Tag Archives: 1940s

Film Noir Friday: Phantom Lady

 

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Ella Raines

 

PHANTOM LADY (1944)

This 1944 film with a weak title that accurately suggests the plot is based on a novel written by Cornell Woolrich published under one of his pseudonyms, William Irish. Not especially known today, Woolrich is still admired in circles that appreciate Noir novels- and in the 1940’s, he was one of the best. For those who want realistic characters and a well-defined plot, this is a film you may enjoy picking apart. For those who can settle back, buy-in, and enjoy the ride, this is a well spent hour and 27 minutes.
The movie begins in a bar. Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis), obviously agitated, comes in, sits down and orders a double scotch with a water chaser from the bartender (Andrew Tombes). The only other person in the bar, a woman in an odd hat (Fay Helm) sits down beside him. She offers her two tickets to a show. She refuses, she has no one to go with. He asks her to go with him. She agrees as long as there are no names, they are just companions for the night.

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They take a taxi to the club where they exchange only small talk; the hot New York weather is mentioned. At the club Cliff (Elisha Cook, Jr), the drummer notices her; she’s not interested. The Latin singer Estela (Aurora) notices the hat. Scott whispers to his companion, “She could murder you.” After the show, Scott returns his companion to Anselmo’s and tries one more time to get her name.
Scott returns home. When he turns on the light and calls out, “Marcella, I want to talk to you.” There are three men there; police detectives. They allow Scott to go into the bedroom where he sees his dead wife. Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez) comes across as sympathetic but they try to pressure Scott into a confession. (The other detectives: Regis Toomey and Joseph Crehan.) All we see of Marcella is a full-length portrait. They have been married five years; the last time he saw her was 7:00; he had asked her for a divorce but she wasn’t going to give him one. She had been murdered around 8:00; strangled with one of Scott’s neck ties. He offers the woman he had been with as his alibi; he has to admit that he doesn’t know her name.
The next morning they take Scott to Anselmo’s. They get the bartender up. He recognizes Scott and the “Gloomy Gus” he had served the night before but he doesn’t remember any woman. Then they take him to the garage and question the taxi driver. He also remembers Scott but is certain there was no woman. At the theater, they question Estela; no hat like mine.

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The trial is handled quickly and cleverly. Scott’s secretary Carol (Ella Raines), who he calls Kansas, is there and obviously distraught. In a Voice Over the District Attorney (Milburn Stone) mostly ridicules nameless woman alibi. He’s convicted.
Shortly after the verdict, Carol meets an exhausted Scott. He doesn’t want to appeal; he’s surrendered. He has lost faith in his own memory. Carol is convinced that he couldn’t kill anyone.
Carol goes to the bar and spends the next three days staring at the bartender. Finally, after closing, she follows the bartender to the train station. While they are alone on the platform, he comes up behind her, thinking about pushing her on to the tracks but another passenger arrives. Eventually, they end up in his neighborhood and begin to argue. Several men attempt to intervene. In the scuffle that ensues, someone in the crowd pushes the bartender into traffic.
Carol returns to her apartment and finds Burgess waiting for her. He knows about her following the bartender and he believes that Scott is innocent because a guilty man would have come up with a better story. They go to the theater where a provocatively dressed Carol gets Cliff the drummer’s attention while he’s on stage. He takes her to an after-hours jazz club that is a little too wild for her. Cliff sits in for a song and drums maniacally.
Cliff’s place turns out to be a dump; he says he spends his dough on other things. Eventually, he admits to getting $500 for saying he didn’t see “some dame.” Carol wants to know who gave him the money. He says it was some man. Carol’s purse spills. (The purse has a J on it; she claims to be Jeanie.) Cliff finds a police document that describes him. Carol runs out and calls Burgess from a Deli across the street.
While she waits, Cliff has a visitor (Franchot Tone), who we will later find out is Scott’s friend Marlow. Marlow gives a weird speech about hands, how they can be used for either good or evil. He pulls off his scarf and wraps the ends around his hands.
Carol again meets with Scott at the prison. There are 18 days left before his execution. This is the time and place where he suggests she call him Scott. He senses that she is in love and he wants to be happy for her. She tells him that she is in love with her boss; he didn’t know she had another job. As she is leaving, Scott’s friend Marlow arrives; he had been away in South America and didn’t know what had been happening.
At Marlow’s office, Carol tells him that there is only the singer, Estela Monteiro, left. And she’s leaving town, tonight is the last show. With Burgess they attend the wrap party, Carol wants to get the name of the milliner. After the party, Carol makes her way to Estela’s dressing room but everything is gone. Marlow followed her in; he turns the lights on at the dressing table. Burgess comes in and Carol leaves. There follows a conversation about murders. Burgess calls them paranoiacs. Marlow becomes defensive, tries to massage away his headache before he collapses. When he gets him up, Burgess tells Marlow to see a doctor about his dizzy spells.
Though she didn’t catch Estela at her apartment, Carol sees hat boxes from Kettisha being carried away. At Kettisha’s shop, Carol, with Marlow, sees a sketch of Estela’s hat. At first, the hat maker denies making a copy of the hat but when a man’s life is in the balance… She admits taking $50 for making a copy for a regular customer, Miss Ann Terry.
After getting the name and address, Marlow drives them to a large house in the country. Dr. Chase (Virginia Brissac) tells them that Miss Terry was removed herself from society after her fiancé died. The Doctor agrees to take Carol, alone, to see Ann. “Don’t let her get too excited.”
The doctor took Carol in; Ann is slow to respond to their presence. Finally, she agrees to talk to Carol alone. “I’ve been sick,” she admitted. This is my grandmother’s house; I’ll never marry. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Carol left but returned a few minutes later to find Ann looking at the hat. Carol asks if she can borrow it. Earlier, realizing that Carol was in love, Ann said, “You want to wear it for him.”
Marlow drives Carol home; so relieved, she rests her head on his shoulder. Marlow’s head is aching, he twitches. At the first store they see, Carol wants to stop and call Burgess. Marlow says that he will do that. He claims that Burgess will meet them at his apartment.
At Marlow’s apartment, Carol is happy and chatty. Silly hat- She wants to hear the real murderer sentenced as Scott was sentenced. She notices Marlow’s headaches, gets him to lay down on the couch and put a wet rag over his head. While he’s laid out, she finds the bag, Jeanie’s bag in Carol, as Jeanie, bedroom along with the police report.
Then there’s a rush of events: Marlow lying on the couch- the phone rings- Marlow lies there lifelessly. He asks her to come to him; she does. He turns off the lights; “Hurts my eyes.” People have lived here for thousands of years and they want to give…. I don’t know.
For Marlow, this is a desperate time. He wants to kill Carol. He wraps the ends of his tie around his hands. As he approaches her, Marlow makes it clear that he thinks his life is more important than anyone else’s life. But as he approaches her, Burgess breaks through the door. He has used the experiential, but everyone is impressed.

 

June Star of the Month: Joseph Cotten

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Born in Petersburg, Virginia in 1905 Joseph Cotten rose to prominence on Broadway starring in The Philadelphia Story and Sabrina Fair. He went on to a successful career in film starring alongside Orson Welles in his films Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Journey into Fear. He had great success as a leading man of the forties starring in Portrait of Jenny, Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Duel in the Sun and The Third Man. 

While studding acting in Washington DC Cotton worked as an advertising agent. It was while working as a critic that he became interested in theater. Cotten began working in Virginia and then in New York City. He made his Broadway debut in 1930.  In 1934 Cotten met Orson Welles at The American School of Air. In 1936 he appeared in Welles production Horse Eats Hat. In 1937 he became a member of Welles Mercury Theater. In 1939 Cotton returned to Broadway in The Philadelphia Story opposite Katherine Hepburn. In 1940 Orson Welles began filming Citizen Kane after the success of War of the Worlds. Joseph starred opposite Welles in the lead role as his best friend. Other Mercury Theater performers including Agnes Moorehead also starred. The film had a slow start due to its inspiration from the life of William Randolph Hearst who did not allow his news paper to run advertisements. In 1942 Citizen Kane won an Academy Award for best screenplay and is now widely considered the best film of all time. 

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The 1940’s was the most successful decade for Cottens career. He appeared as a serial killer in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt along side Teresa Wright, Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Angela Lansbury. He went on to star alongside Jennifer Jones in four films. The most notable being Duel in the Sun with Gregory Peck and Portrait of Jenny. In 1949 he starred alongside friend Orsen Welles in The Third Man. In the 1950’s his career cooled and he began appearing in TV, including The Joseph Cotten Show. The 1960’s saw Cotten appearing in a number of foreign films. Heavens Gate one of the least successful films of all time would one of his last. He went on to appear in a few guest appearance including on Life Boat. After suffering from throat cancer Cotten retired from acting and spent his time with his wife.

Still from Shadow of a Doubt
Still from Shadow of a Doubt

Chances are you wont find many people in Hollywood that would say something bad about Joseph Cotten.  He was an honest man, more of star than an a character actor but it was his presence on screen that struck a chord with audiences. The directors of three of his films, Citizen Kane, Shadow of a Doubt and The Third Man list these as their favorites and Cotten appears in all of them. It is his performance in Shadow of a Doubt that makes that film as one of my two favorite Hitchcock films. To lovers of Alfred Hitchcock you will know him as Uncle Charlie, a black widower idealized by his sister and niece. Know to film audiences at the time as a nice guy, his portrayal as Uncle Charlie was quite a shock but that is where I discovered him.

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If you have yet to discover Joseph Cotten check out Shadow of a Doubt, The Third Man, and Citizen Kane. Other great films include Duel in the Sun and Portrait of Jenny both opposite Jennifer Jones. His tall stature, wavy blonde hair and baritone voice make him an actor that is hard to miss.

November Star of the Month: Lauren Bacall

Opp’s! Is it already December? I want to apologize for dropping the ball on this one. I was working on this one for awhile. Coming back and fourth. I allowed the last week to get away from me.  I’ll blame it on the stress of the holidays. I know that I have missed a few months but I want to get back on the horse and continue with my stars of the month, so here we go.

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Lauren Bacall is our November star of the month. She passed away on September 16 of this year at the age of 89. Death wasn’t going to take this fire cracker early. What do you think of when you hear the name Lauren Bacall? What movie does your mind usually venture to? If you’re a fan of Marilyn Monroe I am guessing How to Marry a Millionaire but if you are fan of the actress herself I am going to take a wild guess and say her early work with husband Humphrey Bogart. Did you know they met when she was 19 on the set of To Have and Have Not? This is where they fell in love.

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Bacall is just as known for her outspoken personality as she is for her performances. A strong and brave women mirroring the characters she played. Born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924 in New York City. She died Aug 12, 2014 a little over a month from her 90 birthday. She is one of the four inspirations for Jessica Rabbit (Are you surprised?) along with Veronica Lake, Julie London and Rita Hayworth. Just look at that stare.

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Lauren referred to as Betty by close friends through her life was 18 when she graced the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. This led to her first film role when she was discovered by Howard Hawks. He dismissed her at first due to her voice. She left his office to return two weeks later with the lower pitch she is now famous for. He cast her in To Have and Have Not.

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Winner of a two Tony Awards. One for her role as Margo Channing in the Broadway production of Applause. Applause is a musical adaptation of All About Eve. Her second was for her role in Woman of the Year based on the film of the same name. In her career she never won an Academy Award, though she was nominated once for her role in The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996. Lauren Bacall had an open mind that I believe contributed to her roles as the sultry characters she played along side husband Humphrey Bogart. She wasn’t afraid to speak up and talk openly about what she believed in. Bacall left behind a legacy with as many layers as the characters she’s played.