Saturday, July 20, 2013

Phantom Lady 1944

The film opens on a steamy 1944 July New York City night (its seems all film noirs are set on steamy summer New York City nights) the film covers all the usual Noir territory, innocent man accused of a crime he didn’t commit, loyal attractive young woman out to prove his innocence, tough but likeable detectives, psychotic behavior unexplained and deep sexual undertones. Based on a William Irish (Cornell Woolrich) novel and directed with strong German expressionist style by Robert Siodmak with a big helping hand from the great cinematographer Woody Bredell, master of B movies, and made by Universal on the cheap but looking hard, sharp and beautiful with great economic touches including murders and deaths unseen. The film has some flaws mainly plot holes and sad unresolved performances but even with the flaws this is still one of the masterworks of the genre. Especially good (when was he ever not good?) is Elisha Cook Jr. as the horny “pussy hound” drummer who plays in the orchestra of a tacky musical revue that plays a pivotal part in the film along with a silly hat, and a temperamental South American Bargain basement Carmen Miranda type bombshell of a performer. Some of the great set pieces of the film includes a scene set on a deserted 3rd ave el platform, where we only know that a train is arriving by the wind blowing a woman’s dress and a late night jam session with Cook on drums working himself into an orgasmic frenzy as his pickup for the night does a great sexual come on that leaves little to the imagination, (how this bit got by the censors is beyond me). Also memorable is a man being hit by a car again unseen by us, as his hat flies in the air and winds in a puddle by the curb, and a trial that is seen through the eyes of the spectators with all of the testimony heard off screen. This is good stuff. There are wet patent leather streets, the  ubiquitous  Yiddishe Mama candy store owner, shadows that have shadows and wonderful sleazy bars and high toned apartments full of late deco furnishings and sculptures along with small details such as Van Gogh’s self portrait after he cut off his ear that is clearly hanging in the murderer’s abode. With the gorgeous but limited Ella Raines, the gorgeous but very limited Alan Curtis, Franchot Tone & Thomas Gomez. The film is available in a pristine print  for viewing on YouTube. One of the ten best films of 1944.


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