THE PHANTOM LADY – I’m giving away no secrets by letting you know that Fay Helm IS the Phantom Lady. We see her with our hero at the beginning of the movie. ( You might remember Miss Helm from “The Wolf Man” where she gets her fortune read by Maria Ouspenskaya and finds out she has about thirty-three seconds to live…and counting! ) Ella gets a lead and finds her, but has to walk a tightrope because the woman is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Ella must play it both ways…being sympathetic to this poor girl’s own tragedy, and get the evidence she needs to set her guy free. This visit IS a tense scene for us and for Ella.
But luckily for her her boss’ good friend, played by Franchot Tone, is with her every step of the way of her search to help save his friend’s life.
When Ella Raines has reason to fear, she does, as any good damsel would do. But for the majority of this classic noir, she is resourceful and relentless and pro-active. She is Anti-Damsel to the maxxx. This is a taut, tight, suspensefully dark drama. And she’s the Girl Friday a fella wants on his side. Yeah she’s pretty enough to help her husband find his socks and kiss the kids goodbye as they head out to school. But most of Raines’ roles in the 40’s, was helping a guy out of a jam. I whole-heartedly recommend you see “Phantom Lady” for a suspenseful good time. In fact I strongly urge you to run, not walk, to find the nearest Ella Raines film and explore her career.
Ella Raines was a sultry-looking brunette with a soft widow’s peak, blue eyes and a great alto voice. She had the look any cartoonist worth his salt back in the 40’s would draw for Superman’s Lois Lane. You were more than likely to find Ella in an office, in a carefully coiffed shoulder-length page boy, and sharply tailored business attire. You could tell she was an outdoors girl as well…riding or fishing.
You would’ve noticed her in “Cry ‘Havoc’” – all smudged and disheveled in this war drama . Yes, with even that boatload of fine
actresses who appear in that movie, Raines is a standout. Check her out especially in the John Wayne western “Tall in the Saddle.” When we first see her as Arly, she rides her horse hard and faaaaaast into town and she’s gunning for Wayne, literally. It’s really kind of thrilling to watch this intro to her character. Wayne has to choose between this wild-cat of a tomboy who is stubborn and nothing but trouble, or the sedate attractive girlie girl Audrey Long. What is a cowboy to do?
I asked my good friend Robert Regan for his thoughts on Ella Raines. This is what he wrote:
“I love Ella Raines. She was the most real young woman of the forties. She was nice, but not naive, smart and fearless, or at least she was strong enough to ignore her fear and plunge right in. She was a city girl. If she was in a small town, she would not be there long. It couldn’t hold her.”
Pressing Bob just a little further, I asked him why he supposed she was pretty unique for the 1940’s. He replied:
“I think it was that realness which probably kept her from being a major star. She was not a figure of fantasy, though I could dream about her.”
Thanks for weighing in Bob. Folks, whether it’s “The Web” or “Impact” or “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry” ( which I really recommend because it pits Raines against Geraldine Fitzgerald for George Sanders’ affections ), Ella Raines is on the case…not on the back burner waiting for help but front and center and causing action.
For me, and I’m a big big fan of this dark approachable beauty: when it’s Raines…it Shines!
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Again, if you want to read about some other ANTI-DAMSELS like “Cobra Woman”, “No Way Out”, “Stage Door”, Mrs. Emma Peel, Margaret Dumont and many many more who take the bull by the horns and get things done, all you have to do is click on the banner below to get the schedule…and get outta the way. Enjoy! Thanks for reading! And remember…your comments are welcomed.
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