WEIRDLAND: "The Lady in The Lake" on TCM for Christmas

Monday, December 15, 2014

"The Lady in The Lake" on TCM for Christmas

In 1947, MGM tried a new narrative trick. The studio wanted a way to mimic the first-person narration of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels, so it hit upon the idea of shooting an entire film from the detective's perspective. The result was Robert Montgomery's The Lady in the Lake, and it's an odd watch. We're seeing the mystery from Marlowe's eyes, but we're not really Marlowe; our eyes don't see in black-and-white, for one, and they don't see in the Academy ratio. Watching it, you get the sense that there's always something you're missing, lurking just outside the frame. Source:

This splendidly gimmicky 1947 film noir classic, directed by its star Robert Montgomery, and based on the renowned hardboiled Raymond Chandler novel, was shot so that the whole story seems to be seen literally through the eyes of its private eye hero, Philip Marlowe.

When star Audrey Totter plants her lips on the subjective camera, the audience itself is kissed as the surrogate for Montgomery’s Marlowe. Montgomery directs himself in this unusual experiment whereby we never see him unless it’s in a mirror. Like the found-footage movies of the 90s era, the gimmicky idea soon becomes monotonous and contrived. But it still works reasonably well on this brilliant, highly complicated and involved Chandler yarn in which magazine editor Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) hires Marlowe (Montgomery) to search for her publisher boss Derris Kingsby (Leon Ames)’s missing wife, Chrystal.

The experiment is kind of at odds with the material and slightly works against it, ending up as a movie that’s less effective than it would be filmed straight. And yet the experiment intrigues, as you get involved in its intricacies and Chandler’s world-weary story easily and effortlessly carries the movie. And complaints that the plot’s too convoluted or too hard to follow are, as with the 1946 film of The Big Sleep, wrong-headed. You have to pay attention, but if you do, it’s all very clearly exposed.Immaculate players Totter, Ames, Lloyd Nolan (a cop, Lieutenant DeGarmot) and Tom Tully (as Captain Kane) look like they have been born to play Chandler. Jayne Meadows, Dick Simmons, Morris Ankrum, Lila Leeds, William Roberts, Kathleen Lockhart, Eddie Acuff, Wheaton Chambers, Jack Davis and Ralph Dunn also co-star. Source:

December, 28 2014 (SUNDAY) AT 10:00 PM: "THE LADY IN THE LAKE" (1947) ON TCM

"The day before Christmas, detective Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) visits Kingsby Publications in the hopes of getting one of his crime stories published. Editor-in-chief Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) has an ulterior motive for interviewing Marlowe. She wants him to locate the missing wife of her boss, Derace Kingsby, so the publisher can begin divorce proceedings. You can tell by the title that Ms. Kingsby is probably going to be very wet and very dead when they find her. Happy holidays!

Lady in the Lake is a unique achievement in many ways. Not only is it actor Robert Montgomery's first solo directorial effort (he had previously helped John Ford complete They Were Expendable (1945) when the director fractured his leg on location), but it is one of the first films to tell the entire story through the eyes of the main character - Philip Marlowe. The subjective camera was a novel idea for a mainstream Hollywood picture, but the MGM executives who green-lighted the project were puzzled by the results. They thought they were getting the actor Robert Montgomery as part of the bargain too but only glimpsed him in a few scenes, including one in a mirror reflection.

Nevertheless, the publicity department had a field day promoting this unusual film noir entry with hook lines like "YOU accept an invitation to a blonde's apartment. YOU get socked in the jaw by a murder suspect!" And Montgomery does appear on camera at the beginning to set the whole gimmick up saying, "You'll see it just as I saw it. You'll meet the people. You'll find the clues. And maybe you'll solve it quick and maybe you won't." A good deal of the budget went toward elaborate camera set-ups and breakaway sets. "The real challenge was the filming itself, "Montgomery told writer John Tuska in his book, The Detective in Hollywood. "We had to do a lot of rehearsing. Actors are trained not to look at the camera. I had to overcome all that training. I had a basket installed under the camera and sat there so that, at least, the actors could respond to me, even if they couldn't look directly at me."

When MGM purchased the rights to Raymond Chandler's fourth Philip Marlowe mystery in 1945, they asked the novelist to adapt it for the screen. It would be the only time Chandler would write a screenplay based on his own work. The result, a rambling 175-page script, was deemed unfilmable and Steve Fisher was brought in for a rewrite. Chandler insisted on a screen credit until he read Fisher's revised screenplay and then wanted his name removed from the credits. While Chandler had issues with the subjective camera gimmick and the deletion of the Little Fawn Lake sequence (a key scene in the original novel), critics were impressed with the film. Newsweek called it "a brilliant tour de force," and The New York Times reported that "The picture is definitely different and affords one a fresh and interesting perspective on a murder mystery."

Lady in the Lake is also notable as Audrey Totter's first major starring role and for Jayne Meadows' tricky impersonation of three different characters while hiding her true identity. Director: Robert Montgomery, Producer: George Haight, Screenplay: Steve Fisher, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler Source:

To really enjoy the 1947 MGM film noir Lady in the Lake, it's crucial to accept the subjective camera angle Robert Montgomery uses, and fully give yourself to seeing things via this artificial first person lens. Allow some room for deviation, too, from the expected portrayal of Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe character. It's worth leaving such preconceptions behind as the film pulls off the rare trick of being nasty and cynical while still maintaining its studio gloss as first rate entertainment wrapped in a decidedly noir package, Christmas bow and all. For all of the causticity shown by Marlowe, his scenes with Fromsett gradually reveal the desire to be vulnerable and start anew, with her, in a loving relationship. Again, maybe this isn't the Marlowe we're accustomed to elsewhere but Montgomery plays him as weary and stubborn and not terribly bright yet always, almost painfully, guarded.

His actions indicate that he wants to believe Fromsett's not involved with any of the unsavory parts of this case but he can't give himself to her until everything's been settled. Their many encounters really strengthen the film as we see the gears of romance turn much slower and more deliberately than is the norm in Hollywood. The sequence where Marlowe seems to come around involves a very domestic situation, at Fromsett's apartment. She's given him an uncharacteristically flashy robe as a Christmas gift, but Marlowe finds a card in the pocket addressed to Kingsby, indicating the robe was bought for her boss. But before Marlowe even has a chance to mention the card, Fromsett casually admits the whole thing and tells him she left it there on purpose, that she wants a fresh start where they're honest with each other. Source:

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