I was ten minutes into this movie, when I slapped myself on the forehead and said, "oh no! Not THIS thing." I had seen part of Robert Montgomery's disastrous first person camera version of The Lady in the Lake in some point in my past and repressed it. Somebody in 1947 needed to take the actor/director aside and tell him two things: Christmas music has no place in film noir, and if a filming technique has never been used for an entire movie there's probably a good reason for it. I'm sure as a first-time director, Montgomery was trying to be generous and give the spotlight to his fellow actors. If that was the case, just cast someone else as the lead. I won't go so far as to say that Montgomery's face was his only good attribute as an actor, but a movie that depends entirely on his voice is not as enjoyable as one in which we get the whole package. His performance as Philip Marlowe feels very stagy and what exactly is that accent he's trying to do? He is not helped by his leading lady Audrey Totter whose main acting technique is to bulge eyes out every once in a while like an unfunny, unappealing Lucille Ball.
As you can see from the poster, Lady in the Lake was billed as "the most revolutionary picture since talkies began." The genius in marketing who came up with that deserves to have to watch this stinker once a week for life. It's really too bad that the movie was executed so poorly, because Raymond Chandler's "The Lady in the Lake" is one of the all-time great detective stories. It deserved high-style forties noir treatment. What it got was a garbled plot and a lot people trying to punch or make out with a camera. Oh, yeah, and for what it's worth, there's no lake in it either. The original story begins with discovering the body at Little Fawn Lake. This mess begins with Robert Montgomery addressing himself in the mirror.
There are moments in the film, such as the discovery of a dead body, where the first person camera work and the creepy Christmas music are actually effective. But one suspenseful sequence does not make up for the excruciating minutes of "real time" where nothing much happens and the payoff for all our waiting around is to hear Montgomery huffing and puffing away in the background while we watch the surface of the ground moving slowly in front of us. Yeah, I get it, he's half dead and crawling along, but why would I want to experience that for myself?
This must be my week for bad noir, but really after Lady in the Lake, Bette Davis in The Letter seems like Citizen Kane, or at least The Postman Always Rings Twice. I feel like I need to watch Double Indemnity as soon as possible or I'm in danger of giving up on the genre all together.
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