Phantom Lady (film)

Phantom Lady is a 1944 American film noir directed by Robert Siodmak and starring Franchot Tone, Ella Raines and Alan Curtis. The film was Siodmak's first Hollywood noir and the first film produced by Joan Harrison, Universal Pictures' earliest female executive, who was associated with Alfred Hitchcock. The film was based on the novel of the same name written by Cornell Woolrich but published under the pseudonym William Irish.[1]

Phantom Lady
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Siodmak
Produced byJoan Harrison
Screenplay byBernard C. Schoenfeld
Based onPhantom Lady
1942 novel
by Cornell Woolrich
StarringFranchot Tone
Ella Raines
Alan Curtis
CinematographyWoody Bredell
Edited byArthur Hilton
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • January 28, 1944 (1944-01-28)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States


Ella Raines and Alan Curtis
Ella Raines and Franchot Tone

After a fight with his wife on their anniversary, Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis), a 32-year-old engineer, picks up an equally unhappy woman in a bar 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 (Aurora Miranda), 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 (Thomas Gomez) 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 and sentenced to death.

Carol Richman (Ella Raines), 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 (Elisha Cook, Jr.), who had tried to make eye contact with the mystery lady. Richman dresses provocatively and goes to the show. Rhythmic inter-cutting between Cliff's frantic drumming (dubbed by Dave Coleman)[2] and the leering responses of Richman leads to them going back to his apartment. Somewhat drunk, he 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 (Franchot Tone), shows up at the apartment and strangles Cliff.

Marlow, supposedly away on a job in South America, pretends to return to help Richman. She tracks down Monteiro's hatmaker, Kettisha (Doris Lloyd). 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 (Fay Helm). They discover her under the care of Dr. Chase (Virginia Brissac); 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.



Critic Bosley Crowther was not impressed with the atmospherics of the film and panned the film due to 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."[3]

Radio adaptation

The Phantom Lady was presented on Lux Radio Theater, March 27,1944.[4][5]

The Phantom Lady was presented on Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre September 11, 1944.[6][7] The 30-minute adaptation starred Ralph Bellamy, Louise Allbritton, David Bruce and Walter Abel.[8]


  1. Phantom Lady on IMDb.
  2. "Phantom Lady (1944) - Notes". TCM Movie Database. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
  3. Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 18, 1944. Last accessed: January 29, 2008.
  4. Miklitsch, Robert (15 September 2014). "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands: On Classic Film Noir". University of Illinois Press via Google Books.
  5. "The Phantom Lady by Lux Radio Theater". 7 October 2017.
  6. Verma, Neil (29 June 2012). "Theater of the Mind: Imagination, Aesthetics, and American Radio Drama". University of Chicago Press via Google Books.
  7. "Listen to and download the Screen Guild Theater Radio Program, Phantom Lady, Courtesy of Jimbo Berkey".
  8. "Abel, Walter". radioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 26 May 2015.

Streaming audio

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