Phantom Lady (film)

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Phantom Lady
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on Phantom Lady
by Cornell Woolrich
Produced by Joan Harrison
Cinematography Woody Bredell
Edited byArthur Hilton
Music by Hans J. Salter
Universal Pictures
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • 28 January 1944 (1944-01-28) [1]
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States

Phantom Lady is a 1944 American film noir directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, and Alan Curtis. [1] [2] Based on the novel of the same name by Cornell Woolrich, [1] [2] it follows a young Manhattan secretary and her endeavors to prove that her boss did not murder his wife.



After a fight with his wife on their anniversary, Scott Henderson, a 32-year-old engineer, picks up an equally unhappy woman at Anselmo's Bar in Manhattan and they take a taxi to see a stage show. The woman refuses to tell him anything about herself. The star of the show they are watching, Estela Monteiro, becomes furious when she notices that she and the mystery woman are wearing the same unusual hat. When Henderson returns home, he finds Police Inspector Burgess and two of his men waiting to question him; his wife has been strangled with one of his neckties. Henderson has a solid alibi, but the bartender, taxi driver, and Monteiro deny seeing the phantom lady. Henderson cannot even clearly describe the woman. He is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Carol Richman, Henderson's loyal secretary, who is secretly in love with him, sets out to prove his innocence. She starts with the bartender. She sits in the bar night after night, staring at and unnerving him. Finally, she follows him home one night. When he confronts her on the street, some bystanders step in to restrain him. He breaks free, runs into the street and is run over. Later, Burgess offers to help (unofficially). He has become convinced that only a fool or an innocent man would have stuck to such a weak alibi. Burgess provides her with information about the drummer at the show, Cliff, who had tried to make eye contact with the mystery lady.

Carol dresses provocatively and goes to another of Cliff's shows, hoping to glean more information. By making intense eye contact with Cliff during the performance, she manages to capture his attention. Afterward, Cliff approaches her, and she returns to his apartment with him. Somewhat drunk, Cliff brags that he was paid $500 for his false testimony. However, he becomes suspicious when he accidentally knocks over her purse and, among the spilled contents, finds a piece of paper with details about him. Richman manages to escape, leaving her purse behind. After she has gone, the real murderer, Henderson's best friend Jack Marlow, shows up at the apartment and strangles Cliff to death.

Marlow has put aside business in South America to come home, ostensibly to help Richman save Henderson; secretly he works to frustrate her efforts, while hiding his own deteriorating mental state. Richman tracks down Monteiro's hatmaker, Kettisha. One of her employees admits to copying the hat for a regular customer and provides her name and address. With Burgess away on another case, Richman and Marlow go to see Ann Terry. They discover her under the care of Dr. Chase; the man she was to marry had died suddenly, leaving her emotionally devastated. Richman is unable to get any information from her, but does find the hat. Marlow suggests they wait for Burgess at Marlow's apartment. However, while she is freshening up, Richman finds her purse and the paper with Cliff's particulars in a dresser drawer. Marlow admits he became enraged when Henderson's wife refused to run away with him; she was only toying with him. Burgess arrives just in time. Marlow throws himself out the window to his death. With Henderson freed, things appear to return to normal. However, Richman is delighted to learn (from a dictaphone message) that her boss returns her love.



Phantom Lady was Siodmak's first Hollywood film noir. It was also the first producing credit by Joan Harrison, Universal Pictures' first female executive and former screenwriter for Alfred Hitchcock. [1] [3]

Cliff's frantic drum solo was dubbed by former Harry James and His Orchestra drummer Dave Coleman. [1]


Critical response

Critic Bosley Crowther was not impressed with the atmospherics of the film and panned the film for its screenplay, writing: "We wish we could recommend it as a perfect combination of the styles of the eminent Mr. Hitchcock and the old German psychological films, for that is plainly and precisely what it tries very hard to be. It is full of the play of light and shadow, of macabre atmosphere, of sharply realistic faces and dramatic injections of sound. People sit around in gloomy places looking blankly and silently into space, music blares forth from empty darkness, and odd characters turn up and disappear. It is all very studiously constructed for weird and disturbing effects. But, unfortunately, Miss Harrison and Mr. Siodmak forgot one basic thing—they forgot to provide their picture with a plausible, realistic plot." [4]

Home media

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released a made-on-demand DVD-R of the film through in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies. [5]

Arrow Films released a region A Blu-ray edition of the film through their Arrow Academy label on March 5, 2019. [6]

Radio adaptation

The Phantom Lady was presented on Lux Radio Theater , March 27, 1944. [7] [8]

The Phantom Lady was presented on Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre September 11, 1944. [9] [10] The 30-minute adaptation starred Ralph Bellamy, Louise Allbritton, David Bruce and Walter Abel. [11]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Phantom Lady (1944)". American Film Institute. Retrieved 7 March 2023.
  2. 1 2 Ward, Elizabeth; Silver, Alain, eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press.
  3. Greco, Joseph (1999). The File on Robert Siodmak in Hollywood, 1941-1951. ISBN   978-1581120813.
  4. Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 18, 1944. Last accessed: January 29, 2008.
  5. "The Phantom Lady". Amazon. Archived from the original on 11 January 2021.
  6. Dillard, Clayton (13 March 2019). "Review: Robert Siodmak's Phantom Lady on Arrow Academy Blu-ray". Slant Magazine . Archived from the original on 11 January 2021.
  7. Miklitsch, Robert (15 September 2014). Kiss the Blood Off My Hands: On Classic Film Noir. University of Illinois Press. ISBN   9780252096518 via Google Books.
  8. "The Phantom Lady by Lux Radio Theater". 7 October 2017.
  9. Verma, Neil (29 June 2012). Theater of the Mind: Imagination, Aesthetics, and American Radio Drama. University of Chicago Press. ISBN   9780226853529 via Google Books.
  10. "Listen to and download the Screen Guild Theater Radio Program, Phantom Lady, Courtesy of Jimbo Berkey".
  11. "Abel, Walter". radioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 26 May 2015.

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