Friday, June 19, 2015

Phantom Lady (1944)

In 1944, Franchot took a sinister turn, costarring with Ella Raines and Alan Curtis in the film noir, Phantom Lady.

In Phantom Lady, Scott Henderson (played by Alan Curtis) goes out for a night on the town with a mysterious woman after his wife tells him she doesn't love him anymore. Scott and the unnamed lady have drinks at a bar, go out to a show where the songstress on stage wears the same elegant hat as Scott's guest, and then part ways outside of the bar. When Scott returns to his apartment, he finds detectives in the living room and his wife strangled to death in the bedroom. Because Scott's necktie is identified as the murder weapon, cops immediately zero on him as the main suspect. Scott must track down the mysterious lady who is his alibi, yet no one is cooperating. It is evident that witnesses who saw the two together at the bar and show have been bribed to keep their mouths shut. The only person who believes that Scott Henderson is innocent is his secretary Carol Richman, a woman clearly infatuated with her boss. When a jury convicts Scott of murder, Carol sets out to find the unknown woman and clear his name. Scott's best friend, Jack Marlow, arrives to help Carol. Franchot Tone plays Jack Marlow and doesn't enter the film until about 45 minutes in. Spoilers are coming after this set of screen captures, so if you don't want to know too much, beware!

Spoiler begins now. Before I saw this movie, I was really frustrated, because in all descriptions of the film it was made clear that Franchot portrayed the murderer. Why would they tell me that before I watched? I felt like the film's twist was probably ruined, so I went into watching it a bit deflated. Having seen it, I realize why viewers give it away so easily. The film gives Franchot away as the murderer in his very first scene! Franchot's Jack Marlow immediately strangles a character. I liked Franchot's portrayal. Wringing and knotting his hands and suffering from debilitating headaches, Franchot's Jack Marlow is obviously a conflicted psychopath. It reminds me a bit of Robert Walker's Bruno Antony, although Phantom Lady is not nearly as masterful as Strangers on a Train. I didn't like that the film gave away his identity so quickly in the film. I think the film would have been more suspenseful and exciting if the viewer was not made aware of the murderer's identity until the plot had progressed. It would have been more fun to debate Jack Marlow's guilt or innocence and then it be revealed.

Franchot is, however, ultra creepy in his scenes and it's unnerving to see Carol (Ella Raines) so implicitly trusting the very murderer she's hunting. I enjoyed this film noir, but feel that the plot and build-up was a bit thin. There's no explanation or back story as to why and how Jack Marlow became a murderer. All we know is that Scott Henderson's wife laughed at him and he didn't like it. Phantom Lady is a fun, but flawed film noir. It made me realize how wonderful it would have been if Franchot had been asked to be a leading man or criminal in an Alfred Hitchcock film. He would have been so convincing as a deceiving murderer hiding in plain sight in a tuxedo with all his charm. What a lost gem to Franchot enthusiasts that a Hitchcock film was never made. (Note: If you haven't seen Franchot Tone's roles in episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Hour television shows, you must!)

If you enjoy 1940s film noirs, you'll want to check out Phantom Lady. It is available on DVD on Amazon and TCMShop.

1 comment:

  1. Just discovered your blog. Lovely tribute. I 'm a big fan of Phantom Lady.

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