The Glass Web (Jack Arnold, 1953) and Black Tuesday (Hugo Fregonese, 1954). The opening scene of Jack Arnold’s little-seen The Glass Web is a revelation that isn’t worth spoiling. I wasn’t jiving with the film for much of its running time but then felt like a fool for not “getting” Arnold’s television-proscenium perspective—a subversive gesture the director uses to assess the lecherous relationship between reality and reality-television. Edward G. Robinson and John Forsyth are writers for a Big Tobacco-sponsored television program Crime of the Week that airs live renditions of real-life murders. Both men are having an affair with one of the shows bit players (Kathleen Hughes), whose murder involves the two men and later becomes fodder for the show’s season finale. (Will the show be renewed? Will Forsyth be blamed for the murder? Stay tuned!) The film doesn’t seem to have very many fans, maybe because its real-versus-reel commentary isn’t profound and calls too much attention to itself, but in this sad age when reality television reigns supreme, the film almost feels prescient. The crackerjack Black Tuesday is similarly prone to self-reference, as in Robinson’s silly line about people doing the craziest things to stay alive—a point that’s already made clear (through image, sound, and performance) by the time the actor, as a con who escapes death row in a violent killing spree, fends off police from inside his not-so-secret hideout. The nuts and bolts of the film turn with ferocious, slow-burning intensity. From the remarkable opening scene in which a black man sings his death-row blues away to the final scenes of hostages working to stay alive, director Hugo Fregonese creates a rich, morally complex statement about the value we put on human life. The cinematography, by Magnificent Ambersons lensman Stanley Cortez, is a jaw-dropping parade of sinewy long shots and sweaty close-ups.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.