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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 - LEADING LADYElla 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.

ELLA in %22CRY 'HAVOC'%22

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?

TALL in the SADDLE ( II )

TALL in the SADDLE ( VI )TALL in the SADDLE ( VII )TALL in the SADDLE ( V )

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.”

ELLAR RAINES in %22THE WEB%22 ( IV )  ELLA ( Glam Shot )

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.”

ELLA RAINES in %22THE WEB%22 ( II ) ELlA RAINES in %22THE WEB%22 ELLA RAINES in %22IMPACT%22 ELlA RAINES in %22Uncle Harry%22 ELLA RAINED in %22Brute Force%22 BRUTE FORCE Babes ( Movie Joe's Bucket )

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!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

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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30 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 ).

      Liked by 1 person

  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.


  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.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 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 ).


    • 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!!


  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.

    Liked by 2 people

    • 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!

      Liked by 1 person

  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!!

      Liked by 1 person

  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..

    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.


  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.


    • 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.


  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!


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

  11. Great review and really tribute and overview, to the career of Ella Raines. You’ve picked some lovely high points in this film; the light streaming in the window in the cell and it’s spiritual quality (she’s definitely heaven sent) and the repulsive full-on aggressive kiss Ella receives from Elisha Cook. She smiles through it when he’s looking, sneers when he turns away. It’s a bit of an assault that I think most women can identify with and that increases the sense of menace. Raines’ relatability makes her such an unusual 40s female protagonist, at least for Noir. She’s natural, readily identifiable, brave and so many things you’ve already mentioned. She’s certainly no caricature, no good girl or femme fatale. She’s a real woman. And I don’t think she pursues this villain out of love alone. It’s her intelligence and her sense of justice that also drives her.
    I’ll have to see this film again now to pick up the fine points. I’ll also have to see Cry Havoc again, a wonderfully entertaining film with a fantastic cast. I was so busy watching Blondell and Sullavan that somehow I overlooked Raines. Thanks for the insights and really satisfying review Theresa.


    • Hello there Molly. Thanks so much for your thoughts. I LOVE what you wrote here, and I agree to everything. Do see “Cry Havoc.” Of course who could take their eyes off of Blondell and Sullavan, both interesting in their own way. ( Do be on the look out for that tall number: Frances Gifford. ) Now Raines does not have a big part, but she definitely makes an impression. And really….run to see her lock horns with Geraldine Fitzgerald in “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry.” It’s a surprising movie. Yes, Molly, I find Ella Raines wholly unique in her niche in classic films. Thank you so much for writing.


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