Continuing to liberate titles from the Universal library, TCM’s Vault Series this week offers “Dark Crimes,” a three disc set of noir (or at least noir-like) films that, amazingly enough, have never been released on American home video: the two middle entries in the Veronica Lake-Alan Ladd cycle, Stuart Heisler’s “The Glass Key” (1942) and George Marshall’s “The Blue Dahlia” (1946), plus Robert Siodmak’s first American noir, the 1944 “Phantom Lady.”
A review here in the New York Times.
I’ve always found the Siodmak film a little disappointing — despite the striking cinematography by the great Woody Bredell, it turns into a standard whodunit, with the marginal novelty of a female detective (the stunning Ella Raines) and not much of the real noir spirit (it’s a perky, cheerful kind of noir). It seems even more disappointing once you’ve seen “Pieges,” Siodmak’s last French film before his departure for Hollywood, which follows the same basic formula with the added interest of a startling, “Psycho”-style twist that involves one of the stars. “Phantom Lady”‘s most famous sequence — that steamy basement jam session, in which Elisha Cook, Jr. drums himself into an erotic frenzy as Raines, disguised as a hooker, stares him down with those cold, blue eyes — is shot in a stylized, self-conscious fashion that I used to assume was directly inspired by Gjon Mili’s amazing 1944 short “Jammin’ the Blues,” shot by Robert Burks, edited by Norman Granz and featuring Lester Young, Harry Edison, Sid Catlett, Barney Kessel, Illinois Jacquet, Jo Jones and others. But as it turns out, “Jammin’ the Blues” was released on May 5, 1944, while “Phantom Lady” came out on January 28 of that year. Did Siodmak somehow get an early look at it, or did the influence run in the other direction? Or is it all just one of those spooky, film noir coincidences?