It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge …. Phantom Lady (1944)
Time for a new movie assignment from Kristina at Speakeasy. A movie I have yet to see thus representing the mad movie challenge. This time out she’s given me a Robert Siodmak directed Noir feature from the “B” unit at Universal.
In a run down bar the film opens with Alan Curtis drowning his sorrows when he spies a single lady appearing to do the same. He offers her a night at the theater and she accepts. The pair sit in on a stage show where Brazilian singer Aurora entertains with a live orchestra accompanying her that includes Elisha Cook Jr. on the drums. When the show ends, Curtis and the phantom lady part without ever exchanging names.
It all seems innocent enough until Curtis returns home to find a group of strangers awaiting him. It appears as if his wife has been murdered and police officer Thomas Gomez and his men are on the scene. Curtis offers a weak alibi and admits to being on the town after a dispute with his now dead wife. The main problem with his alibi is that he can’t locate the phantom lady and no one will admit to seeing him with her the night before. Not the bartender, the taxi cab driver or Miss Aurora who clearly took notice of the woman the night before because of the fact that they had matching hats.
Curtis may be doubting his sanity but that won’t make a difference to the jury who find him guilty of his wife’s murder. The electric chair now awaits.
It turns out Curtis has a secretary who harbored a secret love for him played by Ella Raines. She’s convinced of his innocence and attempts to trace his steps in what turns into some harrowing scenes. First she continually shows up at the bar watching the barkeep. She’ll follow him home by train and eventually he’ll confront her in a very creepy segment that almost sees her murdered though she doesn’t know it.
When Thomas Gomez comes back onto the scene it’s to tell her that though he did his job to the best of his ability, he believes Curtis to be an innocent man. He’s willing to help where he can. Raines next goes to Cook Jr. seducing the drummer in a hair raising segment from Siodmak put to a jazzy beat. It’s a scene unlike most others from this era of Hollywood productions. It’s almost experimental with the visual close ups of Cook on the drums and the sexual seduction between him and Miss Raines is far more aggressive then most scenes of this nature. In a drunken haze, he admits to receiving money to swear there was no phantom lady but when he sobers up enough to realize she’s out to clear Curtis, she’ll run for the door leaving him stumbling behind.
Its at this point, the 47 minute mark that top billed Franchot Tone appears in his doorway. It’s to be the last thing Cook Jr. sees.
Unbeknownst to Raines, Tone is the killer but also an old friend of Curtis’ who along with Gomez offers his help in finding the phantom lady. His motives are far different than hers.
Enough on the plot though I will say that when the final curtain call is upon us, Siodmak almost had me believing that Tone was going to strangle Raines. Job well done though at this point in film history scripts just weren’t that dangerous or daring.
There’s much to recommend here. First and foremost has to be Siodmak’s stylish direction that is more than just a bit claustrophobic at times. Secondly would be Tone’s crazed killer. Sure it moves towards camp and the routine on occasion but he has some creative moments that work well and to the film’s advantage. He uses his hands quite a bit as if he were inspiring Mitchum’s murderous preacher minus the Love and Hate tattoo’s.
Listen closely and you’ll hear the voice of Milburn Stone as the D.A. in the courtroom. Siodmak never puts him on camera. Instead he focuses on the faces of the jury as Stone gives his summation. Miss Aurora it turns out is Aurora Miranda. Carmen’s younger sister. Something I wasn’t aware of so once again I’ve learned a little more about the past history of Hollywood.
If you’d care to know he played the Phantom Lady, you won’t here it from me. I’m going to keep her identity a secret. Just as she wished.
On that note it’s time to head over to see what Kristina has been assigned. I’m actually quite shocked she hadn’t seen this sixties flick already. I’ve enjoyed it many times and if you know the work of Professor Abronsius then you’ll know the film. So prove to me you can be fearless and click right here.