“Lady in the Lake” (1946) is a really annoying movie. It’s based on a Raymond Chandler novel so it should be good, but it isn’t. The film is best remembered for its constinual point of view camera work representing Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s famous detective.
Robert Montgomery, who also directed, stars as Marlowe but we only see him in a few scenes, either during on-screen narration to fill in the gaps or when seen looking in a mirror. Otherwise the camera becomes Marlowe, so when people are addressing Marlowe they are looking right at the camera or when fists are flying they are coming straight towards the camera. It’s not enjoyable and soon wears out its gimmicky welcome after about 10 minutes.
Montgomery is miscast as Marlowe. He’s too sophisticated and cultured for such a role. I never bought him for a minute. Audrey Totter is always a welcome presence in mysteries and film noirs such as this, but here I found her mannered and strident.
The film’s score is really off-putting too, often working against the picture. Because the story takes place during the Christmas season, the opening credits are scored with Christmas carols, an odd choice for a mystery movie. Several scenes of Marlowe driving are scored with this mysterioso a capella singing. If you’d close your eyes, you’d think Scrooge was about to be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future or Joan of Arc was getting her first vision. It doesn’t work at all.
On the plus side, Lloyd Nolan is on hand, always a welcome presence. Tom Tully has some amusing scenes as the police captain talking to his young daughter on Christmas Eve.
The mystery itself is nothing to write home about either, though some of Marlowe’s comebacks are as sharp as ever, so it’s a treat to listen to the dialogue. Still, I was really glad when this movie was over.
Montgomery is probably my least favorite Philip Marlowe. A lot of people’s favorite is Bogart in “The Big Sleep” (1946) and some prefer Dick Powell in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944) though I never cared for him in the role.
My favorite Marlowe is probably Robert Mitchum in “Farewell, My Lovely.” (1975). Some might consider him too old for the role, but to me he has the cynical detective down pat.
I just realized this is my third consecutive column with a Mitchum reference. I promise my next blog will be Robert Mitchum free.
Rating for “Lady in the Lake”: Two stars.