directed by Robert Siodmak
starring Ella Raines and Franchot Tone
Phantom Lady may not be a textbook example of film noir, but it has plenty to offer noir fans including some unique story twists and a white knuckle third act that ranks as suspense filled as anything seen in film, noir or otherwise. Director Robert Siodmak was no stranger to the twisted dark alleys of noir as he also helmed some of the greats of the style including Criss Cross (1949) and The Killers (1946). Curiously Phantom Lady has been curiously lost in the shadow of Siodmak’s better known work even as some of his better known work is far inferior – Son of Dracula I’m looking at you. Regardless of the history, Arrow Academy has made this noir suspense classic available on a sharp looking Blu ray.
Two lonely people are drinking alone in a dingy bar and strike up an awkward conversation. Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) has two tickets to a Broadway show he offers to give to the sad, un-named woman playing songs at the jukebox. She declines but he convinces her to come to the show with him. She agrees, on the condition that they use no names and ask no questions of each other and just enjoy the show. While at the theatre the woman’s elaborate hat draws the attention of the orchestra’s drummer (Elisha Cook Jr) and the ire of the star of the muscial review who is wearing the same hat. After the show the two part and Henderson heads home. He arrives to find police detectives in his apartment and his wife strangled to death with a necktie. Does Henderson have an alibi? Of course, the woman in the hat and the various people who saw them together. Henderson and Police Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez) go to verify his story but inexplicably everyone admits to seeing Henderson but not the woman he was with. Dumbfounded and doubting his own sanity Henderson is arrested and tried for the murder. At trial his story sounds even more insane and her is convicted of his wife’s murder. Behind bars and awaiting a date with the electric chair, the story shifts focus to his loyal, lovelorn secretary Carol “Kansas” Richman (Ella Raines). Kansas with naive determination sets out to prove her boss’s innocence. After a disastrous attempt to extract information from the bartender she returns home to find Police Inspector Burgess waiting for her. Her knows whats she’s been up to and agrees to help her, unofficially, as he has nagging doubts about the case. Shortly after this unlikely team up, the real killer reveals himself and the fact the audience knows his identity and the characters do not, makes the final act outstandingly suspenseful. Director Robert Siodmak uses the identity of the killer entwined with the ticking clock of the looming execution date to create near panic inducing tension that becomes nearly unbearable by the climax.
Despite a fairly pedestrian set-up Phantom Lady ramps up the tension in the second half and also the visual flair. Director Robert Siodmak seems to be cribbing a fair amount from Val Lewton’s RKO horror unit with a number of scenes that would be very much in place in one of Lewton’s films. He also works some of his own visual magic including a harrowing nightmare scene with a jazz band where the rhythm is as menacing as any man with a gun.
The Arrow Academy Blu Ray does wonders for this disposable B picture with a lush black and white transfer that preserves the black details so nothing gets lost in the shadows. Sadly there is no audio commentary track or in-depth analysis on the film, but the disc does have a couple of fun extras. Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir is a nifty documentary on the noir style and the disc also includes the Lux Radio Theatre radio play of Phantom Lady from 1944.