A miserable Scott Henderson picks up a melancholy woman, with an unusual hat, in a bar. She agrees to spend some time with him as long as it’s on a no-name basis. When Scott returns home he discovers the police waiting for him. His wife has been murdered and he’s the prime suspect, particularly as it’s revealed that his marriage had problems. Witnesses are questioned and all state that Scott was alone; there wasn’t a woman with an unusual hat. When Scott is charged with murdering his wife, it falls to his devoted secretary ‘Kansas’ to find the phantom lady and save Scott from the electric chair...
The Phantom Lady was German born Robert Siodmak’s first Hollywood noir, starring Franchot Tone, Alan Curtis and Ella Raines whom Universal hoped would be as big a box office draw as Maureen O’Hara, Bette Davis, Lana Turner et al. The film itself is an odd beast. The acting is fine, particularly from Raines, but much of the dialogue is risible. Then there’s the crazed killer whose craziness is anything but subtle, what with their dizzy spells, eye ticks and feverishly staring at their clawed hands. Yet Siodmak’s imaginative direction keeps the train from completely derailing. His use of German expressionism in the lighting, especially with the exterior scenes is mesmerising. In one truly great scene, Raines relentlessly stalks a mendacious witness through a soft mist that hangs over the swelteringly hot summer streets.
The picture quality on this presentation is unusual. The picture itself is sharp and clear and benefits from the Blu-ray treatment. What’s unusual is that all the negative’s scratches and drop outs are evident. It would be interesting to know if this was an aesthetic decision and, if so, why, as the uncompressed mono audio is crystal clear and really packs a punch.
The extras themselves are sparse. There’s the usual gallery of stills and posters, as well as Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir, an hour long documentary from 1998 featuring contributions from Robert Wise, Edward Dmytryk and Dennis Hopper amongst others. There’s some interesting trivia nuggets, such as Wise considering Noir a style of film making rather than a genre, and Dmytryk (deemed to be Noir’s first practitioner) stating that the noir look was created due to budgetary constraints. It was easier to hide a sets lack of detail in shadow.
The extras highlight has to be the hour-long 1944 radio dramatization of Phantom Lady by the Lux Radio Theatre, with the film’s stars Alan Curtis and Ella Raines. Films of this period often had radio adaptations. In fact it was common practice for the big stars to appear on radio in such programmes as Suspense, or even have their own shows like Vincent Price in The Saint or James Stewart in The Six Shooter. The production values were often exceptional, as they are here.Siodmak would soon direct the superior The Spiral Staircase, The Dark Mirror and the much-lauded The Killers, but The Phantom Lady shows, if nothing else, why he would become one of noir’s great directors.
THE PHANTOM LADY / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ROBERT SIODMAK / SCREENPLAY: BERNARD C. SCHOENFELD / STARRING: FRANCHOT TONE, ELLA RAINES, ALAN CURTIS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW