The Phantom Lady – Ella Raines (1920-1988)

Posted in Rewind by - November 30, 2013
The Phantom Lady – Ella Raines (1920-1988)

In a career lasting barely 13 years, sultry, green-eyed Ella Raines made a handful of memorable films, and all within a five year period.  Thankfully a few of these are now rightly considered to be cult movies.

Born Ella Wallace Raines on August 6th 1920, in Washington, young Ella cherished the outdoor life. She excelled at horseback riding, along with swimming, hiking and skiing. After graduating from High School in 1938, Ella went to the University of Washington, where she had decided to study music.

After appearing in a play at the University, Ella decided to switch majors. It wasn’t long before she was invited to make a screen test in Hollywood, where her natural beauty would make her ideal for the movies. Ella’s debut was in the 1943 Randolph Scott drama ‘Corvette – K225’.

One of Ella’s best roles was as also one her first, the gripping 1944 thriller ‘Phantom Lady’. Raines plays the devoted secretary of a boss who has been wrongfully arrested for murder. She takes it upon herself to find out who the real culprit is. Robert Siodmak directed this atmospheric mystery, and although Franchot Tone received top billing, it was Raines who carried the picture entirely.

Not just  for decoration in tough thrillers, Ella then had a starring role in Preston Sturges 1944 satirical comedy ‘Hail the Conquering Hero’, playing Eddie Bracken’s girlfriend Libby. That same year, Raines was the lively love interest of John Wayne, in the minor western ‘Tall in the Saddle’.

After starring in another good thriller (1947’s The Web), Ella appeared in what is for me, her best movie, the tough 1947 prison drama ‘Brute Force’. Unfortunately hers was only a small role, told in flashback, playing weak-willed Whit Bissell’s’ wife, whom he buys a mink coat for, using his company’s money. Raines final movie of note was the 1949 film noir ‘Impact’, helping Brian Donlevy clear his name for murder.

Ella’s career in the Fifties was mainly consigned to television. She did have moderate success with the 1954 medical drama series ‘Janet Dean, Registered Nurse’. Ella retired from acting in 1957, but came back for a guest appearance in a 1984 episode of ‘Matt Houston’.

Raines decided quite early on to choose love over a career. In 1946 Ella had met World War II pilot Robin Olds. After they married the following year, Olds was transferred to England, at which time Raines moved to New York, where she decided to return to the stage. After the birth of their daughters, Christina and Susan, Ella moved to England, the location of the first of many military assignments for the couple. Married for 28 years, the couple would later divorce in 1976.

A captivating presence in one or two memorable movies, Ella Raines died from throat cancer, in California on May 30th 1988, she was 67 years old.

Favourite Movie: Brute Force
Favourite Performance: Phantom Lady

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