LADY IN THE LAKE (1946) B/W 103m dir: Robert Montgomery
w/Robert Montgomery, Lloyd Nolan, Audrey Totter, Tom Tully, Leon Ames, Jayne Meadows, Morris Ankrum, Lila Leeds, Richard Simmons, Ellen Ross, William Roberts, Kathleen Lockhart
Just a routine Philip Marlowe mystery, but Montgomery as director experiments with having the audience follow the story with the hero. The result is good off-beat entertainment.
From Variety's review of the film: "Lady in the Lake institutes a novel method of telling the story, in which the camera itself is the protagonist, playing the lead role from the subjective viewpoint of star Robert Montgomery. Idea comes off excellently, transferring what otherwise would have been a fair whodunit into socko screen fare.
"Montgomery starts telling the story in retrospect from a desk in his office, but when the picture dissolves into the action, the camera becomes Montgomery, presenting everything as it would have been seen through the star's eyes. Only time Montgomery is seen thereafter is when he's looking into a mirror or back at his desk for more bridging of the script.
"Camera thus gets bashed by the villains, hits back in turn, smokes cigarettes, makes love and, in one of the most suspenseful sequences, drives a car in a hair-raising race that ends in a crash. Paul C. Vogel does a capital job with the lensing throughout, moving the camera to simulate the action of Montgomery's eyes as he walks up a flight of stairs, etc. Because it would be impossible under the circumstances to cut from Montgomery to another actor to whom he's talking, the rest of the cast was forced to learn much longer takes than usual.
"Steve Fisher has wrapped up the [Raymond] Chandler novel into a tightly-knit and rapidly-paced screenplay. Montgomery plays private detective Philip Marlowe, who's dealt into a couple of murders when he tries to sell a story based on his experiences to a horror story mag. Audrey Totter, as the gal responsible for it all, is fine in both her tough-girl lines and as the love interest."
From the article on LADY IN THE LAKE by Carl Macek and Elizabeth Ward in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, edited by Alain Silver and Ward: "One of the most unusual of Hollywood film experiments, Lady in the Lake was almost entirely photographed from a subjective point-of-view, with the camera serving as the eyes of detective Marlowe. The only break from the subjective set-up is when Marlowe sits behind his desk and introduces various confusing elements of the plot while encouraging the audience to unravel the mystery themselves and 'expect the unexpected.' By restricting the field of vision to a subjective viewpoint, the tension and effectiveness of any surprise violence foisted upon Marlowe is heightened, as in the scenes where Lavery hits him, he is doused with liquor, he crawls across the street and struggles to reach a phone, and is threatened by Mildred Haveland's gun. Particularly interesting is the use of mirrors to complement the action. When Marlowe visits Lavery, he turns to look at a clock situated near a mirror. Although Marlowe seems not to notice, the audience can see Lavery's fleeting reflection as he prepares to hit the detective, just before the actual blow lands and the screen fills with blackness. Additionally, the subjective camera records Marlowe's impressions while he listens to a character speak. For example, as he is interviewed by Adrienne Fromsett, her alluring receptionist enters the room and Marlowe follows her every move while she answers his 'stare' with seductive expressions. Not only does this technique increase visual interest, it also contrasts Adriennne's pretentiousness with Marlowe's more honest, albeit coarse, personality. A year later, Delmer Daves directed Dark Passage with a subjective camera for half that film's length, and, although the gimmick is integrated into the film to make the camera's subjectivity more meaningful to the plot, it lacks the consistent personalization of the camera as employed in Lady in the Lake. Dark Passage's camera never wanders about a room or examines a person inch-by-inch.
"Lady in the Lake's screenwriter, Steve Fisher, integrated his firsthand experience with pulp fiction to give Raymond Chandler's novel a new cinematic beginning. Fisher amusingly substituted Lurid Detective and True Horror magazine (to which Marlowe has submitted a story entitled, 'If I Should Die Before I Wake'), for the novel's 'Gillerlain Regal, the Champagne of Perfumes,' and effectively transposed Chandler's corrupt tycoon environment to a commercial literary business run by hypocrites. The dialogue is tough and gritty; and Fisher retained much of Chandler's cynical 'Marlowe' speeches, as when Adrienne says, 'I don't like your manner,' and Marlowe replies, 'I'm not selling it.' Fisher makes Adrienne Fromsett a complete character and, initially, Marlowe's chief antagonist, while Chandler kept her half hidden as her boss's devoted mistress. When the film's Marlowe breaks up Adrienne's mercenary wedding plans, she bitterly asks him, 'On what corner do you want me to beat my tambourine?' Marlowe has little idea that it should be on his corner, and Fisher keeps their verbal rivalry active until the mystery is almost at a close. When Marlowe and Adrienne admit their attraction to each other, it is a sentimental surprise dependent on the filmmaker's presumption that the audience demanded a romantic, happy ending no matter how contrived.
"Ultimately, what happens in Lady in the Lake is immaterial because the visual discipline and suspension of conventional perception required of the viewer eliminate the necessity for complete dramatic development, much in the same way that the narrative confusion of The Big Sleep is functionally irrelevant. Robert Montgomery, as the director and star of Lady in the Lake, sustains the film's one-dimensional style with noir touches, such as the body of the murdered gigolo found behind a bullet-shattered glass shower door, the oppressive antagonism of the police, and the dilapidation of Mildred's hideout. However, it wasn't until Montgomery's next directorial effort, Ride the Pink Horse, that he found a character and a style fully evocative of the social constriction and existential anguish of film noir."