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USA 1944
Directed by
Robert Siodmak
87 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Phantom Lady

German “Expressionist” film aesthetics are very much to the fore in this Hollywood B-grade from one of the pioneers of the style, Robert Siodmak. Cinematographer Woody Bredell makes a substantial contribution with his striking back and white photography with its raking shadows and dynamic framing a jazz jam session standing out in this respect (Bredell was also Siodmak’s DOP on The Killers, 1946) whilst the against-the-clock story of a man wrongly convicted of murder has all the gloom-ridden tonality the genre requires. Unfortunately the script is lack-lustre and, unsurprisingly therefore, the performances are sub-optimal.

Alan Curtis plays a civil engineer, Scott Henderson, who meets a well-dressed woman (Fay Helm) in a bar. Both are grieving over matters of the heart and they agree to go to a show together. They part without exchanging names and when Henderson gets home he finds waiting detectives and the body of his wife. He becomes number one suspect but when no-one recalls the woman he was with he can’t get his alibi to stick and ends up on death row. His secretary (Ella Raines) who has a crush on him, decides to find the woman before the man she loves is executed. 

Whilst the device of having a woman as the driving force in solving the crime and saving her man is unusual the screenplay is too perfunctory to give it credibility and once, well into proceedings, the film’s male star (Franchot Tone) arrives and starts twitching the film begins its ignoble descent into the psycho-babbling, mad artist (a reproduction of Van Gogh's famous self-portrait is prominent on the killer's apartment wall), a feeble descendant of Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, M. And whoever thought it a good idea to cast Elisha Cook, Jr as a hopped-up jazz drummer needed their head read.

FYI: Siodmak worked again with Raines on The Suspect, which was released later the same year.




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