There are all sorts of twists and turns in Along Came A Spider, an ABC Moive of the Week starring Suzanne Pleshette and Ed Nelson as a couple of star-crossed psychopath lovers. Sometimes, you’ll think she’s crazy, sometimes you’ll think he’s crazy and sometimes watching the mindgames going on between her archeologist character and his physicist character, you’ll wonder if we shouldn’t just shut down all the universities and make people get real jobs where they don’t have so much free time to concoct meticulous murders and frame ups.
Pleshette plays Janet Furie, wife of a researcher who was killed in a lab accident. Believing that it was murder so that his research could be stolen by the unscrupulous Dr. Becker (Nelson), she goes into deep cover as the sexy college co-ed Anne Banning to scheme her way to some sweet revenge! But oh no! She falls in love with Becker! (But not enough to stop her diabolical plan to avenge her husband’s death. Only enough to feel sporadic pangs of guilt after everything goes according to plan!)
Janet insinuates herself into Becker’s life by showing up at his university class and flirting with him over some equation or other. (What’s the old saying? It takes a nerd to catch a nerd, right?)
A dinner date follows and before you know she is sashaying around his apartment one morning wearing nothing but his shirt. Innocent talk over breakfast turns awkward when she gets him to discuss about what it was like to work with her husband a few years before at the time to his death. Not knowing her true identity, Becker takes a black hole-sized dump all over her dead husband by denigrating his work as a scientist, saying he got all the credit simply because he was the project supervisor and that he was responsible for his own death. (“Dr. David Furie? Reckless dumbass who deserved all the radiation he got dosed with. Can you pass me the pancake syrup, honey?”)
Janet follows through with her plan and it works to perfection thanks to shoddy police work and shoddy lawyering by Becker’s attorney. Becker is convicted of her murder despite the lack of a body and based solely on circumstantial evidence she planted. It’s one thing to fake your own death and then assume a new identity, but it’s something entirely different to fake the death of a non-existent person and then return to your old identity. You would think that any effort at all by the police and/or Becker’s defense team could pretty quickly establish that Anne Banning wasn’t real. In fact, other than an offhand mention by the police that her college records said her parents were dead, nothing was known about Anne or her past at all!
We hear about police having tunnel vision and rushing to judgment all the time, but that doesn’t explain why Becker just sits around letting himself get railroaded. You just met a woman you never saw before, have a love affair, and suddenly she leaves to visit a sick mother out of town, you never hear from her again and the next thing you know, you’re being accused of murdering her? Wouldn’t you be telling your attorney to look into this Anne Banning character, who surely would discover no real evidence of her exists and that the only known records (the college records) didn’t check out?
Despite being convicted of her murder, Becker is ultimately released due to a mysterious letter received after the trial and sentencing. But who sent the letter? Is Becker truly innocent? Or has the blonde dye job or wig Janet is now forced to wear (part of her cover as Anne was having dark hair) caused her to lose her mind?
While the latter half of the film is full of fun double-crosses and hilarious moments like Becker and Anne reuniting despite him just getting out of prison after she framed him and him saying how it was all his fault, it is the first half of the film that structurally and tonally miss the mark.
The recounting of the death of Janet’s husband is handled so poorly, it is never clear what happened and so we spend the first two-thirds of the movie having no idea whether he was murdered, let alone by who. In fact, what we do see just appears to be a simple, unexplained lab accident with the husband putting too many cubes of something on a plate. It would have been more effective if we had seen anything in that sequence that at least made us wonder if something nefarious had happened. Because of what we were shown instead, Janet/Anne just came off as an unsympathetic looney harassing a guy for no reason.
But then the movie goes and portrays Becker as an arrogant prick who is so smug and smarmy, we can’t help but root for him to have done something to her husband! Come on Janet! There’s a reason why Becker is still single and not dating! Who wants to come home and listen to guy prattle on about the Nobel Prize he is surely going to win? (One of the things he whined about to Janet after he got out of prison was how the whole murder trial thing wrecked his chances for a Nobel that year! Raped in the shower, shanked in the yard, and being forced to get a prison tat was bad enough, but to have those eggheads in Stockholm turn their nose up at you just because of some dopey conviction for killing a gal is simply too much for a brilliant scientist to bear!)
All of this elaborate set up is neatly concluded in rapid fashion, with confessions spewed out so fast, it was like the actor was trying to beat the end of the movie’s running time. Still, Along Came a Spider packs so much treachery into its 90 minutes from all parties and with the supposed heroine of the film looking like she spends the first half of the movie framing an innocent man, you keep watching to see where it all ends up.
And if doesn’t end up anywhere that surprising, that’s OK because at least along the way, you get to see Suzanne Pleshette channel one of those Alfred Hitchcock icy blondes he seemed to be so creepily fond of.
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