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Phantom Lady (1944)
Forgotten Cerebral Noir
Phantom Lady (1944) directed by Robert Siodmak; is as nightmarish and psychologically aromatic as it is penetrating.
Phantom Lady is a sadly neglected film noir based on a story by Cornell Woollrich and scripted for the screen by Bernard C. Schoenfeld. Stars Ella Raines as Carol "Kansas" Richman, Franchot Tone as Jack Marlow and Alan Curtis as the leading man Scott Henderson. The film also co stars Thomas Gomez (Key Largo) as perceptive Detective Burgess, the intelligent and compassionate detective who eventually comes around to believe in Scott Henderson's innocence.
Phantom Lady utilizes the innocent man theme beautifully. Siodmak's directing creates an often nightmarish realm, the characters float in and out of. The intersectionality of crime melodrama and psychological thriller is framed nicely. Siodmak is a master storyteller who earned an Oscar nomination for The Killers in 1946.
Although on the surface you would assume Phantom Lady to be a man in peril film, it actually works as a woman in danger because Carol "Kansas" puts herself in harms way in order to help her boss, whom she's in love with. Fay Helm's mysterious woman has a tragic trajectory herself as a woman who is spiraling into oblivion by mental decline after losing her beloved fiancé.
Scott Henderson, spends the night with this anonymous woman he meets in a bar, after having been shunned by his wife for the last time. The woman who is obviously agitated and disturbed by something causing her pain, agrees to take in a show that Scott has tickets for,but the conditions are that they do not exchange names as it's just a way for both of them to keep themselves occupied at a moment when both are broken.
The "Phantom Lady" is wearing a sensationally quirky hat which the film revolves around in a sense, because Scott returns home to find his apartment crawling with police after his wife has been brutally strangled, with one of Scott's expensive ties. This woman in a stand out hat is the only key to proving Scott's alibi.
Scott proceeds to tell Detective Burgess, that he spent the night with this no name woman, after fighting with his wife and that there are several people who would have seen them together. The bar tender, the cabbie with a very memorable name, and the temperamental lead singer/dancer in the musical review could identify him accompanied by the phantom lady, because of her supposedly original yet quirky hat which the performer was wearing on stage. Aurora shoots daggers at the Phantom Lady for having worn the same design. You could see the fury on her face as she sings her musical number. Aurora played by Estela Monteiro has a melt down once she walks off stage and decrees that no one would have the nerve to wear one of her hats, and throws her own hat away.
Detective Burgess takes Scott around to each of these witnesses but no one recalls having seen him with a woman at all. They all very curiously deny seeing the lady, and it becomes obvious that something is very wrong with the testimony from all these people who were obviously covering something up. The outcome looks bleak for Scott, because it appears that Scott is guilty of the crime he is sentence to death and faces the electric chair in 18 days. With no witnesses to back him up.
Scott Henderson is a civil engineer in a loveless marriage, with a beautiful associate who works for him, which he affectionately calls Kansas. She never doubts his innocence for a moment and devoutly sets out on a mission to try and find this mysterious lady to prove she really does exist, before it's too late. She also tracks down those whom she knows have lied about seeing this woman.
Along the way, Detective Burgess, confronts Kansas in her apartment and tells her that although he did his job at the time, he also believes in Scott's story because a child could make up a better alibi than the story he has stuck to so religiously. So now Kansas and Burgess set about to prove that someone has been tampering with these witnesses.
What lies ahead is a very gripping story with several taut and fiery moments. Elisha Cook Jr. is fantastic as the tweaked sleazy drummer who's got an appetite for women in the audience. And Fay Helm is very palpable as the Phantom Lady who alludes the police after that one night at the Broadway show with Scott.
The characters are very engaging, and the witnesses are despicable as they are being evasive, which creates an atmosphere of obstruction that is stirring and at times, maddening.
Although at the time the film got critical acclaim, I'm surprised it wasn't more popular in the Noir film psyche of reviewers and critics. Today it seems like a forgotten gem amidst some of the more over- treaded Noirs and the popularity they still maintain.
Without giving away any key parts of the plot development, I'll say that the film shows us a dark side of humanity. While the film doesn't describe to us why these characters are doing what they do with the use of flashback another Noir staple technique, we see who these people are by their actions. The film explores human nature in a slightly gritty naturalistic style. A nightmarish journey of the wrongly accused, the tragedy of loss, greed and true madness. And ultimately the love that bears its fruits by unrelenting devotion and the pursuit of the truth at any cost.
Female on the Beach (1955)
"A lone female on the beach is a kind of a target a bait, you might say "
The immortal Joan Crawford is Lynn Markham, a widow who longs to be left alone at her beach house, where previous tenant, Eloise Crandall (Judith Evelyn) had fallen to her death.Lynn's neighbor turns out to be the gorgeous male specimen in the form of Jeff Chandler, playing Drummond Hall (Drummy), who might have had something to do with Eloise's fatal fall off the porch. Of course Drummy starts to move in on Lynn. Along for the ride are the marvelous duo of Natalie Schafer and Cecil Kellaway who play Drummy's crafty aunt and uncle, Osbert and Queenie Sorenson. And then there is the frequent visitations by realtor Amy Rawlinson played by the always effervescent Jan Sterling who is of course gaga over Drummy, the slick and sleazy gigolo with a rough past.Directed by Joseph Pevney (prolific in great television series' spanning the 1960s-80s, not to mention THE STRANGE DOOR 1951,and PLAYGIRL 1956 starring Shelley Winters.)
The film is filled with the right amount of 50s kitch and camp and delicious vulgarity under the sensationalized surface. An obscure Crawford goodie that enthusiasts of the actress and genre should add to their 'must see' list!
Portrait in Black (1960)
"They touched and an evil spark was struck!"
Directed by Michael Gordon, Produced by Ross Martin, based on a play and adapted to the screen by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, this crime melodrama is filled with all the right tawdry drama and campy dialog that makes watching films from the fabulous 60′s so much fun!
Starring Lana Turner as Sheila Cabot a woman who is married to a dying shipping magnate Matthew Cabot ( Lloyd Nolan). Anthony Quinn portrays Dr. David Rivera, Matthew Cabot's attending physician. The wealthy couple live in a sumptuous home in San Francisco.
Sheila and the good Doctor, begin having an affair, and soon after their sparks fly , the lovers decide to murder Sheila's nasty yet, terminally ill husband. But as often the way these juicy tales of murder and passion go, someone knows the lovers have killed off the rich old Cabot, and begins blackmailing them.
Sandra Dee plays Cathy, Cabot's daughter from his first marriage. Richard Basehart is Howard Mason, Cabot's greedy business partner. John Saxon plays Blake Richards, the chauffeur, who is pursuing Cathy, and Ray Walston, Virgina Grey and Anna May Wong fill out the cast of dubious characters, all of whom might be the 'one' who knows about their crime!
Oh the flashy melodramatics, Oh Turner's wardrobe!
Ladies in Retirement (1941)
"I hate the dark. It frightens me."
Directed by Charles Vidor the man responsible for the eminent noir classic, Gilda 1946 and no relation to the more well know King Vidor. With a screenplay by Reginald Denham (The Mad Room 1969 a modern reworking of the same play, Suspense, Kraft Theater and Alfred Hitchock Presents).
Based on his play, and given a cast of intelligent performers like Ida Lupino, Elsa Lanchester, Isobel Elsom, Edith Barrett, Evelyn Keyes and Louis Hayward. The film is a suspenseful story with tremors of ethical dilemma, evocative of pity and encompassed by the moor like fog of madness and desperation.
Ida Lupino plays the reticent Ellen Creed, housekeeper to the colorful Leonora Fiske (Isobel Elsom) who has retired from the music hall stage. Ellen is the obsessive guardian of her two loosely screwed sisters Emily and Louisa portrayed deliciously vague sort of loony by Elsa Lanchester (Emily) and Edith Barrett (Louisa).
Ellen manipulates Leonora to allow her quirky siblings to come and visit, well aware that she has no intention of making it a temporary stay. Once Leonora realizes that the two are batty, she demands that they leave forcing Ellen to do the unthinkable, to not only murder her employer, but create a deceptive strategy that will allow the sisters to dwell in sanctuary at the cozy manor house by the moors.
Unfortunately, Ellen not only has the full time job of wrangling her nutty sisters, she becomes the target of her blackmailing nephew Albert Feather, played with a dash of charming malevolence by Louis Hayward. ( And Then There Were None 1945, Ruthless 1958, House By The River, Night Gallery: Certain Shadows on The Wall.)
The film is moody, macabre, theatrical, with a musty air of Gothic as Leonora's remains lay hidden in the coal bin behind the bricks, near the grand piano where she once boisterously sang Tit -Willow from The Mikado
The atmosphere stays closed in, as all three sisters flit about exposing their disconnection to reality. Evelyn Keyes is Lucy the house maid who brings a bit of naiveté to the atmosphere as she too falls prey to Albert the 'charming rogue" who gets her to participate unwittingly in his ruthless scheme of blackmail.
A quiet and delicately creepy hybrid of the old dark house sub genre of horror, mixed with suspenseful psychological thriller as it whimsically touches on the subject of mental illness and the darker sides of human nature.
The brooding Lanchester and the chattering, guileless Barrett (I Walked With A Zombie, The Ghost Ship, Jane Eyre all 1943) are wonderful as the one who is intense and a compulsive collector, to the one who is as fay as an aged wood sprite, wide eyed and childlike.
In contrast to the flightiness of her two sisters, the tightly coiled Lupino is beautiful and menacing as she anguishes over the fate of the peculiar pair who act more like undisciplined children, and less the blatant lunatics.
It's the subtle intrusions of reality that impinge on the character's terminal state of fantasy,which brings out the self-centered, insulated psyches of the two sisters. This creates the environment of insanity, and while they cause the situation to ignite a criminal conspiracy because of their unchallenged instability they are essentially harmless ultimately exposing Ellen as the most dangerous and cunning in the family.
"The story of a desperate girl"
Director Max Ophüls ( Letter From An Unknown Woman 1948, The Reckless Moment 1949) offers a gritty and volatile film noir starring James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes and the imposing figure of Robert Ryan. With an uncredited assistant directorship by Robert Aldrich. Based on the book Wild Calendar by Libbie Block
Written by Arthur Laurents (The Snake Pit 1948,West Side Story 1961, The Way We Were 1973)
Interesting question: If Howard Hughes gained control of RKO in 1949, was Robert Ryan's characterization of Smith Ohlrig truly based on Hughs?
Also stars Frank Ferguson (regular on Andy Griffith Show) as Quinada's partner Dr. Hoffman, Art Smith as Ohlrig's psychiatrist who knows Ohlrig is a walking powder keg, Natalie Schafer as Dorothy Dale and Curt Bois as Ohlrig's personal assistant, and like many a good Film Noir delivers, the snarky gay cipher Franzi Kartos, who's incessantly calling Leonora DARLING that if subtitled would read 'you bourgeois cow '
One of the staples of the Noir catalog, Caught is a brutish and self contained story about an egomaniac, hungry for power and consumed by a nasty possessiveness that borders on the psychotic.
Robert Ryan is chilling as the Neanderthal bigwig worth millions of dollars, with an explosive rage that rests on simmer until something sets him off when it doesn't go his way. Oh, and Ohlrig also suffers from panic attacks, which he believes is truly a heart condition and not a nervous disorder.
Barbara Bel Geddes is the naive Leonora Eames, who has child like fancies of marrying a wealthy man and live a life of luxury. Invited to a party on a boat one night, she meets Smith Ohlrig outside on the pier, near his yacht. Although Ohlrig could have any woman he chooses, something about Leonora sparks to him. From the very first encounter we can see that it's not a romantic chemistry that stirs Ohlrig, but something more forbidding and sinister.
Once he sets his sights on her,taking her for a ride in his car, he decides there and then, to marry this plain girl, whom he doesn't love, but knows he can possess easily.
Leonora soon realizes that her dream has become a nightmare and that Smith is a menacing character who treats her like part of the furniture and is not quite right in the head.
Ohlrig refuses to give Leonora a divorce, so she decides to leave her opulent home on Long Island, and take a job as a receptionist in the city working for a doctor who runs a free clinic in a very poor neighborhood.
Perhaps this is Leonora's way of cleansing her soul for making the mistake of marrying for money and not for love.
James Mason is Dr. Larry Quinada the absolute antithesis of Smith Ohlrig. He's genteel and compassionate, and soon the two fall in love, though Leonora is held captive by her dominating husband.
Complicating matters is the fact that Leonora becomes pregnant by the sadistic Ohlrig who would rather see her a prisoner in the sterile palace that is her home rather than let her go free
Is the threat of financial security and the welfare of their unborn child that which will chain her to him forever
The Long Dark Hall (1951)
The Long Dark Hall (1951)
Directed by Reginald Beck, and Anthony Bushell. Written by Nunnally Johnson, Edgar Lustgarten based on his book "A Case To Answer" and W.E. Fairchild. With cinematography by Wilkie Cooper (Stage Fright 1950, Jason and The Argonauts 1963), granting wisps of shadowy montages that are equally noirish, suspenseful and simply splendid.
Yielding and obsessive Rex Harrison plays Arthur Groome a London gentleman married to the devoted and lovely Mary (Lilli Palmer.)Unfortunately Arthur becomes consumed by a flirtatious showgirl Rose Mallory (Patricia Cutts), who winds up being brutally knifed in her boarding house room, and left for the credulous Groome to become suspect one. First getting the splatter of Rose's blood on his jacket, but then failing to prove his innocence in a sea of circumstantial evidence.
Condemned to hang, this allows the real serial killer played by the tall and eerie Anthony Dawson who looks frightened all the time, destroyer of wanton women who sees himself as 'an instrument of justice', still lurking about, first at the trial spouting off about his obvious philosophy on sexually independent women, and then creepily shadowing poor Mrs. Groome, whom he idealizes as the perfect woman.
Picture Mommy Dead (1966)
"Who hated Jessica enough to kill her "that" way?"
Susan Gordon plays Susan Shelley a demented child not unlike Jan Brady, just released from a convent/ institution run by nuns where she's been placed after suffering from the shock of seeing her mother, (the flamboyant Zsa Zsa Gabor) Jessica Flagmore Shelley be consumed by flames in her opulent bedroom.
Susan still traumatized by the haunting memories of her mother's horrific death and surrounded by some of the creepiest toys in all tar-nation, comes home to the palatial hearth with father Don Ameche as Edward Shelley and his new lusty, conniving second wife Francene played by sexy Martha Hyer. Edward is so blinded by his desire for Francene that he'd sell out the whole estate contents and all to give his conspiring hussy all the money, vacations and furs she wants.
Francene starts sneaking around again with brother-in-law Anthony Flagmore played Maxwell Reed. Flagmore's face has been charred from that fateful night when mommy went up in flames. His odd presence and faithfulness to his pet hawk, add an air of the macabre to the already heady script.
The brazen couple plot to drive little Susan over the edge, while trying to get her to reveal the whereabouts of her mother's missing diamond necklace.
This Grande Dame horror film is a little gem from the vintage 60s, by director Bert I Gordon, and also boasts a great supporting cast with, Wendell Corey, Signe Hasso and Anna Lee. It's creepy, it's campy and a wonderfully colorful psychosomatic romp. Cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks, who was director of photography on Invasion of The Body Snatchers 1956 and the sublime Mister Buddwing 1966. The soundtrack includes The Hearse Song sung by Gordon
'The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.'
The Dark Corner (1946)
Detective Noir: Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, and "for 6 bits you'd hang your mother on a meat-hook"
The Dark Corner (1946) Director Henry Hathaway's (Niagra, Kiss of Death) rhythmical detective Noir, with more than just one great line here or there to fill out the plot. Based on a story by Leo Rosten and adapted to the screen by Bernard C Schoenfeld and Jay Dratler. In most Noir films there are the elements of existential anguish the angst that runs through the central characters' narrative. Bradford Galt is a prime example of the detective with this sense of being at the mercy of his past burden, the one that haunts his present life. He got a fast shuffle out west. Now he just wants the chance to start up a legitimate business. Mark Stevens (The Snake Pit, The Street With No Name) is Bradford Galt, the hemmed in protagonist of the film. A private dick who just can't escape his past, and is targeted as the fall guy in a plot of revenge.
Lucille Ball is Kathleen Stewart his always faithful and trustworthy secretary who is with Galt for keeps. And then there's the inimitable Clifton Webb as Hardy Cathcart the overrefined art dealer who's sanctimonious utterances drives much of the film's best lines.
In the realm of the Noir as detective yarn, Dark Corner goes smoothly through each scene, while less darker than some contributions to Noir, it is sustained by some memorable dialog. Dark Corner utilizes some of the characteristic visual motifs of the Noir film The frame within a frame, which creates the environment of imprisonment. Bradford Galt is an iconic figure who's existential anxieties create the environment of no way out.
There is a very memorable scene in The Dark Corner which has a very vivid moment of someone being flung out a window. I guess defenestration is a popular method of character disposal in Noir/Thrillers. Being hurled out a window is quite a drastic way to die, lets say rather than being shot in the heart once with a small pistol.
The Dark Corner has other inherently typical themes of Noir in addition to the detective yarn, it also shares the Wrong man. Galt has been framed for a crime he did not commit. For the first part of Dark Corner it is also not made very clear the who and/or why someone, possibly this Jardine character is persecuting Galt.
Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens)is superb as the private investigator who after serving 2 years for vehicular manslaughter, in which he was set up by his ex-partner a shyster lawyer the suave Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger), Galt comes to New York from San Fransisco to start over. He's got a kind of Alan Ladd, nice guy look about him.
One of the driving narratives of Dark Corner is Galt's self persecution and Ball's need to prop him up and keep him from feeling sorry for himself. The more he tells her to forget him, the tighter she holds on and sticks by him.
The banter between Stevens and Ball is believable and it's quite sweet the way they develop their relationship. Even when she mentions him being a detective and uncovering a pair of nylons size nine for her and he keeps saying he'll make a note of that. It's their partnership that's yet the other real focus of the story.
William Bendix, (Frank Foss) hired muscle and tail dressed in an 'out of season' linen white suit is tailing Galt and his secretary very conspicuously, while the boss and his lady friend are on their first unofficial date, wandering through the Tudor Penny Arcade, they confer that white suit's been tagging along. Both Bradford and Kathleen notice him and conspire to get him up to Galt's office. Kathleen is supposed to wait in a taxi and then follow Foss to where ever. After Galt finds out what his game is. Once Bradford Galt gets hold of Foss (Bendix) he hits back hard and finds out that Jardine the ex partner who had framed Galt back in San Fransisco is now after him once again.
This sets off a chain reaction for Brad to uncover why Jardine is so interested in him again. Brad Galt roughs up Bendix, humiliates him, takes his wallet so he can remember his name and where he lives and when Foss spills ink on his desk, he wipes his inky fingers all over the nice white linen suit.Brad also breaks Bendix's thumb. Which becomes significant later on in the film.
During the film Galt is as sullen as a wounded animal having been set up a few years earlier by his ex partner and now is being targeted once again, but this is secondary to the plot. It's the vehicle for which Galt can finally put the demons from the past to bed and start over as a stronger more complete man who's found his strength and love in his "faithful noir lady" Kathleen (Lucille Ball), who dotes on him and is the strong shoulder to lean on, whenever things get frenzied or dangerous. Kathleen's in it for keeps. Kathleen just won't quit her boss. She knows he's in trouble and wants to help him in any way she can.
The one liners are great in this film. And there are very many of them. Webb is perfect as the art gallery snob/fop who is more concerned about his collectibles namely his wife than matters of pride, dignity or moral principal. His wife being his possession and keeping her as such is the only thing that matters to Cathcart.
The Dark Corner is a really fun detective noir film that flows smoothly and pays off at the end as lyrically gritty as it starts out with the sensually playful musical score by composer Cyril J Mockridge.