Phantom Lady (1944)

Rating: **
Review Date: 11/28/14
Cast: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Elisha Cook Jr.

Scott Henderson's (Alan Curtis) marriage is on the rocks, and in a fit of despair he heads to a bar to get drunk. He meets a mysterious woman with a strange hat and asks her if she wants to catch a show with the tickets that he intended to give his wife. Afterwards, the woman vanishes and when Scott gets home he discovers that his wife has been murdered. The police talk to everyone that saw Scott that evening, but none of them have any recollection of the woman that he claimed to be with. Is it some bizarre conspiracy, or is Scott losing his mind? As police inspector Burgess points out, "only a fool or an innocent man would cling to such a ridiculous story." Henderson's faithful, love-smitten business associate, Carol Richman (stunning Ella Raines), sets out to prove his innocence and begins investigating on her own. Curiously, every lead that she follows ends up with another witness being silenced before they can talk, and pretty soon Carol's life is in danger as well.

As a murder mystery it's pretty bland and uninteresting, but Ella Raines is positively riveting. Her radiant beauty and sharp piercing eyes light up every scene she's in, and you can't take your eyes off of her. She's also a very good actress and embodies her character with strength, determination, intelligence, sensuality, vulnerability, and fear. She alone makes the film worth watching. The tension ratchets up nicely when the killer gets close to the unsuspecting Carol under the pretense of wanting to help her. Elisha Cook Jr. also shows up as a sleazy and lascivious jazz drummer who is desperate to get his slimy hands all over Carol, and his character is truly despicable. As is typical of the time period, the happy ending is a bit too convenient and overly contrived, but it's not terrible. The production values are decent, although rear projection and bad matte paintings betray its modest budget.