1944 was a great year for noir films. Top of the class includes Double Indemnity, one of my all-time favorites and Murder, My Sweet. For some reason that I cannot put my finger on, I have never seen Phantom Lady. I know it has gotten a lot of praise. Thanks to our friends at Arrow Entertainment, I got my hands on the Blu-Ray that is available on April 3rd. I was thoroughly hoping that I would be enamored with the Phantom Lady that has escaped my grasp for this long.
The story begins with a man named Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) walking into a bar. He encounters a woman (Fay Helm) that has been pacing the bar before Scott walked in. She sits down beside Scott whose focus is on two tickets that he can’t bring himself to destroy. Was he stood up? It would appear so. The pair talk and eventually come to an agreement that she will accompany him to the musical performance if they go as friends and do not exchange names. Hmmm…. could this be our “Phantom Lady?”
Scott and Ms. Phantom take their seats and the show begins. Right off, the drummer (Elisha Cook, Jr.) is eyeing the mysterious lady up and down. Even for 1944, I thought this was a bit creepy. Nod once, smile, and move on, my man. Don’t sit there and burn a hole through her chest with your eyes! Anyway, the start of the show, Estela Monterio, (Aurora Miranda) makes way to the stage and begins to sing. Oddly enough, both Ms. Monterio and Ms. Phantom (yes, I know that isn’t her name, but what do you want me to call her at this point?) are wearing the same designer hat. Estela shows her anger backstage after her performance and immediately discards her hat. Could this be a detail to keep on eye on later? Perhaps so! So, Scott and Ms. Phantom leave the performance. He walks her to her door, and they both go their separate ways. One-night stands in the 40s was not as exciting except for the whole mysterious “no-name” pact.
Scott makes his way back to his apartment to discover that his wife has been murdered. There are a group of detectives waiting for him as he walks through the door. This part was really hard for me to get my head around. If I walked into my house and there was a group of men standing around looking at me. I would have thought I missed out on a gang bang and would have been pissed for two reasons. But here Scott is asking over and over about his wife. The inspector never identifies himself until AFTER Scott finds his wife. I’m shooting four people that are standing around my house and not identifying themselves!
Of course, Inspector Burgees (Thomas Gomez) wants to question Scott. Where was he? Does he have an alibi? Scott has been chilling with the Phantom all night, but there are a few problems here. One, he doesn’t know her name. Two, all the places they visited, no one claims to remember that he was with the mysterious vixen, including the cab driver that drove them to the performance. Needless to say, Scott is arrested and sent off to jail.
The news gets back to Scott’s secretary, Carol, (Ella Raines) as she reads about him in the newspaper. She visits him in jail and is by his side through the trial where he is convicted for murder. Carol can’t believe her boss murdered his selfish wife and she sets out to clear his name.
Phantom Lady was a hard movie for me to like. I love noir and I dig the 40s style cinema. This just didn’t hit on many marks for me. The story is interesting enough and some of the performances are solid, but scenes like when Scott enters his apartment filled with police had me squinting my eyes. The story turns focus to Carol and her attempts to clear her boss’s name. She is by far my favorite performance and I feel the story drags during scenes where she is absent. She even seduces the horny drummer and gets involved in a long talk about hats. And he knows his hats! But will she ultimately clear Scott’s name?
The Blu-ray transfer is solid given the nature of the film. It is from the 40s after all. There are spots, scratches, hairs, and vertical lines. All of this I expected to see. But it does look impressive overall. I really don’t have complaints with the picture. I am old school anyway. I would prefer to see the flaws over a smooth picture. It adds character.
Overall, I will have to say Phantom Lady is just average. I don’t dare give it as much praise as I have read about. Not even close. Perhaps I was spoiled early on by Double Indemnity, because this film can’t even compare to that classic. If you follow noir as much as I do, then most likely you have seen this. If you haven’t, go ahead and check it out. I am sure my low score will be in the minority of watchers, but I have seen much better!
“Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir” – An archival doc that includes interviews with directors, Robert Wise, Dennis Hopper, Edward Dymtryk, and more. This is informative about the noir genre and was fun to watch.
“Phantom Lady by the Lux Theater” – This is an hour-long radio dramatization from 1944 that stars the film’s actors Alan Curtis and Ella Raines. Presented by Cecil B. DeMille.
Finally, there is an image gallery that has a total of 30 images consisting of posters, sketches, stills, and lobby cards from the film.
You can purchase the Phantom Lady Blu-ray on April 3rd. The Blu-ray on Amazon at the moment is an import that isn’t the English version. Make sure you check before you purchase!
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