Phantom Lady (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1944 (March 5, 2019)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Academy)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C
1944’s Phantom Lady adapts the novel of the same name by William Irish (AKA Cornell Woolrich) about a man whose life is on the line with seemingly no way to prove his innocence. After a fight with his wife, Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) leaves his home and heads to a local bar for a drink. Initially intending to rip up the concert tickets he had planned to use for that evening, he meets a mysterious, lonely woman who reluctantly agrees to attend the show with him, under the proviso that they not exchange names or information about each other.
When he returns home, he finds the police waiting for him and his wife strangled to death. Unable to prove his whereabouts during that evening since nobody seems to remember the woman he was with, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. His loyal secretary Carol (Ella Raines), distraught and fully believing his innocence, decides that she must help her boss and sets out to prove that the vanishing woman does indeed exist before he is executed.
Phantom Lady is an interesting film, especially for when it was made. Not only does it take the point of view of a woman who is saving a man for a change (typically films of this era featured either dames in distress or femme fatales), but Carol is a strong-willed person willing to put her life on the line for somebody she cares about, making her entirely heroic.
There are some clichéd moments that are difficult to mention without spoiling the final minutes of the film, but her character’s setup is far more interesting than many other roles inhabited by women at that time (which I’m sure had plenty to do with Joan Harrison, the film’s female producer). The rest of the cast is all pretty top notch, including Alan Curtis, Franchot Tone, Thomas Gomez, and Elisha Cook, Jr., but it’s Ella Raines who truly shines.
Overall, Phantom Lady is an imperfect but effective piece of film noir filmmaking with good performances and beautiful cinematography from Woody Bredell under the strong direction of Robert Siodmak (The Spiral Staircase, The Killers). Its conclusion isn’t quite as fascinating as its setup, but the journey to get there is full of intrigue and suspense.
Phantom Lady comes to Blu-ray from Arrow Academy by means of an HD, print-sourced master. It’s a nice, stable black-and-white presentation with excellent delineation, but some light flicker due to emulsion issues. Everything appears sharp and crystal-clear with good grain reproduction and satisfactory contrast. Outside of a full-blown, meticulous restoration from a negative source, it likely couldn’t look any better than this, despite carrying leftover scratches, speckling, changeover cues, and vertical lines, all of which do not affect the viewing experience at all.
The audio is presented in English 2.0 mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. The dialogue is the star attraction of this track and it comes through clearly with no problems. Score and sound effects have some dimension to them as well, despite the narrow nature of the track itself. The only leftover damage worthy of note is some light hiss throughout the presentation, but it’s never intrusive. Otherwise, the track is clean and free from dropouts and distortion.
Extras for this release include Dark and Deadly: Fifty Years of Film Noir, an archival 53-minute documentary about the genre featuring film critics B. Ruby Rich and Alain Silver; directors Robert Wise, John Dahl, Bryan Singer, Edward Dmytryk, Dennis Hopper, James Foley and Carl Franklin; and cinematographer John Alton. Also included is an hour-long radio dramatization of Phantom Lady from 1944 by the Lux Radio Theatre starring Alan Curtis and Ella Raines; a still gallery containing 29 images of promotional shots, lobby cards, posters, and poster designs in progress; and a 20-page insert booklet featuring the essay The Making of Phantom Lady: Film Noir in the Starting Blocks by Alan K. Rode, as well as presentation details.
Phantom Lady comes to Blu-ray in an excellent package, one that film noir fans will be chomping at the bit to get their hands on. With a nice transfer and an entertaining vintage documentary to go with it, it’s definitely one to seek out.
– Tim Salmons