Wednesday, 6 March 2019

On Blu-ray - David Hare revels in Robert Siodmak's great noir PHANTOM LADY

The four screens  at the foot are from Arrow's new Blu-ray of Siodmak's Phantom Lady (cover below). The first four screens (above) are taken from the now ten year old Carlotta DVD from the same sequences, if not exact frames.

FIrst thing to say after celebrating the debut of this movie onto Blu-ray is to note the sources for the older DVD and the new BD are completely different. Arrow's print from Universal shows the credits with a persistent, tiny gate hair baked into the right hand frame. There's no gate hair however in the Carlotta print. Similar disparities abound. Arrow's source tonally looks like very high quality safety 35mm, a very good vault or exhibition reissue 35mm from post 1950. Grain is fine and expertly handled, blacks are deep and contrast is very nice. It's basically terrific. 

Both do good service to Woody (Elwood) Bredell's photography but I still suspect the Carlotta's deeper black levels are more true to the original.

The Carlotta DVD (I no longer have the case only the sleeve) used to note that their source was "originale" and the image with its much deeper blacks and a kind of pearlescent grain (given the limitations of 576i Standard def rez) suggests a possible nitrate 35mm source. The Carlotta image is persistently disturbed with minor instability, either frame jitter or shrinkage related wobble, but the print is relatively free of surface emulsion flaws, like the scratches, tramlines and tics that are far more frequent on the Arrow source.

A small part of me wishes Universal had been able to supply Arrow with the nitrate used by Carlotta, but things are always a trade off in this business and the generally high quality of their newer, if unrestored 35mm master enables a near to flawless transfer for image, sharpness, grain, stability and depth. Not to mention a great lossless mono audio in which one can finally hear the warbling cornets and pizzicato strings from Universal house MD, Frank Skinner.

As for the film, this now only leaves us with Christmas Holiday as the last missing Siodmak Noir to make it to Blu. Phantom Lady has had volumes written singing its praises, and I too salute the sheer perversity of its oneiric atmosphere of decay and madness. With the sublime Ella Raines, one of the most glorious women to play all too seldom in Hollywood movies, providing a kind of absurd purity in a decaying world in which almost everyone is crazy, or corrupt. 

Christmas Holiday takes the nice girl trope even further with Deanna Durbin and cuts her loose in perhaps an equally horrifying nightmare, in which she has the bad luck to marry a psychopathic, repressed gay, momma's boy and woman killer, played by virulently scary Gene Kelly at his most lethal.

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