on September 29, 2006
Drawing on his life of crimefighting to write a short story, Raymond Chandler's tough but noble P.I. Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery, pulling double duty as actor and director) submits his work to Kingsby Publications, home of such pulp fiction mags as LURID DETECTIVE and MURDER MASTERPIECES. Before he can say "byline," editor Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) has Marlowe up to his neck in murder, missing dames, and crooked cops -- and you can see things Marlowe's way, literally! Before all those slasher movies came along during the last couple of decades, LADY IN THE LAKE used the subjective camera treatment -- hell, the camera was practically a character in the flick! Throughout most of LADY..., we see everything exactly as Marlowe sees it; the only times we see Marlowe/Montgomery's face is when he looks in a mirror, as well as in a brief prologue, an entrè-acte segment, and an epilogue. In the trailer (featured on the spiffy new DVD version of LADY..., along with an enjoyable and informative commentary track by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini), MGM's publicity department did its best to push the film as the first interactive movie experience: "MGM presents a Revolutionary motion picture; the most amazing since Talkies began! YOU and ROBERT MONTGOMERY solve a murder mystery together! YOU accept an invitation to a blonde's apartment! YOU get socked in the jaw by a murder suspect!" YOU occasionally start snickering in spite of yourself when the subjective camera gimmick teeters dangerously close to parodying itself, like when Totter moves in for a smooch with Our Hero The Camera. Some of Totter's facial expressions in the first half of the film as she spars verbally with Montgomery are pretty funny, too, though I'm not sure all of them were meant to be (she uses the arched eyebrow technique done so much more effectively later by CQ's Angela Lindvall, Eunice Gayson of DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Leonard Nimoy, The Rock, et al... :-). Having said that, the subjective camera technique works more often than not; in particular, I thought the fight scenes and a harrowing sequence where an injured Marlowe crawls out of his wrecked car worked beautifully. It helps that Steve Fisher provided a good solid screenplay for Raymond Chandler's novel, though Chandler purists were annoyed that the novel's pivotal Little Fawn Lake sequence was relegated to a speech in the recap scene in the middle (apparently they tried to film that scene on location, but the subjective camera treatment proved harder to do in the great outdoors, so they gave up). The performances are quite good overall, including Lloyd Nolan as a dirty cop and an intense dramatic turn by young Jayne Meadows. Montgomery's sardonic snap mostly works well for cynical Marlowe, though he sometimes forgets to tone it down during tender dialogue, making him sound simply cranky. Totter eventually tones down her mugging and becomes genuinely affecting as her Adrienne lets down her guard and begins falling for Marlowe. You may love or hate this LADY..., but if you enjoy mysteries and you're intrigued by offbeat movie-making techniques, give her a try!
If you know anything about this film at all, you probably know two facts: first, it's based on a Raymond Chandler novel, with Montgomery playing Phillip Marlowe, and second, that it's filmed entirely in point-of-view - the only major Hollywood film ever shot this way, though almost half of the same year's earlier DEAD RECKONING, another noir with Bogart, was done the same way. Here it's the whole shebang, with Montgomery sitting at a desk at the beginning telling us how it's going to unfold and re-appearing a couple of times over the course of the film but otherwise showing up only as the voice of the camera and occasionally in mirrored reflection.
The film gets a lot of criticism for being a "stunt" and for being lethargic, because of the need for long shots and scenes - but I thought it worked quite well, actually. Marlowe is hired by a publisher's assistant who turns out to be the real central character of the film and is played for a wonderful combination of reserve, cattishness and brashness by Audrey Totter. His assignment is to find the wife of Totter's boss (Leon Ames) who has apparently run off to Mexico to get married. Of course, it doesn't turn out to be that simple; a couple of murders happen, Marlowe may be implicated himself, there's a dirty cop (Lloyd Nolan) who has it in for our hero right away and who is himself mixed up in the case, etc.
To me the long takes - some quite virtuosic - and rather static feel of many of the scenes really helps to build the suspense, and though we know (obviously) that Marlowe himself is going to make it through to the end, none of the rest of it is crystal clear. The film uses music and sound quite excellently - there's a really amazing sequence where Marlowe is driving and the spookiness of a wordless choral piece as he motors along a deserted road outside of town at night gives a positively Lynchian feel - which continues as he's forced off the road and has to try to get out of being made to look like a drunk driver who has crashed. This entire sequence is one of the creepiest and most suspenseful in the whole classic noir cycle I think and really helps to elevate the film into special territory.
All in all, it's a fascinating experiment and certainly one of the more intriguing directorial debuts of the period. I haven't yet listened to the commentary track all the way through but I've sampled it and it's a good one. Though this is far from my absolute favorite classic noir, it is definitely one of the must-sees for it's stylistic daring and for Totter's archetypal good girl/bad firl performance.
"Lady in the Lake" is something of an experiment in subjective camera by actor/director Robert Montgomery. Somehow I doubt that's what MGM had in mind for a crime film based on Raymond Chandler's novel of the same name, Chandler being one of the most popular crime writers in America at the time. We rarely see the leading man's face. We never know much about him. The camera work is constrained by always seeing from one viewpoint. All because the camera has taken a subjective point of view, that of private detective Philip Marlowe. While this technique did present its own set of interesting challenges, not the least of which were extremely long takes and actors always playing to the camera, the subjective camera ends up being an impediment in engaging the audience visually or emotionally. It effectively takes Philip Marlowe out of the picture, leaving him a disembodied voice whose character we never know or care much about. Raymond Chandler's material should have made good film noir, but "Lady in the Lake" lacks captivating lead roles and anything interesting to look at.
Private detective Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) has turned from the mean streets to the typewriter. He has submitted a detective story to Kingsby Publications, publishers of "lurid detective stories" among other pulp fiction. At the publisher's offices, a sharp, smarmy editor named Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) offers him $200 for his story...or $500 for the story and his services in locating the wife of Adrienne's boss and lover Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames). Marlowe takes the case, but doesn't think much of Adrienne: "I have an allergy against getting mixed up with tricky females who want to knock off the boss's wife and marry him for herself." At the Kingsby's lake house in the mountains, the caretaker's wife is found drowned. Mrs. Kingsby's lover Chris Lavery (Richard Simmons) isn't doing any better. And a police Lt. DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan) has taken a particular dislike to Marlowe's snooping around. -All of which leads everyone to wonder if Mrs. Kingsby is to blame for the trouble or some victim of it.
We catch the occasional glimpse of Philip Marlowe in a mirror, and he addresses the camera directly, awkwardly, several times -to introduce the case and keep us informed of his progress. But Robert Montgomery is too excited and earnest in those scenes. And when he tries a more deadpan delivery in his voice-over narration, Montgomery just sounds grouchy and affected. The wonderful hard-boiled dialogue in "Lady in the Lake" is wasted on poor delivery. Since we can't usually see Marlowe, focus is shifted to Adrienne. Having to constantly act to the camera, with Montgomery saying his lines while squatting on a platform under the camera, didn't display Audrey Totter's talent to its best advantage. Adrienne is very unnatural. Two underperforming leads sap a lot of interest out of this film, but there are some strong supporting performances. Lloyd Nolan, who may have been known best in the 1940s for playing good, wise law enforcement officers, plays a corrupt cop here. He reputedly had trouble acting to the camera, but he's terrific. The other notable performance is by Jayne Meadows as fast-talking, disturbed Mildred Haveland.
"Lady in the Lake"'s best scene by far is its last (before the epilogue scene), because it brings together the film's strong elements: Nolan, Meadows, and a slew of hard-boiled lines, delivered perfectly by Nolan: "How does it feel dying in the dirty middle of somebody else's love affair?" I sure wish I'd had some inkling of how it felt before the last scene. "Dark Passage", released later the same year (1947), is another film famous for its use of subjective camera. It also managed to show off its leads -Bogie and Bacall- rather poorly while presenting an impressive supporting cast. "Lady in the Lake" is a slightly better film than "Dark Passage", because its source material is better. But it should have been good. Instead, it's tedious.
The DVD (Warner Brothers 2006): This print is speckly in places, but not to the extent that it is distracting. Sound is good. Bonus features are a theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by film noir scholars Alain Silver and James Ursini. I think they are too enamored of the subjective camera technique, which does nothing good for this particular film, but Silver and Ursini do a nice job of exploring the implications and challenges of subjective camera. They also discuss Raymond Chandler, this interpretation of the Marlowe character, the long takes, Adrienne's expanded role, the actors, MGM's high key glamour look in the film. The commentary focuses more on technique than other Silver/Ursini commentaries that I've heard, with a lot of scene-by-scene analysis, probably because technique is this film's claim to fame.
on November 16, 2013
Lady in the Lake (Robert Montgomery, 1947, 105')
Raymond Chandler (1888 Chicago-1959 La Jolla) and Dashiell Hammett (1894 St Mary's-1961 New York) are two of the first names associated with the American série noir films starting around 1941. Samuel Dashiell Hammett was an author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories, a screenplay writer, and political activist. Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, and the Continental Op. Movies are The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, Miller's Crossing, More. Nominations for Academy Award for Screenplay.
Chandler was a novelist and screenwriter. In 1932, at age forty-four, he decided to become a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Depression. Movies were The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, The Long Goodbye, The Lady in the Lake. Received Edgar Award for Best Novel. Somewhat surprisingly to this reviewer (who only received the film a few weeks ago), Lady in the Lake, with Robert Montgomery, director and main lead, never gained anywhere the publicity and prominence of the other série noir titles just mentioned. This defies the number of variations Chandler wrote on the subject, and also the uniform quality stylisation of ALL the actors, major and minor roles alike, but notably Audrey Totter as A(drienne) Fromsett.
Chandler, a twice Oscar nominated screenwriter, did not author the screenplay for this or any other screen adaptations of his own novels. Here, he disdained Montgomery's ambition to create a cinematic version of the first-person narrative style of his Philip Marlowe novels. With the exception of a couple of times when Montgomery (in character) addresses the audience directly, the entire film is shot from the viewpoint of the central character, Marlowe. The audience sees only what he does. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promoted the film with the claim that it was the first of its kind and the most revolutionary style of film since the introduction of the talkies. The movie was also unusual for having virtually no musical soundtrack.
What strikes me, today, after umpteen viewings, why the film is not valued along the lines of The Maltese Falcon and the Big Sleep, let alone any number of slightly minor A+'s like To have and have not, Double indemnity, The long goodbye &c? It was top at the time and is top even more so now. Sorry for the ones who missed it - but you who read this can still get it. DO SO
252us - Lady in the Lake (Robert Montgomery, 1947, 105') -A jewel of the American série noire - 16/11/ 2013
on June 2, 2004
The 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film "Rear Window" showed us a murder through the eyes of Jimmy Stewart. Throughout the entire movie we only saw what Stewart saw, this added to the suspense the film tried to create. I personally liked the gimmick, but it seems Robert Montgomery (who does double duty as the film's director) beat him to the punch. Only I'm not sure it was a device that needed to be used.
"The Lady in the Lake" has Robert Montgomery playing Raymond Chandler's famous detective Philip Marlowe, and we go through over all the steps Marlowe has as the story is told in flashback form. First of all I don't think Montgomery was correct for the role, or maybe he was but I dislike his interpretation. I find he did comedy quite well watch Noel Coward's "Private Lives" and "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" though here he seems a little stiff. Not exactly comfortable with the role.
As I said the main problem I have with the film is the gimmick used of us basically playing the character ourselves. It's clever but it doesn't really add anything to the film. It could have been told in a conventional manner and still worked. And who knows, it could have been a better film.
Robert Montgomery directed 6 films, one of them he went uncredited for, and it just so happens that one is probably his most famous film as director, John Ford's "They Were Expendable". I haven't seen any other film he's directed, but I wasn't terribly impressed. What makes this film memorable, if it is memorable, is not the directing, the acting, the script, or anything else, its mainly the camera device used.
"The Lady in the Lake" is an OK film. I don't think it's one of the great detective stories of Hollywood's Golden Age, and I don't think Montgomery made a great Marlowe. This film made me watch to watch Bogart in "The Big Sleep" I film I prefer over this one.
Bottom-line: Decent detective story based on Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe character. The movie's gimmick gets in the way though and prevents it from becoming a better movie. Some of the acting, especially the performances by Audrey Totter and Montgomery seem stiff and in the case of Totter she seems to be over acting at moments. Not one of my favorites.
on March 23, 2004
Drawing on his life of crimefighting to write a short story, Raymond Chandler's tough but noble P.I. Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) submits his work to Kingsby Publications, home of such pulp fiction mags as LURID DETECTIVE and MURDER MASTERPIECES. Before he can say "byline," editor Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) has Marlowe up to his neck in murder, missing dames, and crooked cops -- and you can see things Marlowe's way, literally! Before all those slasher movies came along during the last couple of decades, LADY IN THE LAKE used the subjective camera treatment -- hell, the camera was practically a character in the flick! Throughout most of LADY..., we see everything exactly as Marlowe sees it; the only times we see Marlowe/Montgomery's face is when he looks in a mirror, as well as in a brief prologue, an entrè-acte segment, and an epilogue. MGM's publicity department did its best to push it as the first interactive movie experience: "MGM presents a Revolutionary motion picture; the most amazing since Talkies began! YOU and ROBERT MONTGOMERY solve a murder mystery together! YOU accept an invitation to a blonde's apartment! YOU get socked in the jaw by a murder suspect!" YOU occasionally start snickering in spite of yourself when the subjective camera gimmick teeters dangerously close to parodying itself, like when Totter moves in for a smooch with Our Hero The Camera. Some of Totter's facial expressions in the first half of the film as she spars verbally with Montgomery are pretty funny, too, though I'm not sure all of them were meant to be (she uses the arched eyebrow technique done so much more effectively later by CQ's Angela Lindvall, Eunice Gayson of DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, Leonard Nimoy, The Rock, et al... :-). Having said that, the subjective camera technique works more often than not; in particular, I thought the fight scenes and a harrowing sequence where an injured Marlowe crawls out of his wrecked car worked beautifully. It helps that Steve Fisher provided a good solid screenplay for Raymond Chandler's novel, though Chandler purists were annoyed that the novel's pivotal Little Fawn Lake sequence was relegated to a speech in the recap scene in the middle (apparently they tried to film that scene on location, but the subjective camera treatment proved harder to do in the great outdoors, so they gave up). The performances are quite good overall, including Lloyd Nolan as a dirty cop and an intense dramatic turn by young Jayne Meadows. Montgomery's sardonic snap mostly works well for cynical Marlowe, though he sometimes forgets to tone it down during tender dialogue, making him sound simply cranky. Totter eventually tones down her mugging and becomes genuinely affecting as her Adrienne lets down her guard and begins falling for Marlowe. You may love or hate this LADY..., but if you enjoy mysteries and you're intrigued by offbeat moviemaking techniques, give her a try!
on January 12, 2001
What a movie!GreatB/W movie that is completely shot out of the eyes of the main character Phillip Marlowe. It's about a P.I who is hired to find a missing person. The one-liners and facial expressions are hilarious. I was rolling on the floor. A must see!
on October 7, 2010
This is a review for THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947) directed by Robert Montgomery. THE LADY IN THE LAKE is the famous forties mystery featuring Philip Marlowe that uses the subjective camera technique, in other words, "all the characters talk to you." The camera substitutes for Philip Marlowe, played by Robert Montgomery in THE LADY IN THE LAKE, and it is quite an experience for the first portion of the film but after a while it does get a little tiring. Also, after a while, it does seem more like a gimmick more than anything else, excepting maybe a waste of all that wonderful forties ambience and atmosphere used in such a wrongheaded fashion.
The story concerns the missing wife of the publisher of a crime magazine and the publisher's assistant (and apparent lover), Adraianne Fromsett, played by Audrey Totter, who hires Marlowe (and buys a detective story from him) to
help solve the case. Before he knows it Marlowe is up to his typewriter in mystery, mayhem and murder.
THE LADY IN THE LAKE features some fine supporting performances from Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames and Jayne Meadows but the two stars, Mr. Montgomery and Audrey Totter probably would've benefitted from a more conventionally filmed story.
I'm afraid I have to rate THE LADY IN THE LAKE Three and One Half Stars.
If you like Philip Marlowe and respect Raymond Chandler, about the only thing to do when watching Lady in the Lake is to sit there in slack-jawed awe at what star and director Robert Montgomery did to the story and to Marlowe.
"She was bad. She was dangerous. I wouldn't trust her any farther than I could throw her." Wait, wrong film. That's part the Girl Hunt Ballet, a sharp, amusing parody of tough guy noir written by Alan Jay Lerner from The Bandwagon. Montgomery gives us a parody, too, but it's earnest and unintentional. Montgomery was a perfect star in a lot of sophisticated light comedies during the Thirties. He did a decent job as a PT boat commander in They Were Expendable. Give him a role with an accent or with an attitude, and he wasn't always so good. As Philip Marlowe, Montgomery is too smooth looking and too unbelievable with rough words and pulp dialogue. Instead of sounding tough and cynical, or both, he most often sounds petulant and irritable. Montgomery playing Marlowe is as believable as Deanna Durbin playing Blanche DuBois.
The movie was a labor of love for Montgomery because he was convinced that he had a marvelous new way to tell a story that would be a smash, and not just with all those fists aiming right for the camera lens. He would be Philip Marlowe, not another charming Montgomery character, and the audience would see things through Marlowe's eyes, meaning through the camera. The audience, in fact, would barely see the face of Montgomery at all. It turned out to be one of those ideas that is just a gimmick. We're seeing things through Marlowe's eyes, but a camera is big and heavy. When Marlowe turns his head to follow a lush secretary leaving a room, the lens moves with all the deliberation of a battleship trying to make a left turn. The other actors who must talk with Marlowe must act while looking directly into the camera. It's awkward and self-conscious. Only Lloyd Nolan as police lieutenant DeGarmo handles this well. Unfortunately, Audrey Totter as the love interest and a key character has most of the screen time with Marlowe. She's not actress enough to carry off the charade of pretending the camera is a person.
The one plus for the movie is the story, a more-or-less accurate rendition of Chandler's The Lady in the Lake. Marlowe is hired to investigate the apparent disappearance of the wife of a successful publisher. The person who hires him is the woman who really runs the husband's company, played by Totter. She has her eyes on becoming the new wife. Marlowe quickly finds himself in the middle of a complex plot of murder. When a female body is found in Little Faun Lake, Marlowe has to deal with tough cops, beatings, gigolos, a corpse in a shower and, just maybe, another murder committed some time ago that might mean more than one lady in the lake. The start of the movie during the Christmas season is clever, with Christmas carols and a revolver. The ending is not. Marlowe solves the case and then heads for New York with his new girlfriend to try his hand at writing stories. Montgomery should have let Marlowe solve the case, then left him alone in his office to sip bourbon and contemplate the sad ways of women and men.
To see Marlowe at his best in movies, watch Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep; Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet, and Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye. All do fine jobs even with different styles. Even better, read Raymond Chandler's novels. If you don't have them already, I'd buy The Library of America's two volumes of Chandler. Look for Raymond Chandler: Stories and Early Novels: Pulp Stories / The Big Sleep / Farewell, My Lovely / The High Window (Library of America); and Raymond Chandler: Later Novels and Other Writings: The Lady in the Lake / The Little Sister / The Long Goodbye / Playback /Double Indemnity / Selected Essays and Letters (Library of America). Amazon has both at a very good price. And, unlike Montgomery, Raymond Chandler spells his man's name correctly. That's Philip with one "l." Montgomery gets it wrong not only in the movie credits but on Marlowe's own driver's license. I was surprised the Bay City cops didn't catch it. In the book, of course, the cops saw that the right spelling was used.
The DVD transfer of Lady in the Lake looks just fine.
on May 3, 2001
This movie is shot entirely with a subjective camera, which means that we see the movie from the eyes of the lead character, Philip Marlowe. It make she movie more interesting, but not better nor worse than if t wouldn't have been shot that way. It just feels quite different that all the actors are looking and talking into the camera.
Robert Montgomery makes a quite good Philip Marlowe, but we don't see him much, only in mirrors and a few short scenes in which he's telling the story to us. He has a number of great one-liners, just like in Chandler's books. Most of the other actors are decent too, but not fantastic and some of them seems slightly uncomfortable looking into the camera when acting.
The plot is a little complicated, but far from as complicated as in The Big Sleep (1946), where even Raymond Chandler didn't know who was he murder of a victim, at least that's what a rumor says. This movie isn't as good as The Big Sleep either, but it is a decent, quite entertaining movie. I can recommend it, but it's not quite as good as most other Film-Noirs I have seen.