Phantom Lady, Black Angel and The Window

Last night’s big Cornell Woolrich triple feature turned into a quadruple feature when Eddie Muller arranged to rescreen Suddenly. Good thing I was dressed down to go the distance and brought along a picnic dinner

First in line was Phantom Lady, one of my personal faves.

Being a bird nerd, covered with bird tattoos and obsessed with bird motifs in clothing and jewelry, I covet the huge, gaudy “phantom hat” in this film.

I also love the dress the titular character paired with this hat, which features a sequined double bird appliqué on the left shoulder. If anyone could rock this look today, I like to think it would be me.

Fashion aside, this is movie is a knockout. Based on a classic novel by Cornell Woolrich, directed by legendary Noir stylist Robert Siodmak and starring luminous beauty Ella Raines and scenery-chomping Franchot Tone as a twitchy, murderous sculptor.

A despondent everyman (Alan Curtis) gets stood up on his anniversary and ends up spending the evening with a mysterious lonely woman. When he goes home, he finds his wife strangled and himself charged with her murder. His plucky, loyal secretary (Raines) vows to do whatever it takes to prove him innocent.

The unforgettable basement jazz sequence with Elisha Cook Jr as a hopped-up drummer and trampy “hep kitten” Ella egging him on in a sweaty, manic frenzy of sexual innuendo was even better on the big screen.

I also love Carmen Miranda’s feisty little sister Aurora as the sexy, hot-tempered dancer who’s too vain to admit that another woman was wearing the same hat.

This film does have its flaws, most notably the awkward censor-driven explanation of Tone’s abrupt, not-really suicide at the end. Apparently it was forbidden for a murderer to commit suicide to evade justice, so they had to tack on a preposterous line about him accidentally falling from the balcony while trying to escape. Yeah, right after he “accidentally” flung himself through the plate glass window.

But flaws aside, this film is still one of my personal faves. Mistress Christa says check it out.

On to Black Angel.

Another Woolrich classic, packed with Noir City favorites like Dan Duryea, Peter Lorre and Broderick Crawford. The only misstep in the casting of this film is the wooden, mannish and deeply unappealing June Vincent.

Unfortunate, since her character is so central to the story.

An alcoholic piano player (Duryea) and a night club singer (Vincent) discover that their respective spouses were having an affair after the songbird’s husband is arrested for the murder of the pianist’s estranged wife. The two of them team up to find the real killer and the pianist ends up falling for the singer. Which was pretty hard to believe, considering that he was originally married to Constance Dowling.

While not as stylish as Phantom Lady, this one is a fun ride with lots of classic twists and turns. I loved Lorre as the surprisingly sympathetic aging gangster turned night club owner. His snappy line (to his hired muscle) “I don’t try to throw punches and you don’t try to think” got a big pop from the audience.

Last in the Woolrich triple feature was The Window.

Based on The Boy Who Cried Wolf, this film follows an inner city kid who witnesses a murder and can’t get anyone to believe him.

Now all you Faustketeers know I’m not a big fan of kids in real life. As a result, I find most kid-actors kind of creepy, always hamming it up and mugging for the camera. Even though Bobby Driscoll won a special Oscar for his performance in this film, I found it a bit too over-the-top in that standard kid-actor way. I wasn’t the only one who cheered when Noir City heavy Paul Stewart punched him in the face and knocked him out. Your mileage my vary.

My own personal prejudice aside, there’s lots to love in this movie. For one thing, it’s shot on location in and around the tenements of New York City, which brought back lots of memories of my own childhood playing in abandoned buildings, on fire-escapes and roof tops, also known as Tar Beach. Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman are dynamite as a murderous married couple and the suspense never lets up. Plus it was a beautifully restored 35 mm print funded by The Film Noir Foundation. Unquestionably worth watching.

As if this wasn’t enough Noir for one night, the Czar was able to arrange a do-over for the digital print of Suddenly.

The problem with the previous night’s screening happened because, although all the projection settings had been calibrated in advance and were ready to go, someone turned the machine off during the first feature. When it was turned back on, all the default settings were restored and the person who knew how to reset them had already gone home.

This time around there were no such problems and we got to see the print the way it was supposed to be shown. Clear, crisp and near-perfect. While it could be argued that the blacks were not as rich and deep as 35mm film, a simple meat-and-potatoes kind of film like Suddenly didn’t suffer from that subtle flatness the way a flashier more high-contrast film like Phantom Lady might have. The image quality was so high, that I found myself mesmerized by the scars on Sinatra’s neck. You just can’t take your eyes off him. Every second that he’s on screen he owns it completely. I enjoyed his performance even more the second time around.

There was one glitch that remained, an odd jump when the grandfather gets up from the couch. Missing frames maybe, but hardly a deal-breaker. I’ll always prefer real film, but I can live with this. I’d much rather see a digital print on the big screen than watch a muddy, half-assed transfer on YouTube. Or worse, not see it at all.

If this is the future of Noir City, then you can count me in.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.