Murder, intrigue, madness, a life in peril, a fight against the clock. PHANTOM LADY has it all! Based on a Cornell Woolrich novel and directed by Robert Siodmak, this is definitely film noir.
Scott Henderson ( Alan Curtis) ,after an argument with his wife, goes to a bar and starts a conversation with a mysterious lady who wears a fancy hat.
Scott had tickets for a show and persuades the mystery lady to come with him – they decide not to exchange names.
(Whoever was sitting behind the hat lady had every right to ask her to take it off!)
When Scott’s wife is found murdered on the same night, he is an immediate suspect, mainly because he can’t produce the woman he was with at the time of the murder, or anyone to substantiate his claims that he was in the bar then took a taxi to the theatre.
Scott is quizzed by the police led by Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez). They arrest him. ( his wife was strangled with one of his ties.)
Burgess is sympathetic to Scott, saying, Only a fool or an innocent man would have stuck to that alibi.”
Enter Ella Raines as ‘Carol”, Scott’s secretary who decides to do everything she can to prove Scott’s innocence after he is convicted of the murder. (of course, she is secretly in love with her boss.)
This really is Ella Raines’ film ( surely her best film), and she does a great job, driving the plot and uncovering the murderer. She’s relentless! Scott calls her ‘Kansas’ ( she’s from Wichita).
Two shots of Carol visiting Scott in prison. Great b&w photography by Elwood Bredell. The scene typifies Film Noir – low key lighting, shadows, angles.
The room almost looks like a boxing ring, with that shaft of light from the barred window.
Scott’s friend, Jack Marlowe (Franchot Tone) wants to help prove Scott’s innocence. Or does he?
Love the comment Marlowe makes to Carol, telling her she should go back to Kansas – “ look, this is a man’s job.”
The bartender who served Scott and the mystery woman denies seeing anyone with Scott. Carol goes to the bar every night, just sitting on her own and staring at the bartender (Andrew Tombes).
Carol then takes on the drummer at the theatre whom Scott remembered kept looking at his companion.
Dressing as trashily as possible and chewing gum, Carol sits in the front row of the theatre and Cliff (Elisha Cook) doesn’t miss her!
Cliff takes her to a club where musicians are jamming. Trying to impress her, Cliff’s drumming becomes more and more frenzied.
I like the IMDB quote, “Elisha Cook pounds his drum kit to a climax as Raines smoulders!”
Back at Cliff’s apartment, he brags to Carol that he was paid $500 for his false testimony. “I’m an authority on hats. I get paid for knowing about hats. 500 smakeroos for looking at a dame and saying I didn’t.”
Poor Cliff ends up dead too .
Aurora Miranda channels her sister Carmen, as the star of the show Scott goes to see – the coincidence being that Aurora’s character wears the same hat as the mystery woman sitting with Scott in the theatre.( The show is called “Chica-Boom Boom!)
Another great noir shot of the increasingly dangerous Franchot Tone.
Alan Curtis is very much side-lined, as his character spends most of the film in prison, but he’s convincing as the man wrongly convicted of murder.
Definitely one of my favourite thrillers. A solid plot with lots of twists.