A man is found murdered, with witnesses convinced about the woman they saw leaving his apartment. However, it becomes apparent that the woman has a twin, and finding out which one is the killer seems impossible.
Olivia de Havilland,
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Unhappily married Scott Henderson spends the evening on a no-name basis with a hat-wearing woman he picked up in a bar. Returning home, he finds his wife strangled and becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Every effort to establish his alibi fails; oddly no one seems to remember seeing the phantom lady (or her hat). In prison, Scott gives up hope but his faithful secretary, "Kansas," doggedly follows evanescent clues through shadowy nocturnal streets. Can she save Scott in time? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Film students and fans of film noir always hear about PHANTOM LADY and now that I've seen it I'm inclined to report that it's overrated. Though the premise is initially intriguing, it quickly accumulates so many plot holes that you instantly figure out who the murderer is. But this is an exercise in style, not content. Director Robert Siodmak saved the film by giving visual distinction to a poor script.
His training in the German Expressionist style makes for very striking images thoughout despite the low budget: dramatic contrasts between light and dark with simple, strong lighting effects never fail to provide interest and tension. And he goes a long way in suggesting the ethnic and racial mix of New York City in 1944 by his offbeat choice of extras and supporting players, most of whom are not the types you see in movies of the time. And the set of sculptor Franchot Tone's apartment complete with furniture and busts would be the envy of many a Soho or Tribeca resident in 2004.
In the lead, Ella Raines looks rather like a poor man's Gene Tierney. She is attractive and likable and you have no trouble maintaining interest in her, but she doesn't have much acting range, at least at this point in her career. Franchot Tone does a very professional job in an impossibly sketchy and ludicrous part, and Thomas Gomez is okay as the detective. As the wronged man, Alan Curtis provides his own visual interest via a strong jaw and broad shoulders, and an occasional hint of surliness makes his character more interesting.
But as others have indicated here, the single most surprising and effective scene is one where horny drummer Elisha Cook, Jr. takes Ella Raines to an after hours dive to show her what he's made of. Equating jazz and especially drumming with hot sex, Siodmak cross cuts between Cook's orgasmic frenzy at the drums (complete with a closeup insert of his crotch) with Ella seemingly transported as well, giving him the come-on, urging him to climax. It's the most overtly sexual scene I've ever seen in a '40s film and it's one you shouldn't miss.
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