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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
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Editor: Gene Ruggiero
Art Direction: Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons
Music: David Snell
Cast: Robert Montgomery (Philip Marlowe), Audrey Totter (Adrienne Fromsett), Lloyd Nolan (Lt. DeGarmot), Tom Tully (Captain Kane), Leon Ames (Derace Kingsby)
BW-103m. Close captioning.
by Jeff Stafford