Sort of a psychological melodrama. In a way, a send-up of Peyton Place; but with a lot going on under the surface. It’s quite a surface too: stylish and showy, sets glow with 50s color, objects stand out while people seem to recede into so many elements in a composition. With that sort of atmosphere, the patients and staff intermingle like coworkers in an office; a reality show in an absurd world.
Many characters seem weak and vulnerable. Richard Widmark (Dr. McIver) seems much more comfortable with Meg (Lauren Bacall) than with his wife (Gloria Grahame); Karen (Grahame), on the other hand, is the object of both Stevie and Dr. Devanal’s (Charles Boyer’s) affections. Victoria (Lillian Gish) is a hyper control-freak. By contrast, the patients might be delusional, and/or paranoid, but their issues aren’t affected. The only ones here who seem to know what they’re about are the patient Stevie, and Meg. It makes sense that they understand and respect each other. McIver certainly cares about the patients. Despite the appearance of ‘the inmates running the asylum’, his progressive treatment works.
Maybe the patients need to be shielded from the melodramatic world around them. It’s fitting that the business at hand, the ‘product’ that energizes the institution, is a set of decorative objects–the curtains. It’s fair to say that the staff is at least as obsessed with this mundane detail as the patients. Karen ends up acting like a patient stringing up ‘her’ curtains. The climax of the curtain drama coincides with Stevie’s disappearance. Reality has to complete with nonsense, and struggles for attention.
Stevie’s resurfacing isn’t much of a surprise, but it does absolve McIver guilt; it forms a better ending than the tacked-on speech McIver gives at the board meeting. I could do without the equally cliched reconciliation he has with Karen. I’d rather see him with Meg, as he seems doomed to a replay of the curtain debacle. The Cobweb, while accurately reflecting its time, also looks ahead to the ’60s and ’70s mindset that challenged our perception of reality. 9/10.