B&W , 1944, 86 mins. 56 secs.
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Starring Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Thomas Gomez, Aurora, Elisha Cook Jr., Fay Helm, Regis Toomey
Arrow Academy (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Universal, TCM (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Carlotta Films (DVD) (France R2 PAL), Koch Media (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL)

Though Phantom Ladyhe's best known to film fans as the Phantom Ladyauthor of the short story that inspired Rear Window, peerless mystery writer Cornell Woolrich was also responsible for penning novels that became some of the greatest film noir classics of the 1940s including Black Angel, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, The Window, Deadline at Dawn, and the genre hybrid The Leopard Man. One of the very best of them all is Phantom Lady, a visually inventive thriller directed by Robert Siodmak just after his atmospheric gem, Son of Dracula.

After a nasty squabble with his wife, young engineer Scott Henderson (Curtis) heads out for a night on the town in Manhattan and ends up hitting it off with a woman whom he takes to a music stage show at a club. Upon returning home he finds the police waiting as his wife has been strangled in his absence. No one he encountered can seem to back up his alibi, and the mystery woman's disappearance means he's destined for death row. Scott's loyal secretary, Carol (Raines), harbors a crush on him and decides to do some detective work of her own, working with the investigating detective (Gomez) and Scott's best friend, Jack (Tone), to unravel this perplexing mystery.

Phantom LadyThough this seems Phantom Ladylike a variant on The Lady Vanishes based on the plot description, Phantom Lady is really a totally different kind of beast with a heavy debt to German Expressionism in its more surreal nocturnal moments. Siodmak really pulls out all the stops here with the same feverish intensity he would bring to other films right after this like The Spiral Staircase, Cobra Woman, Christmas Holiday, and The Dark Mirror, particularly the legendary sequence in which an alluring Raines manages to work up drummer Elisa Cook Jr. into a panting, self-abusing frenzy that somehow managed to slip right by the Production Code. In fact, it's hard to believe this was only Raines' third film; she's so charismatic and utterly winning here that you may not even notice how the plot doesn't really make much sense! The narrative is full of odd touches, such as unmasking the killer way, way earlier than you'd expect, which is more than enough to keep noir fans on their toes from start to finish.

For some reason it took a very long time for this film to hit home video on any format, with most movie buffs having to keep an eye on TV schedules for years until it turned up from TCM as part of its great 2012 Universal noir set, Dark Crimes, packaged with The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia. Other European standalone releases popped up around the same time, and a U.S. reissue came as part of a 10-film noir set from Phantom LadyUniversal. In 2019, Arrow Academy gave the film its Blu-ray premiere in the U.S. and U.K. as part of its great ongoing line Phantom Ladyof noir editions; image quality obviously improves quite a bit over the DVD (which was taken from a much older master) with fine grain in evidence and the textures in those great costumes looking more palpable. The LPCM 1.0 English mono audio also sounds good and comes with optional English subtitles. The one video extra here is the enjoyable noir documentary, Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir (52m18s), an SD production featuring interviews with Robert Wise, Edward Dmytryk, Dennis Hopper, Carl Franklin, James Foley, the great John Alton, and, uh, Bryan Singer talking about the aesthetic impact and cultural significance of the cinematic movement with directors like Billy Wilder and Orson Welles all making their mark. A Lux Radio Theater dramatization from 1944 is also included (59m33s) with Raines and Curtis reprising their roles and Brian Aherne joining as well. No theatrical trailer is included (you can find one on the French DVD from Carlotta), but there is a gallery of lobby cards and posters. The first pressing also comes with an insert booklet featuring new liner notes by Alan K. Rode.

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Reviewed on February 21, 2019