PHANTOM LADY ( 1944 )

 

ANTI-DAMSEL BLOGATHON BANNERI saw the announcements for the ANTI-DAMSEL BLOGATHON hosted by Fritzi of MOVIES SILENTLY and Jo of THE LAST DRIVE-IN and my heart skipped a little beat. No arrythmia, nothing serious, nothing to call 9-1-1 about, but it did do a small happy dance. This quote in particular caught my eye:

“Let’s drag out the ‘victimized woman’ and talk about the gals with guts, grit, gumption and genius!” – Jo, The Last Drive In.

There was only one actress in one film who immediately comes to mind. And that was ELLA RAINES in “PHANTOM LADY.”

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So many characteristics come to mind when I think of Ella Raines in this film: smart, resourceful, brave, intrepid, relentless, determined, competent,  a little foolhardy, dogged and smart. Did I mention smart? Yeah smart. Yes, even though she puts herself in harm’s way in her effort to prove her boss innocent of murder, I think she smartly follows leads in a way I haven’t seen other actresses of the 40’s do. She goes it alone because the Law takes a blind eye. She goes it alone because she’s a woman in love.

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When we first see Ella in her upsweep hairdo and straightening her stocking seams, she’s a cool executive assistant, competently taking the reins of her boss’ architectural firm while he’s under suspicion. Once officially arrested, Ella attends his trial every day for months.

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“You need someone to help you who really wants to. Someone who can’t be beat.”

I suppose I can’t talk about Ella’s intrepidness without somehow describing the look of “Phantom Lady” and the look of the situations she’s put in. All praises to director Robert Siodmak and his D.P.: Woody Bredell for the look and pace of this movie. There’s a full world shown in this movie. Lots of extras. There’s an economy of sets and actions but things don’t look low-budget. At the trial, we never see folks on the Stand testifying. We don’t see lawyers pontificating their side of the case; we hear them, but the focus is on the audience…on Ella. She’s the focal point of the entire movie, and she moves the plot forward.

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When Ella visits her boss ( played by the stressed out, puffy-eyed, attractive Alan Curtis ) in prison, there’s a stream of light that feels like a warm hazy blanket over the scene and makes me think of church. It’s a lovely shot. She follows leads into dark and lonely places; places I would not go even with a can of Mace and Mike Mazurki by my side. I must check IMDB but off the top of my head, I think Siodmak is an acolyte of Val Lewton films. Shadows and footsteps and silence stir one’s imagination. The LOOK of the film is seductive. And with Ella in these situations, she’s not running from someone…but FOLLOWING them. D’ya see how that makes her an ANTI-DAMSEL?? ( Huh? Huh? ) All of a sudden she’s there. No set up. No preface. A girl walks into a bar…

PHANTOM LADY - VITHE BARTENDER – Ella walks into the bar, orders water and stares him down. No matter the bar is empty, crowded, rain or shine, she’s there.  Staring. Her eyes dark, unblinking, like a shark; by dint of her stare, willing him to tell the truth of what he saw. She unnerves him. Waits for him outside. Follows him into the dark. But women are afraid of the dark, right? She follows the bartender to a deserted El train station stop. This is the eeriest of the movie’s scenes because it’s in a normal setting. Not the gothic old dark house, but a train platform. I wait on those myself after a night out. Love the pattern of shadows the station lamps leaves. It’s just Ella and the bartender. He looks around for witnesses and sees none. He walks towards her. It does not end well…for him.

PHANTOM LADY - XXIITHE DRUMMER – Elisha Cook Jr. plays the hopped up drummer at the music revue Ella’s boss goes to see with The Phantom Lady. He surely must know something. Ella’s there, and loaded for bear: fishnet stockings, smacking on Bazooka gum ( ok…Wrigley’s ). She looks trampy and gives him the come-on. They go to an after hours jam session in one of the wildest, most sexually-laden subtexts I’ve seen from a movie from the 1940’s.

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She plies Cook with alcohol, and lets him kiss her full on the mouth. See girls, that’s the part that always gets me…it’s in his kiss; his wet, juicy, slobbery kiss. And then what puts me right under the sixteen-wheel bus, right over the edge…is the look of disgust on her face. What I take away from that scene is not only the crazy orgasmic spin on it all, but the nano-second of disgust on Raines’ face before she plies on more lipstick. Hell, she can’t even wipe his kiss away, but must embed it deeper.

This is a crappy clip of it on: YouTube, but it will give you some idea if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

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The scene has Dutch angles, quick edits and Ella urging Cook to go faster…faster…fassssster. As if THIS wasn’t enough, she continues to put herself in harm’s way. She goes to the room of this musician, this man…this stranger. The scene plays in the dim room as she sits on his lap and tries to pull information out of him. He’s trying to get what he wants from her but gets rough when he realizes his loose-lips-sinks-ships’ confession reveals some guy has paid him $500 to say there was no dame. Ella is really being put through her paces. Cook mauls her, but she manages to barely escapeShe does now have the Detective on her side. It is fine character actor Thomas Gomez as Detective Burgess who senses ( after the trial is over ) something isn’t right with this case.

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But see, the actual murderer has been tailing Ella, and pays Cook a visit. He tells him:

PHANTOM LADY - XXVI
She would have humiliated herself to get you to talk.

It does not end well — for our hopped up, hepped up drummer boy. But when did it ever…for Elisha. ( Here is a nice video tribute to Cook. Check it out when you finish page 2. )

28 thoughts on “PHANTOM LADY ( 1944 )

  1. Ack! I’m not overly familiar with Ella Raines’ career, but your post has changed that. She seems to be the perfect casting choice for this film. Her eyes are so expressive, no? I’m actually a little afraid of her when she gets that hard, determined look in her eye!

    Great tribute to Ms Raines, and fab choice for the blogathon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmm…the harder her glint, the better and more determined she is. I’m lovin’ that. You’ve got to see her ride up on John Wayne in “Tall In The Saddle” shooting at him. She’s a wonder. Try to see some more of her films. I think she’s an unsung treasure from the 1940’s. Thankssss again for commenting here. ( Now get thee to Ella Raines ).

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  2. Terrific review of one of my favourite films and actresses. Ella certainly runs the show in Phantom Lady . I also love her in IMPACT with Brian Donlevy.
    Love your comment “when it Raines,it shines”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Vienna. I love Ella Raines. I like her in “Tall in the Saddle’ and “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry” as well. ( Yes “Impact” is a favorite though I must say I was quite taken by Helen Walker in that one ). I’ve had that “…when it’s Raines, it shines” idea in my head forever. Wish I could have the discipline to do a full review of her filmography. I think that’d make a terrific title. Thanks again for reading.

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  3. Pingback: The Anti-Damsel Blogathon: Schedule!!! | the last drive in

  4. That was a good essay. You capture the way Ella Raines was different. Her former husband Robin Olds wrote a memoir called Fighter Pilot. He spends a lot more time describing the dynamics of their marriage than you see in the typical military autobiography. He learned 20 years after that she had pulled strings with influential friends to keep him out of the Korean War. And back to Phantom Lady, I’ll watch any movie with Elisha Cook, Jr.

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    • Hi there Joe, I remember she was married to an Air Force pilot but didn’t know she had clout like that to get him out of serving the war. I would have liked her career to continue the strong way it started. Elisha Cook Jr. certainly made a name for himself in the way he played his roles. And I’m a big Ella Raines fan. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. ( “Tall in the Saddle” will be shown at the end of TCM’s John Wayne day today ).

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    • Hi Kellee, you really ought to see “Phantom Lady.” It’s a good noir thriller. But it’s also one where the woman drives the movie forward. She takes charge, not in a Stnawyck/Davis-bulldozer way. But Raines is a determined gal. And not that this’ll sway you, but she’s a beautiful gal, with a personable way. If you ever do see the movie, do let me know what you think. As for your Original Sweet Badass Momma of the Silents’ blog post…whoa! What Mary went through… Daaaayam!!! I appreciate your reading!!

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  5. With her clean, sharp/soft beauty and vivid cat eyes, Ella Raines seems to me to have the same sort of mesmerizing visual appeal as Veronica Lake. But if Lake is “cold voodoo” on the screen (Ethan Mordden’s words), Raines is candor.

    That directness is so riveting, it’s astonishing to realize how small the woman was who wielded it. She has to tilt her head way back to look John Wayne in the eye in Tall in the Saddle. But Ella Raines does it standing toe-to-toe with him. She walks into the bar in Phantom Lady and sits down, fixing the bartender with her eyes and her determination. She doesn’t disdain him; she isn’t even rude. Her staring is a device, she plays it as one, and it is going to work: he is going to tell her what he knows…

    Maven, I love the way you’ve written this tribute to her Girl Friday of Phantom Lady. You can write about a performance, or a moment, on the screen in a way that electrifies it in memory. I recall your brief “When It Raines…It SHINES!” from the SSO, whenever I watch Ella Raines. Do write more about her, please do. I’d love to have your take on The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry.

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    • Carrie? Are you the lovely lady who supplied me with my collection of Frances Dee films? From the SSO?!!! ( Correct me if I’m wrong, but if I’m right…”HI!!!!” ) “Cold voodoo” “Candor.” See…that says it all. I am loving what YOU just wrote about her eyes and determination and directness. There’s just a pleasant manner she has. I checked out the link you cited and it made me smile. Moira’s “UNJUSTLY NEGLECTED” thread. So many. I always say the bench ran deep back in the 30’s and 40’s. Ella is a stand out for me.

      I’m flattered by your compliment. Thank you!! Ella is on my list to cover. I have just pulled out my “…Uncle Harry” dvd now. It’ll be a while before I can get to it. But I will. What a weird film. First, seeing Sanders so meek. Then Fitzgerald’s incestuous leanings and a worthy nemesis in the very “tailored” Ella. Oh I’ll definitely cover this film. Thank you again Carrie ( for Frances Dee ) and for reading. Folks’ comments definitely do inspire!

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  6. The CineMaven inspires. She often used to inspire me to pace back over familiar ground at the SSO, for the pleasure rereading some of the essays that, I find, are now archived here. I’m glad they are. It’s such a real delight to discover your blog, Theresa. When I spotted your name on a blogroll the other day, I had to hie me over here, but quick.

    So, yes, it’s me. Lovely? Thank you. You’re more than welcome for the Frances Dee films. I only wish all of hers were in proper release. But, did you see that An American Tragedy is out via the Universal Vault Series this past July? And If I Had a Million is due as part of the W.C. Fields lollapalooza coming in October.

    Here’s hoping Universal’s series will extend to Ella’s films, and in particular (because I’ve seen it, and love it) to The Runaround.

    “Tailored.” That’s the word I wanted for Ella Raines, and I couldn’t think of it. But at the risk of being a punster I’ll say now, it suits her.

    Liked by 1 person

    • CARRIE!!! Hi! So wonderful that you discovered my blog. Yeah, I’m capitalizing on my happy memories and posts over at the SSO to a wider audience. ( Yeh, the crowds are swarming all over my “couch”. ( LOL! 😉 ) And listen…I’m putting this out there to you, if there is a film you’d like to write about, please let me know. I could use another GUEST ESSAY here on my blog. You ought to think about joining the SSO’s FaceBook page that Moira started. Would love to continue classic movie conversations with you. Thank you again. As for the word “tailored”, WHEW!!! I had to think hard for a sophisticated word to describe Raines’ type.

      …And LOVED the pun! Think I’ll use it over at the SSO on FaceBook. ( Great shot! ) You getting full credit, of course!!

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  7. CineMave! I apologize for not commenting sooner on PHANTOM LADY for our Anti Damsel Blogathon!- I’m glad you liked my dragging out the victim- Bette and Joan in Baby Jane was a fun gif!

    First of all, thank you so very much for joining us. I was SO happy to see that you chose Ella in what is one of MY favorite obscure film noir masterpieces, by one of my favorite directors Robert Siodmak.

    I believe it’s how I began to take a closer look at Ella Raines too. She has a marvelous understated strength and I do love that ‘glint’ she gives, just to let you know she’s not the archetype of the ‘good girl’ -Your review was so insightful and cheeky! I loved it…

    “Ella Raines in this film: smart, resourceful, brave, intrepid, relentless, determined, competent, a little foolhardy, dogged and smart.”

    “she’s not running from someone…but FOLLOWING them. D’ya see how that makes her an ANTI-DAMSEL??”

    Just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading your piece so much and that it added that extra element of ZING! to our tribute. We needed Ella Raines, and you’re right, she is one of the first Anti Damsels that came to my mind too! I had included her in mine & Fritzi -Movies Silently’s list of 111 empowered film characters who didn’t give a damn! I really think YOU would enjoy it..

    http://thelastdrivein.com/2015/08/02/enduring-empowerment-women-who-didnt-give-a-damn-in-silent-classic-film/

    Looking forward to reading more ESSAYS from the couch!

    Cheers Joey

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there Monster Girl! No apology necessary. You and Fritzi had your hands full with the over-whelming response to your blogathon theme. Thank you both for having my relatively new blog join the fray; I’m appreciative of that. You know, even more so than that, I’m happy when people like Ella Raines. Listen, I can be a “one-man band” about her, but that’s selfish. I want a lot of folks to sing her praises. So I’m gooble gobble glad you’re “one of us” in Raines’ regard. Looks like I’m actually one of YOU. Thanks for the link to those dames who don’t give a damn, and may I suggest one of my links for you. In reading your mini-bio on your blog I see that you’re a musician. I wrote and directed a web series called “Meg Ramsey” ( the story of a woman who gives up a business career to be a singer/songwriter. Ha! How original, right? ) and when you have time, I invite you to take a look at our trailer. Thanks for reading, Monster Girl. There’s more to come from the couch.

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  8. So HAPPY to see that there are others who know and love “Phantom Lady.” It’s definitely in my top ten of the genre. I like Ella Raines in it — she’s intense. I have to say that I first learned of the actress, in an underrated noir entitled, “Impact.” I watched in on a public domain site one wintery night, and was totally engrossed, from beginning to end. In this film, Ella is far more sweet, a small town girl.

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    • Aaaaah Ella! She’s one of my favorite gals from the 1940’s. She holds a special place in my Noir Heart. Someone mentioned a “glint in her eye” which was an apt description. She’s a determined girl. I love “IMPACT” one of Brian Donlevvy nice guy roles. And it has the great Anna May Wong in it too. Love Ella in it, but there’s that bad girl HELEN WALKER who most definitely makes an impact. Have you ever seen “The Strange Affair Of Uncle Harry“?? If you haven’t, it’s a doozy. Picture George Sanders as a meek mild man, and his sister Geraldine Fitzgerald – a cold fish – but who harbors incestuous feelings for her brother George. Enter Ella Raines, a big city / big business gal who takes a liking towards Georgie, and the battle is on between Fitzgerald and Raines. Do you know the film Deb? Ella’s good in that, with formidable competition from Fitzgerald. Thanks for reading and thank you for your comments.

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  9. Top drawer piece, Theresa! And thanks for the quote. Incidentally, have you noticed that in The Web Ella ends up with a man named Robert Regan? I sure did, even though I’m better looking that O’Brien!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. Yes I did notice that about O’Brien. And if you are Robert Regan, why yes…you are INDEED better looking than Edmond O’Brien. Thanks again for reading, and giving me a quote I can use, my friend. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

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  10. Pingback: I WALK ALONE | CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH

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