Boring city-planner Alan Curtis (of High Sierra) is framed for the strangling murder of his cheating wife. Unfortunately his alibi is The Phantom Lady (Fay Helm with giant black eyes) who has disappeared. A detective with tons of time on his hands (Thomas Gomez, John Garfield’s doomed loser brother in Force of Evil) interviews a bartender and a cabbie, a dancer and a drummer, and they all recall Mr. Curtis and his little mustache, but not his lady friend with her Hellraiser eyes and flamboyant hat. So Curtis is off to the electric chair.
Ella Raines in stalker mode:
But wait! Curtis’s secretary from Kansas (Ella Raines of Hail the Conquering Hero) isn’t gonna let the movie end so quickly, because she has the hots for her boss and an alarming tenacity. Ella gets in touch with her self-destructive dark side and tails first the bartender (bald, skittish Andrew Tombes) then the drummer (hyperactive Elisha Cook Jr., the highlight of the movie, whose drumming is more sexually suggestive than anything in Written on the Wind) to their deaths.
Elisha Jr. at the kit:
The movie has a less complicated view of human nature than most noirs. Ella is the most dynamic character, going from smitten office drone to steely stalker, (just barely) being able to make out with the creepy drummer in exchange for information, but she snaps back into girlish submissiveness at the end. By comparison, Curtis, scheduled to die in a couple weeks, is in a slightly bad mood. The detective re-opens the case because he decides Curtis’s phantom-lady alibi is too stupid not to be true, and offers a worryingly simplistic analysis of the killer: an insane megolomaniac artist. Wouldn’t you know it, Curtis’s best friend Franchot Tone (who played a boring millionaire in Here Comes The Groom), a crazed self-obsessed sculptor with perfect, glowing white hands is back in town.
Franchot Tone examines his perfect hands:
Ella teams up with Tone, his frequent headaches and strong strangler hands failing to tip her off, and tracks down Phantom Lady through a hat manufacturer. P.L. is an extremely delicate rich woman who lost her fiancee, so they have to speak softly and finally leave with her hat (which presumably will be able to testify on its own). Luckily, nobody has to drag P.L. out of her privileged little mourning room because Tone springs into action, giving away the plot and trying to strangle Ella then leaping to his death when the detective bursts in.
Great little movie by Siodmak (just off Son of Dracula) based on a story by Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window, Papa Benjamin) with some nice shadowy scenes (the prison visits, bartender stalking). I could watch it again tonight. And tomorrow night. And every night. And every night. And every night.