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.

“Filmstudio 1929 presents its first experiment: People On Sunday, a film without actors.”

Like Natalie Portman in Garden State, I like to do things nobody else has ever done before, hence I watched the German silent film People On Sunday on my laptop whilst listening to John Zorn’s manic, screechy, pounding “Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman.” Once my Portmanic originality had been established, I switched to Zorn’s more pleasing “Filmworks Anthology” disc.

Things the movie proved to me:
– All germans eat are sausages, and all they drink is beer.
– In the 1920’s/30’s, young men held spanking parties.

The movie suffered from the fact that I’d just watched Lonesome, a much more exciting movie from the same era with the same working-people-on-vacation vibe. This one has less urgency and romanticism, just taking it easy on a lazy Sunday, some friends out for a picnic and paddleboat ride, trying to score with women in the park. My favorite plot point was the girl from the original group who never makes it to the park, stays in bed and sleeps through the whole movie.

Nicely-shot and well-paced, a fine way to spend 80 minutes. It’d probably be a forgotten footnote if not for the amazing combination of soon-to-be-famous filmmakers who worked on it – co-directed by Curt and Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer and Fred Zinnemann, cowritten with Billy Wilder, shot by Eugen Schüfftan (Eyes Without a Face, Port of Shadows), all just starting out in the movies. An IMDB commenter: “Within a few years most of these people were in Hollywood, and Hitler had destroyed both the wonderful film industry they had helped build and the joyous Berlin that this film depicts . . . the film allows us a glimpse of Berlin between the wars and it is sad to watch it with the knowledge of what was soon to be.”

N. Isenberg:

Shot in Berlin on the eve of the Great Depression with almost no budget, an equally modest cast of amateur actors, a relatively untested, unknown crew, and no major studio backing . . . a remarkably straightforward depiction, by turns affectionate and comical, of courting rituals, leisure activity, and mass entertainment circa 1930

In the first act the sleepy model and her man tear up each other’s movie star pictures – recognized Greta Garbo and Harold Lloyd:

Stylishly scrawled end titles: “4 million people waiting for next sunday,” one word at a time.

Some fun editing, including one weird bit with rapid cutting between a man in the park and various statues. Lots of close-ups and few intertitles. A different kind of movie, free-spirited and outdoorsy, can see why they labeled it an experiment.

Sweet record advertisement (from the same songwriter as “Jollity Farm”):