Ella Raines. A noun that sounds like poetry and a woman who certainly inspires creativity. But Ella Raines, most of all, remains what we could call a mystery or even, a myth. No, she was not a myth in the same way Marilyn Monroe was (because everybody has heard of Marilyn Monroe) but more in the aura that emanated from her and tackled the curiosity of the most curious like me. Her filmography, just like the other brunette-with-beautiful-eyes Vivien Leigh, is relatively small, as it includes “only” 22 films (all released between 1943 and 1956). I have myself not seen ALL her films. So far, the list of seen includes Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, 1944), Hail the Conquering Hero (Preston Sturges), Brute Force (Jules Dassin, 1947) and The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (Robert Siodmak, 1945). Somehow, I feel I might have seen A Dangerous Profession (Ted Tetzlaff, 1949) since it also stars George Raft and I sort of have these George Raft moods at time, but I’m not 100% sure. Although the count is, at the moment, quite small, it doesn’t reduce the importance that Ella Raines took in my life.
Yesterday, on August 6, 2020, this interesting woman would have been 100 years old. I discovered it a bit too late in the day to start a blog post. However, it’s not because we have moved to the following day that the inspiration to write about Ella has suddenly vanished. In fact, I gave myself the occasion to watch the good The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry yesterday (also starring a relatively sympathetic George Sanders – imagine!). Therefore, I took the opportunity to explore a bit more of Ella Raines before writing this article.
If I’m not mistaken, the first film I ever saw with Ella Raines was probably Brute Force although, at the time, I didn’t pay that much attention to her because her appearance in the film is relatively small. And then, in a university class on film noir (how cool is that?!), I was introduced to Phantom Lady, which is, undeniably, one of her signature films. I became quite mesmerized by her. Ella Raines starred in pictures directed by significant old Hollywood figures such as Preston Sturges, Jules Dassin, or John Sturges. However, it’s perhaps film noir master Robert Siodmak that took more significance in her acting career. Not only did her first starring role was in a Siodmak film (Phantom Lady– precisely), but she also appeared in four of his films. Consequently, could we say that she was one of his muses?
The day I saw Phantom Lady for the first time is the day the game truly changed. The character she played, Carol “Kansas” Richmond, Alan Curtis’s helping secretary, had many intriguing characteristics that made her, well, a pretty perfect character. Perfect in the sense that we remember her and that we might want her pattern to be transposed on other characters. And this is what happened to me. As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion on social media, Kansas has inspired some of my screenplay characters. Without disclosing too many details, I’m currently working on a screenplay in which the main female character, a secretary as well, could have been played by Ella Raines if we could go back in time. Kansas’s attitude, self-insurance, loyalty, sense of help and courage are all characteristics that stick perfectly with my character. And her physical appearance as well. This dark hair, these mystical eyes and this sparkling smiles are traits that would make my character a most charismatic one. And it’s not just Kansas really; it’s Ella Raines herself as well. Yes, it’s the kind of role that could fit many actresses, but there’s just something about Ella that makes it one of a kind.
Other than that, this scene where Kansas stalks that bartender has also inspired me for the development of a character in a future screenplay (you know, I have ideas). In opposition to Phantom Lady, the screenplay I’m currently working on is not a film noir but a comedy. However, Ella Raines, without being a “clown”, has proved us with films like Hail the Conquering Hero, that she was perfectly able to fit the comic genre. So, it goes without saying that Ella Raines is central to my screenplay inspirations!
And then there’s this photo….
If Ella Raines’s importance to Robert Siodmak’s filmography and my screenplays is incontestable, we must remember that she more curiously became part of Man Ray’s artistic work. For those who are not familiar with Man Ray, he was an American artist who found its importance in the dada and surrealist art movements. His work includes painting, photography, sculpture and even filmmaking! I’m especially a fan of his photos. Man Ray was famous for his portrait photographies. Among his muses, we can list Lee Miller or Kiki de Montparnasse. Although he did not make her one of his regular models, Ray somehow contributed to Ella Raines mysticism with this photo. If you are familiar with the actress, you might have seen it before. Otherwise, here’s your occasion to observe this wonder!
With his surrealist touch, he was quite able to add more mystery around Ella Raines. Moreover, that shadow certainly was a brilliant way to highlight the importance of her figure in films noirs! I honestly would like to know more about this photo session. There’s not much information about it. Why did Man Ray choose Ella Raines over someone else? How did they work together? Well, I guess not knowing much about it contributes to that aura of mystery.
Ella Raines is definitely an actress we can call underrated. Her acting talent, although very much present, is rarely mentioned. However, I have discovered over the years that more people than I thought had a certain fascination for her. So, why don’t we continue to highly her work and talk about her? She deserves it and not only on her centenary! On my side, I will make sure to watch more of her films because four (or five?) is certainly not enough. Hopefully, she will continue to inspire me in many ways!
In this article, I have mostly talked about Ella Raines-the-actress. If you want to know more about her life, I invite you to check this interview with her daughter Christina Olds that was published on the great website Cine Suffragette yesterday. Seriously, props to them for honouring Ella Raines this way!
Once again, happy heavenly birthday Ella!