powered by AFI
According to a March 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M bought the film rights to Raymond Chandler's best-selling mystery novel for $35,000. Due to censorship restrictions, the novel's complex, drug motive for the murders was eliminated entirely and the book's suggestion of Marlowe's romantic interest in Adrienne Fromsett made central to the script. Due to concerns expressed by the Production Code Administration over Lieutenant DeGarmot's illegal actions, the script also built up sympathy for Captain Kane.
While a December 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that M-G-M was developing Chandler's mystery as a starring vehicle for Lana Turner, the part was ultimately assigned to Audrey Totter, an M-G-M contract player who was removed from the Universal film The Killers to appear in this film. According to an April 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item, M-G-M "nullified" Totter's loan-out to Universal for The Killers due to a re-shuffling of the M-G-M production schedule, which was required after Robert Montgomery walked out on the film Desire Me. Actor Lloyd Nolan was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox for the production. A November 26, 1946 Hollywood Reporter review noted that the onscreen credit for Ellay Mort as "Chrystal Kingsby," who is the murder victim and never seen onscreen, is a pun, phoenetically spelling out the French elle est morte for "she is dead." The film marked Montgomery's first directing credit, although it was also his last picture for M-G-M, the studio to which he had been under contract since 1929. The film also garnered Totter her first star billing. Totter was a former radio actor who previous film work was limited to minor roles or offscreen voices.
The film was the first motion picture to use, in its entirety, the subjective camera technique (also known as "Camera I" technique), in which all the events in the film are seen from the viewpoint of the protagonist. The film is divided into three segments, and between each segment and at the film's opening and closing, Robert Montgomery, as "Philip Marlowe" faces the camera and addresses the audience directly. During the course of the film's action Marlowe is only seen onscreen during the brief narrative interludes and when his character's reflection is caught in a mirror. A November 1946 American Cinematographer article about the film's subjective technique noted that John Arnold, head of the M-G-M camera department, devised an especially mobile dolly for the picture, which allowed free and erratic camera movement on the set. For the fight sequences, Arnold designed a special shoulder bracket and brace to secure the camera on the cameraman's shoulders so he could perform a realistic fistfight while filming. The camera used in these sequences, the Bell and Howell Eyemo, was adapted to shoot 400 feet of film at a time, a significant improvement over the 100-foot cameras that were in standard use.
Although several contemporary reviewers credited the success of the film to the use of the subjective camera, some reviewers and moviegoers found the technique too distracting. A May 1947 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that a Michigan lawsuit was filed against M-G-M and the theater chain exhibiting the film by a woman named Betty Brown Cadiff, who alleged that she had originated the subjective camera technique. The outcome of the lawsuit has not been determined. Montgomery and Totter reprised their film roles for a February 9, 1948 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the story.