"Stylish Siodmak / Woolrich Universal Thriller"
Oh yes, the opening titles may suggest that the screenplay is from a novel by 'William Irish' but that's just a pseudonym for crime writer extraordinaire Cornell Woolrich. Director Robert Siodmak's adaptation of Woolrich's novel, and his first noir for Universal, is getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow Academy, and very welcome it is, too.
Unhappy Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) is out on the town on his own. He meets a woman (Fay Helm) in a bar. She refuses to tell him her name but agrees to go to a show with him. After she bids him goodnight Scott returns to his apartment, only to be greeted by police who have discovered the body of his strangled wife.
But Scott's got an alibi, hasn't he? Unfortunately, when he takes the cops back to every location he visited in the company of his mystery female companion, a barman, a taxi driver, and even the drummer in the band for the show (Elisha Cook Jr) deny he was ever with anyone.
The ensuing court case finds Scott guilty of murder. It's up to his secretary Carol (Ella Raines) with the help of Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez) to find out the truth before Scott ends up as a dead man walking.
After famously being fired from Paramount for saying the movie he was making was 'Paramount shit', Robert Siodmak made SON OF DRACULA (1943) for Universal, and then followed that up with the exploitation-orientated COBRA WOMAN (1944). After doing such a great job on both he was offered PHANTOM LADY and that was the start of a run of remarkable, stylish thrillers that include THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE KILLERS & THE DARK MIRROR (all 1946) and CRY OF THE CITY (1948).
As well as the oft-quoted line about Paramount, Siodmak is also well known for claiming that only five minutes of any one of his movies was actually any good. Certainly there are sequences in PHANTOM LADY that stand out from what would have been considered accepted conventional narrative techniques at the time - the pursuit of the barman by Carol through deserted streets, the weird art that adorns the apartment of a key character, and the lighting of the scenes of Scott in prison. All these show a director on the cusp of a brilliant career and that, coupled with Woolrich's engrossing story, make PHANTOM LADY unmissable for fans of period 1940s film noir.
Arrow Academy's print of PHANTOM LADY is a little more beaten up and scratched in places that some of their recent excellent transfers of 1940s releases, but it's still perfectly watchable. Extras include a fifty minute archival documentary on film noir, and an hour-long radio adaptation of the Woolrich novel from 1944.
Robert Siodmak's PHANTOM LADY is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy on Monday 4th March 2019