Another installment in my highlighting of engineers as characters in cinema:
Phantom Lady (1944), directed by Robert Siodmak, doesn’t seem to be available anywhere but Youtube, so there I watched it, fortunately, on a large screen. The image above shows the phantom lady with the male lead, Alan Curtis as Scott Henderson. He’s just been dumped by his rich wife, who was also carrying on with his best friend.
His wife is found murdered, and Scott is fingered for the crime. He is remarkably passive about it all, but he is saved by his chipper secretary, “Kansas”, played by Ella Raines. (I read her voice was dubbed – couldn’t she do Kansas?) The scene where he throws in the towel after losing his appeal is pure Expressionism.
As noted, Kansas is of stronger stuff, and she tracks down everyone associated with the events of the fatal night, eventually finding the killer in a scene that surely inspired the finale of Jagged Edge many years later. Would you mess with Kansas? She has a remarkable clean, strong look to her.
The reliable Elisha Cook, Jr. came down from his Sierra hideaway to do his bit in the film as a hop-head drummer with the hots for Kansas, all tarted up to gain his confidence. Her legs incite his drumming to an orgasmic crescendo, but she keeps her cool.
Scott Henderson is a civil engineer, with dreams of building cities, dreams that excite the love and admiration of Kansas. (He’s too dull to notice her crush on him.) He wants playgrounds and sunlight everywhere. There we have the civil engineer as hero motif, still with some life in it in the 1940s.
Scott’s nemesis and friend, played by Franchot Tone, is an artist, an artist a bit too preoccupied with the power of his hands to create…and destroy. In a moment of candor, he derides the ambitions of his friend as paltry concerns with sewers and pipes, and whatnot.
Engineer as nebbish: a far cry from the protagonist of transatlantic tunnel.