Lady in the Lake

Year 1947

Robert Montgomery   as   Philip Marlowe
Audrey Totter as Adrienne Fromsett
Lloyd Nolan as Lieutenant Degarmo  
Tom Tully as Captain Kane
Leon Ames as Derace Kingsby
Jayne Meadows as   Mildred Haveland
Director - Robert Montgomery
Screenwriter - Steve Fisher
Book Author - Raymond Chandler

The book Lady in the Lake is a very fine piece of noir detective writing by Raymond Chandler. The movie Lady in the Lake is a stunted version of the book presented in an experimental first-person camera view. At best this POV makes the movie distracting; at worst the POV turns the movie into a POS. There's really no reason for the gimmick.

I'm a big, BIG fan of Raymond Chandler. Some of my writing has been done after reading his Philip Marlowe books and Chandler's is a very influential style. Chandler's style has often been imitated but never successfully duplicated.

As I said, the tale is told from a first-person point of view. See the tagline, "YOU and Robert Montgomery solve a murder mystery together." You don't really and Robert Montgomery barely does. In the movie, the mystery sort of solves itself and Robert Montgomery is along to act snotty and get beaten up.

Now I know that movies are never as good as the books upon which they're based. (Save me from the Bored of the Rings exception, fanboy!) In this instance, a lot of what the book so good is kept. The snappy dialog that only Chandler can write is included. There's even one line that I don't remember from the book. Marlowe (Montgomery) is asked by his aloof and arrogant client Adrienne Fromsett (Totter) if he wants to join her for something with ice cubes. Marlowe snidely tells her that he's surprised that she needs ice cubes. It's a good line, but kind of forced. Who asks someone out for a drink by referring to ice cubes?

Marlowe and Fromsett have a love-hate relationship in the movie. In the book, I don't remember this intimacy. Oh, Marlowe may have rolled around with Fromsett in the book (I can't remember) but he didn't fall for her.

That's another reason that I felt that the movie was flawed. Philip Marlowe, the prototype private eye, never fell for damaged goods. Philip Marlowe was tall, wide as a barn door, good looking, honest to a fault, and always was a sucker for the underdog. You could always root for Marlowe. Many people have played him from Bogart to Mitchum to Elliot Gould. Only Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely nailed the character. Too bad the screenplay was so choppy.

Montgomery as Marlowe is too nasty. The screenplay also has him attempting to bail on his client at every oppotunity. Chandler's Marlowe would never quit once he started.

Audrey Totter is nearly perfect as Adrienne Fromsett. She has way of cocking just one eyebrow that would make Leonard Nimoy envious. She's not terribly beautiful, but she's seductive in a dangerous kind of way. She's perfect for a Chandler based story.

Another thing that bothered me was the way Marlowe was always getting knocked out. With the NFL cracking down on concussions (unintended pun), you have to think that Marlowe's brain would be cottage cheese after getting knocked out three times in the space of a couple of movie days. But he's just as sharp at the end as at the beginning. Considering how dull his wits were in the movie, maybe those concussions had already taken their toll.

Malowe's flaw, besides protecting strays, is that he's almost clever enough. Marlowe thinks that he has all of the angles covered, but there's always a new one that he didn't consider that trips him up. Until the end, that is. Then Marlowe always puts the pieces together.

In this movie, he barely tries to look for the pieces. He'd rather be a grand-standing boor. Did I mention that the dialog's witty and that supporting actors range between passable to very good?

Lady of the Lake is a fairly complex plot. There's a lot more going on in the book than in the movie. The final scene between Marlowe and the killer is changed in the movie. That's too bad. In fact, none of Marlowe's trips to Little Fawn Lake, which is the titular lake, are shown in the movie. My favorite characters in the book show up at the lake, which means that they don't show up in the movie. Also missing from the movie is the wartime back story that affects the characters and what they can and cannot do. Chandler's book came out just after the U.S. entered World War II and Chandler included societal aspects in the story.

It's not a bad movie, I guess. I almost didn't watch it due to the fact that you only see the protagonist during a couple of segues and when he looks in a mirror. Sort of like, "It's time to see Marlowe. Let's have a mirror be used for something." It's not exactly seemless or fluid.

It's far from the best Marlowe story, even the slight Bogart was a better Marlowe than Montgomery, but it's not the worst either. No nudity, blasphemy, or profanity. If you have to watch every Chandler or Philip Marlowe story, this will disappoint but not offend. If you want to be offended, watch either the James Garner or the Elliot Gould versions of Philip Marlowe. Garner's confused by the insipid script and Gould is too busy being enamored of himself to bother to act.

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