A lighter example of film noir, Phantom Lady is an enjoyable and well-paced drama that suffers from the fact that it decides to become a fun amateur detective romp for most of the runtime, with us viewers clued in on the (okay, fairly obvious anyway) identity of the real killer.
Things start with Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) moping in a bar after a fight with his wife. He has two tickets to a show that he may not now use, at least not until he convinces the woman beside him (Fay Helm) to accompany him. He returns home to find a heavy police presence in his home, due to the death of his wife. She has been murdered, strangled with one of Scott's ties. Scott is the main suspect, of course, but thinks he can easily provide a verifiable alibi. Unfortunately, as he goes around with the police, none of the other potential witnesses are able to back up Scott's story. Tried and given a death sentence, Scott is helpless. Except for the loyal assistance that may be offered by Carol Richman (Ella Raines), his devoted secretary.
The performances are fine from all involved, with Curtis being sidelined after the opening third to focus on the detective work from Raines, who is very likeable in her role. Thomas Gomez is enjoyably gruff as Inspector Burgess, Aurora Miranda is fun as the star of the show that Curtis and Helm got to see, Elisha Cook, Jr is a welcome addition as a drummer with one eye on his music and one always on the ladies, and Franchot Tone is the best friend of Curtis who appears just in time to help with the investigation, after hearing the news. Helm does okay in her role, but it amounts to little more than a few scenes.
Based on a novel of the same name by Cornell Woolrich, Phantom Lady is a very capable and enjoyable film, directed well by Robert Siodmak, with a fun screenplay by first-timer Bernard C. Schoenfeld (who I had encountered previously with his enjoyable screenplay for There's Always Tomorrow). The technical side of things, and the plotting, is very good, and it all feels strangely plausible, even as it veers in and out of territory that could become slightly ridiculous.
A good way to pass 90 minutes, especially if you like any of the cast members, this simply suffers in comparison to so many other crime movies from this time. It's never too tense, doesn't crackle with great lines of dialogue, and remains resolutely upbeat, much like the character played by Raines, even when things look to be at their worst. It also has a killer who is so obviously the killer that it's amazing to not see them be arrested as soon as they appear onscreen, tics and dizzy spells and all. Of course, not every film has to be an absolute classic, which is all this is guilty of.
You can buy the Blu-ray here.
Americans can get the disc here.