Pros: Ella Raines, Story, Elisha Cooke, Jr., Direction, Cinematography
Cons: Not more original stories like this
Phantom Lady (1944)
Lovely Ella Raines stars in the stylish film noir whodunit Phantom Lady along with Franchot Tone and Thomas Gomez.
The film opens in NYC, After a spat with his wife, a young man (Alan Curtis) meets a lady with a unique hat who playfully refuses to tell her name but joins him for a few drinks. He later is accused of murdering his wife and needs to find the lady as his alibi. Luckily for him, his dynamic secretary Kansas (Ella Raines) believes him and sets out to find the phantom lady.
This is one of those quick-moving little gems that Universal was putting out in the 40s, with excellent brooding cinematography and a quirky story that intrigues you. Although this is not on DVD, it should be. It is the type of film with the grit that film noir was made to portray, like Gun Crazy, DOA, or Raw Deal.
Really, the casting is fairly forgettable, except for two characters: the stunningly sexy Ella Raines, in her screen debut, and a minor character who almost made a career out of film noir, Elisha Cooke, Jr.
In her travels to track down the lady in question, she hooks up with a seedy drummer (Cooke) who takes her to an after hours jam session.
In a real example of "beauty and the beast," director Robert Siodmak (The Killing) films a frenetic jazz blow out in eye-popping style with repeated intercuts between intently drumming Cooke and siren Raines making suggestive eyes at the drummer while the soundtrack hypnotically palpitates. The scene is extremely erotic and will stick in your memory as you remember how Raines figuratively "pumped him for information." That scene alone is worth the price of admission. The drumming, incidentally, was dubbed by none other than the master drummer Gene Krupa.
Siodmak also used the camera in classic expressionist style with many interesting visual angles and cuts in the 84-minute black and while film. Ella Raines ultimately uncovers the real killer, but her performance playing against actors with more experience is so impressive she runs away with the movie and that is what you'll remember about Phantom Lady.
If you think you know film noir but haven't yet seen Phantom Lady, I'm not sure you know film noir.
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