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A Man’s Job

Wet and hazy city streets remain silent as Ella Raines follows a mysteriously nervous bartender. Her heels make the only sound, the clacks bouncing off the storefronts and creating a looming, eerie echo. This world belongs to Raines, playing a loyal secretary out to clear her boss of a wrongful murder conviction.

“It’s a man’s job!” shouts one of her male counterparts. Empowering in the 1940’s, Raines shrugs off the sexism. She’s trying to source the only alibi in the case – a “phantom” woman in a familiar hat who no one admits to seeing.

Every bit the genre film it’s intended to be, Phantom Lady uses evocative lighting, the shadows, and suggestive camerawork. Those necessities cover a phony performance from the accused (Alan Curtis) while pitting Raines against a host of men leering at her after the police fail at their jobs. She’s stellar, pushing Phantom Lady ahead with determination to clear her boss as his death penalty looms.

Phantom Lady is confined to small studio sets, yet enriches them through design and space. The apartment of a potentially psychotic artist holds only a few piece of furniture, allowing those items to reflect defining shadows. That open floor plan feels not only ahead of time, but strangely claustrophobic. Less clutter means more room to breathe – but more room to plot a kill with a false sense of security.

Damsel or not, Raines does the heavy lifting, more than the men trained to do the same

Up to Phantom Lady arriving in that apartment, it’s wound together, pitting people against one another in small places. There’s no release. A jazz party takes place in what amounts to a closet, Raines ducking trombones as the excited players ignore her. Even the streets, with their limited light, close in around her as she tries to suss out the real killer.

As wartime cinema, Phantom Lady finds its pulse turning a woman into the detective hero. She’s eventually saved by men, yet weaves through a murder conspiracy with her own wits and bravery. The same as women in the WWII homefront failed to get the recognition for their contributions, so it is for Raines. Her efforts though do not go unnoticed, turned into Phantom Lady’s focal point as she accentuates her femininity to grab some clues, turns herself into a stoic stalker, and ensnares the killer. Damsel or not, Raines does the heavy lifting, more than the men trained to do the same. She’ll take down whoever she needs to, and Phantom Lady will look gorgeous while she does.

Video

After transfers like So Dark the Night, Phantom Lady doesn’t compare. It’s fine, with appreciable resolution and the occasional moment of stand-out detail. The small, thin grain structure is easily resolved.

Yet, this master comes from lesser film elements. The significant damage and frame drops leave their marks. Stray hairs stick on the screen while the torrent of scratches and dirt pass by. Damage varies in intensity, mostly tolerable with a few scenes suffering heavy loss. A few frames drop, while a bit of gate weave completes the vintage film problems checklist.

There’s gray scale to take note of, rendered well with bright contrast. Seedier locations and those shadows display exquisite black levels. Whatever harm came to Phantom Lady’s print over 75 years of age didn’t diminish the depth. That helps overcome the organic, damaged quality while evoking a special aesthetic that can only happen naturally.

Audio

Filled with a number of live musical acts, the number of horns and drums demand aural precision. The DTS-HD track does so beautifully. Stage shows mix instruments and vocal accompaniments with limited fault. Precision and clarity both remain high-grade.

Moments of eerie silence strip away the aging. There’s no hiss or cracking to interfere, critical to maintain mood. Dialog exhibits the typical dryness of the era, and does so with an analog beauty.

Extras

A documentary from what looks like the ‘90s, Dark and Deadly, spends an hour looking at the noir genre’s ‘40s and ‘50s heyday. A number of prominent critical voices speak on the variety of films in this 52-minute piece. An original 1944 radio play of the script is included too, that running 59-minutes. Finally, there’s a photo gallery filled with marketing materials.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Phantom Lady
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

A feminine-charged noir, Phantom Lady makes a star out of Ella Raines with enough drama and intrigue to help it stand out.

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