Phantom Lady (1944)

The first film in the second Universal Film Noir box (and the first one actually made by Universal; all the films in volume 1 were Paramount jobs owned by Universal), and Robert Siodmak’s first noir. Not, of course, that anyone knew this at the time, given that the idea of “film noir” took a couple more decades to reach the US, but whatever Siodmak was doing he managed to carve himself a prominent place in that part of the film industry. I thought I’d read the Cornell Woolrich novel the film is based on, but then I realised I was confusing it with Black Angel (the film of which we’ll come to shortly, cos it’s in this set too)…probably because the plots of both are, frankly, broadly similar: man unjustly accused of murder, must be saved by female offsider (here his secretary) who goes in search of real killer. Pretty good story, to be sure, given a sort of Hitchcockian angle by keeping top-billed Franchot Tone (the only name I recognised in the cast apart from Elisha Cook Jr) off-screen for the first half of the film and letting us know immediately that he’s far from the good guy everyone else in the film thinks he is. With a couple of amazing setpiece scenes (the train station one and that quite remarkable jam session with Cook going nuts on the drums), Phantom Lady made a pretty decent bit of entertainment on the whole.

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