Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lady in the Lake

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.


Lolita said...

I haven't seen Lady in the Lake, but I thought that the first person perspective quite worked in Dark Passage. Don't you? Or is just the phenomenon that bothers you? ;)

kda0121 said...

I thought it was interesting. I think Robert Montgomery deserves some credit for trying something different. I've always liked Montgomery and didn't think this was all that terrible. My only complaint was that leading lady Audrey Totter just looks too bitchy to end up with Marlowe at the end. Maybe not a classic, but stinker is a bit strong.

Jennythenipper said...

Lolita: Dark Passage doesn't use the technique throughout. It's not my favorite Bogart noir, by a long shot, but it's better than Lady in the Lake.

kda0121: I just think the slavishness to the technique makes for a really tedious film in parts. There's a scene where he's waiting for a guy who is talking on the floor and the camera is literally gazing at his shoe! There's a point where "something different" becomes indulgent and I think Lady in the Lake crosses the line. I agree about Audrey Totter. She's remarkably unappealing. Is that really what Marlowe likes?

And you know I really like, nay love Robert Montgomery! Two posts ago, I called him a "charm leviathan." I meant in it a highly complementary way. Stripped of most of that charm though, and robbed of seeing his face, there's not enough left to keep your interest for two hours. I stand by my "stinker" epithet.

SteveQ said...

Switch to Alan Ladd and Robert Mitchum noirs before it's too late!

Chris said...

Sounds like a horrible excuse for a movie.

"Chris is Starving!"

AbbyNormal said...

I warned you about this one. :-) I watched it only because it had Robert Montgomery in it. The only thing that would have made this stink less would have been Marlowe leading the femme fatale on and dumping her on her sour puss, witchy face at the end. I literally screamed at the TV when the ending didn't live up to that.

Sorry Karl, in this case, I agree with Jenny. Stinker.

Michael Plunkett said...

Montgomery's Lady in the Lake was brilliant. It was entertaining in all of the right places on a number of levels. I came across it last night on TCM and it grabbed my attention from the get-go. The camp aspect of this film is undeniable, as Marlowe takes us from scene to scene. Not sure what all the complaining is about. At the very least it enable somebody to take the time to write it up. ;)

Jennifer Allan said...

OMG, I'm just so happy that someone left a comment on my blog that wasn't a vague compliment combined with viagra spam.
Well, Michael, it boils down to people not thinking that the 1st person gimmick can sustain an entire film. An extended passage of 1st person would have been great. An entire film? Nope.