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Author Topic: The Phantom Lady (1944)  (Read 1258 times)
cigar joe
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« on: January 31, 2012, 09:35:50 PM »

Director Robert Siodmak, with Franchot Tone as Jack Marlow, Ella Raines as Carol Richman, Alan Curtis    as Scott Henderson, Aurora Miranda as Estela Monteiro, Thomas Gomez as Inspector Burgess, Fay Helm as Ann Terry, Elisha Cook Jr. as Cliff, and Regis Toomey as Detective Chewing Gum.

A sort of a flimsy implausible story on this one that started out very good then disintegrates, but it has some interesting sequences that I liked a lot.

An unhappily married Scott Henderson waiting to attend a show is stood up by his wife at a bar. Frustrated, he notices that a hat-wearing woman seated also at the bar looks lost and in distress. He makes some small talk with her and first offers her the show tickets to try and cheer her up,  but one thing leads to another and he ends up spending the evening on a no-name basis with her. Returning home, he finds his wife strangled and the police waiting and he becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Every effort to prove his alibi fails; oddly no one seems to remember seeing the phantom lady (or her hat). Scott is convicted and sent to Sing Sing. His secretary, "Kansas," (Raines) sets out to locate the "phantom" lady.

An interesting mix of unlikely characters with probably husky Thomas Gomez as the Inspector being the most surprising. This film looks entirely shot in the studio with nicely detailed sets, one that represents one of the old New York City El's is magnificent. There is one series of sequences where Raines, dressed up as a two bit floozy, seduces orchestra drummer Elisha Cook Jr. to get information, and they head off to a wild jazz band rehearsal in a tenement basement before they end up in Cook's crash pad.

Screen Caps from "The Phantom Lady":

The Phantom Lady with Scott Henderson


"Kansas" follows bartender to El station


El station platform


El station platform


"Kansas" dressed as hooker


Cliff notices "Kansas"


"Kansas" in basement Jazz bar.




All in all, the jazz, the characters, and the sets are great, the story so so. 7/10

alternate discussion here: http://www.fistful-of-leone.com/forums/index.php?topic=1822.msg147283#msg147283

« Last Edit: January 31, 2012, 09:40:18 PM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2012, 09:48:51 PM »

I've since been enlightened about a early Film Noir factoid, I made a comment in the alternate discussion about the matte paintings on the NYC sets, specifically about the NYC skyline not having enough lit windows.  Noirs made during WWII and especially those depicting war time cityscapes would be correct not showing very many lit windows because of the Blackouts imposed and because of the rationing of electricity.  

The Skyline of NYC would be basically a dark silhouette  against a night sky backdrop. An those few lights would be folks breaking the curfew.  Afro




« Last Edit: January 31, 2012, 09:50:57 PM by cigar joe » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2012, 08:26:18 AM »

That's worth noting, but not all films made during the war were set during the war (Double Indemnity being a famous example). I'm not making a case for this film particularly, just saying.

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« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2012, 03:43:39 PM »

That's worth noting, but not all films made during the war were set during the war (Double Indemnity being a famous example). I'm not making a case for this film particularly, just saying.

The studios were severely rationed, film stock, electricity, gasoline, rubber, so location shoots where curtailed and sets reused with tarping, fog, and rain hiding that fact.  Blackout (WWII and the origins of Film Noir) by Sheri Chinen Biesen is so far a very illuminating read. It also points to similar shortages in the Wiemar Republic giving rise to German expressionisim  Afro Afro Afro

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« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2017, 11:05:13 PM »

This movie played on Noir Alley this week. Crappy movie 6/10

First half or so is decent; from when Franchot Tone appears, the movie goes downhill.

Franchot Tone is one of many actors whom I could never understand how they were ever a movie star. At his best, he is average; at his worst, he is extremely irritating.

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« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2017, 11:06:07 PM »

TCM intro https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fT69VXjiq4&feature=youtu.be

TCM afterword https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4mmFs0bcME&feature=youtu.be

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« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2017, 07:57:44 AM »

Quote
Crappy movie 6/10
No, NOT crappy movie.

But thank you again for the upload.  Smiley

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« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2017, 11:56:31 AM »

Joe, what happened to your pics?

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« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2017, 05:09:38 AM »

Joe, what happened to your pics?

They were on Imageshack and the account (for which I couldn't remember the password like Jill here) I believe got deleted.

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« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2017, 03:55:34 PM »

Phantom Lady is a moody noir adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich and directed by Robert Siodmak, one of Hollywood’s many European émigré directors. It was Siodmak’s first Noir and his first big Hollywood success, with stunning cinematography supplied by Woody Bredell. His contemporaries often dismissed Siodmak as just another B director capable of nothing more than churning out solid studio assignments and whose best work was confined only to the parameters of Noir. Maybe so, but for any Noir aficionado he is one of the primary architects of the genre and his output in it is unparalleled.
Of course Siodmak’s cinematic arrangements could uncharitably be ticked off as genre standards, but with every camera movement, every angle, every mise-en-scène purposefully and meticulously designed, he infuses the film with a nightmarishly mesmerizing atmosphere that clearly benefitted from a sparse budget.
The movie’s plot has more holes than a Swiss cheese, it really doesn’t hold water but when has that ever mattered?

Cornell Woolrich’s appeal as a writer lies in his bleak worldview. Protagonists are always just one step from catastrophe, Woolrich’s stories begin in an ordered world and then plunge headlong into darkness.
Siodmak changed his story though and Phantom Lady is not a movie that is drenched in nihilism, hope clearly shines throughout the film.

Alan Curtis plays unhappily married Scott Henderson who goes out for a night on the town after just another fight with his wife. He comes home to find his wife murdered and his supposedly airtight alibi - a mysterious woman with a flamboyant hat whose name he doesn’t know - is nowhere to be found and nobody wants to admit having seen her with Henderson. With a motive and no alibi, the cops consider it a flimsy story. Henderson is arrested for his wife’s murder and without corroboration he might face the chair. But Henderson’s devoted secretary Carol “Kansas” Richmond (Ella Raines) pursues the investigation on her own and soon finds out that the witnesses were paid off to keep their mouths shut.

Typical for the 40s, Phantom Lady was almost entirely shot on the soundstage. Siodmak created a city of the imagination, a fantasy NYC made from expressionistic lighting, clever framing and elaborate backdrops. The “fabricated city”, as Foster Hirsch called it,  deliberately lacked the fullness and density of the real world. Shown usually at night, it had dark eerily deserted streets full of shadows and menace. On-location filming may lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings, but artifice can conjure up the perfect background for stories of entrapment and claustrophobia, with protagonists whose life is one of loneliness and isolation. In Phantom Lady we have a story about New York that shows nothing of the real New York and yet it captures the essence of the faceless anonymity that characterizes the urban jungle.
The protagonists stumble through the nightmare underscored by the sounds and most notably the silence of urban menace: the screeching breaks of elevated trains, footsteps in the dark, deserted subway platforms, empty bars, barren intersections of streets, a prison that seems almost unoccupied and a strange after-hours jazz club. The night is a dangerous place and the city is an inky-black void. Silence is loneliness and terror.
In fact Siodmak concentrates on absence: we see the dead wife's portrait but no wife; we hear messages on the office dictaphone from the boss, but see no boss; we see a hat that recalls a dead fiancé and the quest for a woman who exists only in the memories of a condemned man and the audience.
But most of all, in a brilliant break with tradition, we see court transcripts, but no murder trial. Not a single shot of the judge, the jury, the attorneys or even the accused. We only hear the trial and see the reaction shots of the spectators in the gallery.

Ella Raines is the one who carries the movie. She’s dynamite, an active and resourceful heroine. She’s the living proof that the good girls of Noir don’t have to be bland.
Raines was another of Hollywood’s almost-success stories who deserved a better career. She was one of Howard Hawks’ discoveries (no surprise there) and comes across as a typical confident Hawks heroine, a Girl Friday. Her character could easily have turned into a bundle of cliches, but at the hands of Siodmak she mercifully escapes this fate. She doesn’t just simply go around and asks some inefficient questions, she literally stalks a guilt-ridden bartender until he starts to crack under the pressure. The lengthy sequence where Kansas stalks him is masterfully shot. We can feel the tension rise and the man’s fear become palpable. She’s a pitiless avenger.
And if called upon, she can out-fatale any femme fatale in a hideously trampy get-up that is just the ticket to drive Cook crazy. There’s an interesting little scene in the jazz club where she adjusts her lipstick in a mirror after Cook has kissed her and the face staring back at her hardly seems to be her own. She's determined to find one witness who'll talk, even if that means compromising herself.
This is one of the few Noirs where love is a positive force, though frankly the object of Kansas’ affections is a bit on the bland side.

Noir City’s favorite fall guy, Elisha Cook, plays yet another chump who never gets a break. He’s the type of guy who must have been shit outta luck from the day he was born. Beaten, slapped, humiliated and/or killed in almost every one of his movies, here he is the luckless drummer who wants to make a splash with the ladies but never succeeds. It takes just one look from Raines and price sucker that he is he falls right for her.
The most famous scene of the movie is Cook’s drum solo which has become legend. It’s a deliriously strange sequence which must have raised an eyebrow or two at the Hays Office. We can almost smell the booze and the reefers in this place with its feverish atmosphere.
The sexual overtones of his drum solo are as subtle as a sledgehammer. Close-ups of Cook’s sweaty face, wild eyes and open mouth leave no doubt as to what’s going on, as he drums himself ever more frantically into orgiastic ecstasy while Kansas urges him on with smiles and come-hither looks. As Vince Keenan, Eddie Muller’s guest on Noir Alley said: It’s not subtext, it’s text.

The biggest problem of the film might be Franchote Tone’s acting. I can’t quite decide if he’s really good or really bad in his role. Maybe both. His study of an insane mind is overplayed. He continually casts strange looks around him, obsesses about his hands with which he strangles people, he has odd twitches and dizzy spells. As so often in the 40s, Hollywood couldn’t resist the lure of dime-store Freudianism. But there’s a certain indisputable charm to his hamminess and he’s effectively creepy.

Maybe the movie is all style over substance, but who cares if there is so much of it to enjoy.

« Last Edit: October 18, 2017, 02:29:51 PM by Jessica Rabbit » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2017, 02:19:56 PM »

I'll lend support as well. Kind of...

Paranoiacs, all of them!

Phantom Lady is directed by Robert Siodmak and adapted to screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld from the story written by Cornell Woolrich (pseudonym William Irish). It stars Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Alan Curtis, Thomas Gomez, Elisha Cook Jr and Fay Helm. Music is by Hans J. Salter and cinematography by Woody Bredell.

Out drowning his sorrows, Scott Henderson (Curtis) meets an equally unhappy woman in a bar, agreeing to her request to not exchange names, but to merely enjoy each others company, Henderson takes her to a show. Upon returning home Henderson finds his wife has been strangled and he is arrested as the prime suspect for the murder. When he frantically tries to prove he has an alibi by way of the "phanton lady" he spent the evening with, he comes up against a wall of silence with nobody able to prove he was with anybody. The electric chair awaits unless someone can prove his alibi. Enter Henderson's intrepid secretary Kansas Richman, who not only carries a torch for her boss, but appears to be his only hope of proving his innocence...

An important film in the film noir cycle given that its success kicked opened further the American doorway for German director Robert Siodmak (The Killers); something that all fellow film noir fans are eternally grateful for. Often cited as a top draw noir or one of the best from the early 40s output, it's a frustrating experience in many ways. Undeniably the middle third is an absolute visual treasure, where Siodmak and Bredell (also The Killers) craft the essential film noir style with highly detailed shadows and lighting gaining maximum atmospheric impact. An extended sequence that sees the wonderful Raines (Impact) stalk a witness through dark and dank streets to a subway station is clinical in its photographic brilliance. I love the quote from Bredell where he said that after being coached by Siodmak he felt he could light a football pitch with only a match! This middle third of Phantom Lady is the meeting of two visual minds and it's a class combination.

Elsewhere Siodmak emphasises objects and weird art to keep his world off kilter, while a key character's obsession with his hands also keeps things simmering in the realm of the strange. There's also a "famed" suggestive sex scene as Elisha Cook Jr (as always, memorable) pounds his drum kit to a climax as Raines positively smoulders in front of him. All of these things are set to the backdrop of a ticking clock format, where the innocent Henderson's life hangs in the balance. These are all film noir traits and executed with such skill it hides the fact that the film is primarily studio bound, in fact this can be seen as a marker for how to do "studio noir" effectively.

Unfortunately there is good reason why Phantom Lady is divisive in film noir circles. The dialogue is often plain daft, almost as daft as the plot itself. The murderer is revealed at the mid point and therefore we are robbed of the mystery element and sadly it sign posts the finale as being obvious and disappointing. Plot in the final third puts our heroine in constant danger at the hands of the real murderer, suspense is meant to be wrung out, but it never hits home the way it should. While on the acting front Curtis is too stiff to really make a telling innocent man hanging by a thread character and Tone is equally as flat in a critical role. However, do these things stop Phantom Lady from being a great film? No, I don't think so, there's just too much good in the mix to stop it from deserving some of the (admittedly exaggerated) praise put its way. 7.5/10

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« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2017, 03:13:28 PM »

Nice reviews Spike & Jessica  Afro Afro Afro Afro

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« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2017, 03:37:07 PM »

Thanks. I seem to be the only one who really loves it.

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