basketball team is on an away game and they have nothing to do without the boys. The film takes place at a Beverly Hills high school, but the cast of actresses is demographically assorted to add to the humor. For example, Bridget Holloman (who’s atrocious) is a hillbilly.

Actually, her story has the most effective humor in it. There’s a car chase and it’s nearly just a benign failure.

Party‘s got a huge cast list and no one in it’s good. Debra Winger, in her first film, is awful.

Unfortunately, Levey and Casper’s editing “creativeness” doesn’t extend to cutting together a real scene. Party‘s a disagreeable viewing experience.

Great fifties soundtrack though.



Directed by William A. Levey; screenplay by Frank Farmer, based on a story by Levey; director of photography, Robert Caramico; edited by Bill Caspar; music by Miles Goodman; produced by John Ireland; released by The Cannon Group.

Starring Janet Wood (Smitty), Noelle North (Angie), Debra Winger (Debbie), Bridget Holloman (Bonnie May), Cheryl Smith (Sherry), Mary Appleseth (Jo Ann), R.L. Armstrong (Silas), Joyce Jillson (Gladys the Car Hop), Rafael Campos (Dope Fiend), Victor Rogers (Movie Star), Larry Gelman (Cat Burglar), Joe E. Ross (Patrolman), Will Hutchins (Harold Perkins), Bill Thurman (Mr. Willis), Randy Ralston (Bud Hansen) and Sean Kenney (Cal).

Everybody Wins (1990, Karel Reisz)

What a weird movie. Debra Winger cannot act. Don’t know exactly why Terms of Endearment worked, but she cannot act. She’s really terrible in this one. Arthur Miller adapted his play, which was from 1982–except it was a one act play. Somewhere in the adaptation, Everybody Wins becomes a ludicrous attempt at a thriller. It’s set in a Connecticut town, which looks a lot like Pennsylvania in the film, and Reisz gives the setting absolutely no personality.

Winger convinces Nick Nolte to investigate a case, except she’s a total flake and doesn’t tell him anything about the case until the last fifteen minutes. So, right away, it’s unbelievable for Nolte, playing a renowned investigator, would put up with Winger. Most of their scenes involve her hiding something from him, but he sticks around… because if he left, it’d be a one act movie. Will Patton shows up for a bit and he’s fine. He and Nolte have an interesting relationship for a few scenes. Poor Jack Warden stuck in a nothing role, just to pop in whenever you’ve forgotten he’s in the movie.

It’s not really a case of the film being predictable, but once some of the clues come out, it’s unbelievable Nolte the investigator wouldn’t piece anything together. Except he pieces absolutely nothing together–in the entire film–which dismisses it as a mystery or detective film. There’s no real jeopardy involved, so it’s not a thriller either. Winger’s so terrible it’s not a romance. The film’s only interesting with Nolte and Patton and Nolte and Judith Ivey, who plays his sister (the character’s got an interesting history, but none of it, apparently, gets to come through in the film).

I’ve seen Reisz and Nolte’s other collaboration, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and I guess Everybody Wins is better. Everybody Wins is shorter and, for the first half, it’s just boring, not particularly bad. In fact, I think some of the beginning might even be good. Nolte does a good job, but it’s definitely one of his autopilot performances. Reisz has some good moments (just can’t make the setting stick until the end, when it’s too late to fix the film). There’s even homage to Who’ll Stop the Rain, which I can’t believe anyone would pick up on, but who knows, maybe there’s somebody else out there going through all of MGM’s Nick Nolte releases too.



Directed by Karel Reisz; screenplay by Arthur Miller; director of photography, Ian Blake; edited by John Bloom; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Peter Larkin; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Debra Winger (Angela Crispini), Nick Nolte (Tom O’Toole), Will Patton (Jerry), Judith Ivey (Connie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Amy), Jack Warden (Judge Harry Murdoch), Frank Converse (Charlie Haggerty) and Frank Military (Felix).

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