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Customer Review

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hands.... Hands.... Hands...., January 13, 2012
This review is from: Phantom Lady [VHS] (VHS Tape)
The movie is all about modernism, right up until its very last seconds when Ella Raines is at the other end of a dictaphone with a cord so long and shiny it looks like an octopus' tentacle, and the dictaphone keeps repeating the phrase, "Every night.... Every night..." Any viewer will spot the numerous references filmmaker Siodmak makes to the modernist movement, from the huge number of technological inventions, to the attitude of the characters, even to the assertion of the primacy of the artist. It seems there are two sorts of artist, one is the decent kind embodied by Alan Curtis' character "Scott," an engineer interested in helping the poor. Then there is the sculptor Jack Marlowe, Scott's best friend, played by Franchot Tone, once the husband of Joan Crawford. Marlowe builds huge abstracted heads for public spaces, and we get to see several maquettes of them lying around his apartment, each one more crazy than the last. The set designers must have loved the Jack Marlowe character, his whole apartment is a modernist dream, there's even the famous self-portrait of Van Gogh with the bandage wrapping where his right ear once lived, hanging on the wall as if to say, "Artists are crazy mofos." It's New York and nearly everyone's an artist--the modiste, "Kettisha," who makes you an original hat (out of forty dead birds)--the matronly doctor who treats you when your fiance dies and you crack up on the floor with his clothes around you like the children you never had. Then there's a whole Broadway show, from the start of its run to the closing party.

The famous jazz sequence with Elisha Cook Jr plays this out in another way, but oh my, what a roller coaster ride that scene is! It's designed to make you think that Ella Raines is so desperate that she'll actually have sex with Cook just to get him to spill what he knows, and the actress makes herself look totally trashy and sexy, jiving to the beat, enthralled to the music, with what looks like herky-jerky cuts of a handheld camera eying her long body up and down. The truth is, she's too much woman for little Elisha Cook Jr, and he knows it. He takes her home and, well, it's all over before he begins. An incredibly tight sequence that will have your eyes bugging out. Meanwhile America's greatest actor, Thomas Gomez, does what he can with a somewhat underwritten part, as Inspector Burgess, a man as in love with his victim as is Ella Raines herself. Cops are, in general, worse than the crooks in noir movies, and this one's no exception, except for Burgess who stands out from his squad by virtue of his big sad puppy dog eyes hoping to bring one last smile from Scott.

Meanwhile Franchot Tone's monologue about how hands can do wonderful things, but hand scan also do horrible things (his own hands acting out each new example like two floating puppets disconnected from his own body) shows that someone was reading Sherwood Anderson's WINESBURG, OHIO at Universal in the Siodmak Unit....

The picture moves briskly--maybe too briskly, I would have loved to see more of implacable "Kansas" stalking that bartender, make him really squirm with her cold, appraising eyes. It's funny, Lauren Bacall gets all the acclaim, but she never did anything in her life that was anywhere near what Ella Raines does in this movie.
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Review Details



Kevin Killian

Location: San Francisco, CA United States

Top Reviewer Ranking: 2,193