Phantom Lady has one of the most contrived and illogical plots in cinematic history. Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) and his wife have an argument, and he leaves their apartment and goes to a bar. Shortly after, his wife is strangled by Jack Marlow (Franchot Tone), with whom she was having an affair. Because there is no evidence connecting him with her murder, the police never suspect him, and so all he has to do is take the trip to Brazil as he already planned to.
But no! He decides that he must make sure that Henderson is suspected of the crime. So, he only pretends to get on the ship going to Brazil so that he can follow Henderson around (he catches up with the ship later by taking a plane to Havana). He sees that Henderson meets a woman (Fay Helm) in a bar, whom he persuades to go to a show with him, inasmuch as he already has tickets. She agrees, and they take a cab. They sit right up front, and it turns out that she is wearing the same unusual hat worn by the star of the show, Miss Montiero (Aurora Miranda). The drummer (Elisha Cook Jr.) takes a fancy to the woman with Henderson and flirts with her.
So, Marlow figures he must bribe the bartender, the cabdriver, and the drummer to say they never saw the woman, thereby depriving Henderson of his alibi. Marlow does not have to bribe Miss Montiero, because her vanity won’t let her admit that someone in the audience wore the same hat that she did, which she apparently disposed of. Of course, other women in the show might have remembered Miss Montiero’s hat, and other members of the band might have noticed the woman in the front row with the hat, but Marlow does not bother to bribe any of them.
As a result, the bartender says he saw Henderson at the bar, but not the woman; and the cabdriver says he picked up Henderson and drove him to the show, but there was no woman with him. And so, without an alibi, Henderson is convicted of murder on the flimsiest of circumstantial cases and sentenced to be executed. However, no one in the movie seems to realize that the bartender and cabdriver have provided Henderson with an alibi anyway. Whether he had a woman with him is irrelevant. For that matter, if Marlow was going to bribe these characters, he should have told them to deny seeing Henderson rather than deny seeing the woman with him. Had he done that, then the woman would be the only one who could provide Henderson with an alibi, and the frantic search for her by Carol “Kansas” Richman (Ella Raines), Henderson’s secretary, would have made sense.
It gets worse. Although there are only a few weeks until Henderson will be executed, Marlow returns from Brazil and decides to murder the drummer when he sees Carol trying to get information out of him. Even so, there still would be no evidence connecting him with that murder either, except that he picks up Carol’s purse, which she left behind when the drummer became angry, and puts it in a drawer in his apartment.
These do not exhaust the absurdities in this movie, which pile up on top of the ones already discussed, but there is no point in beating a dead horse. And because we immediately become aware of these absurdities as they unfold, watching the movie can be an exasperating experience.