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Monday, December 24, 2018

Look In If You Like Mirrors


We Solve Lady In The Lake (1947) Murders


Lauded in 1947 for its novelty and “advanced cinematics,” Lady In The Lake plays now as valuable lesson hard-learned, as in what gimmicks are profitably used, or best left alone. Notion of “You and Robert Montgomery” solving the title mystery was spike to more-of-same detecting, Raymond Chandler a basis for story, presentation the point of departure for Montgomery, who would direct and also star, albeit in diminished capacity. We hear but seldom see him, other than in mirrors and return now and then to Philip Marlowe’s office desk where narrative is so-far summarized. Us as Montgomery slows action, for he approaches doorways and enters them far slower than we would. Was there concern that action would go jerky if enacted at real-life pace? Whatever the reasoning, tempo is dealt a sleeper blow --- you keep wondering why Marlowe doesn’t get a move on and trim twenty minutes off cracking the case. Shots go long, director Montgomery letting characters talk at, and move about him, to Rope-like exhaustion, this prior to Hitchcock experiments. Addressing the camera gives no advantage to actors; Montgomery acknowledging later that talent told never to look at the lens were now hobbled by demand to do just that. Did recall of such fundamental lesson and now-violation of it make Lady's cast so uniformly awkward?






Several of stunts work, Montgomery/Marlowe taking slaps and socks from corrupt cop Lloyd Nolan, busting up a sedan as aftermath of a chase, Audrey Totter closing in to give him, and us, a kiss. Totter issues seductive dialogue we are invited to receive by proxy. These would be selling tools useful in a same way 3-D was later. Mournful choral accompany drains Lady In The Lake of needed energy, though to occasional rescue comes holiday backdrop to remind us of a story set before and just after Christmas. No major film had been done entirely subjective before, at least not one that would be promoted heavily as Lady In The Lake. I could almost hear Metro anxiety and second-guessing on the soundtrack. There was a long interview with Montgomery, done in the 70’s, that someone put online (wish I could locate it again) where he talked a lot about Lady In The Lake, a project clearly near to Montgomery’s heart. The experiment may yield mixed result for moderns, but reception in 1947 was good, critic and wicket-wise. As directorial audition, Lady In The Lake served Montgomery well, him going right from here to Ride The Pink Horse, then to behind-camera control and development of live television in New York.

7 Comments:

Blogger Mike Cline said...

LITL has always left me unsatisfied. Novel idea that wanes as the movie goes on and on. I'd rather ride that pink horse. It I like.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Agreed, the POV gimmick grows tiresome after a few minutes. And Stinky really likes Montgomery as a director, and is especially fond of Once More, My Darling.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I kinda like it, but think the subjective stunt works much better in DARK PASSAGE. Which, of course, only uses the technique for the first part of the story, just about the time we tire of the gimmick, and want to see Humphrey Bogart's real face. Oh, and the Joe McDoakes parody SO YOU WANT TO BE A DETECTIVE (which features Clifton Young from DARK PASSAGE.)

1:03 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Animator Bill Plympton played the idea for laughs:
https://www.bilibili.com/video/av11823165/

5:21 PM  
Blogger Dan Oliver said...

First time I saw this film, about 45 years ago, I thought it was great. It's been a disappointment ever since. Tried to watch it last week on TCM for old times' sake, but had to give up after about 15-20 minutes. Montgomery actually makes a pretty terrible Marlowe; he seems like an adolescent trying to act tough. Ride the Pink Horse is a vastly better, more entertaining movie.

10:54 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer has seen LADY IN THE LAKE and posts his impressions:


“Lady in the Lake” is a mixed bag for me. I love the writing of Raymond Chandler, and the film is very Chandleresque in its dialog and characterizations. The settings are realistic, many of them having been found outside the studio, and they convey that peculiar southern California ambience of glitter and decay that so fascinated Chandler, probably better than any other adaptation of a Philip Marlowe novel.

As you noted, however, the performances are rather uneven. Robert Montgomery is very good and probably closer to Chandler’s Marlowe in look and manner than anyone else who's portrayed the character, though a lot of that is given away in a film in which the hero is seen in a prolog and epilog, but only glimpsed occasionally during the story proper, as in the reflection of a mirror. Jayne Meadows is amateurish if sincere, and the usually capable Lloyd Nolan never finds a balance between mania and tedium. Audrey Totter’s performance is overly broad, though she’s also such a delicious woman that I, at least, could put up with a lot more bad acting from her.

Of course, the film is noteworthy for its audacious point-of-view technique, the sort of thing directors at the time were curious about but had never used to such an extent. From a narrative standpoint, it was an understandable attempt to let the camera stand in for the first-person perspective of Chandler’s writing, but in retrospect, it was a mistake. The use of montage had already become a highly flexible and sophisticated way of establishing the pace and rhythm of a film and providing a certain emphasis to particular moments. The point of view would thus be found in the content of the film rather than the camera. Montgomery’s subjective camera impresses with its cleverness, but the pace can’t be easily varied and becomes increasingly monotonous. The dialog is good, but the lack of visual variety turns the film into a radio play with illustrations.

So, I find “Lady in the Lake” enjoyable, and had I pressed a few hard-won centavos across the counter to buy a ticket, I wouldn’t have considered myself disappointed by the experience. The conversation afterwards with a friend at some convivial cafe would have been fun, too. I just wouldn’t have been too anxious to go to another film like it any time soon.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Interesting idea, daring in its own way, but those long takes in a dialogue-heavy movie really slow things down. Audrey Totter's pop-eyed reactions are quite memorable, though.

5:34 PM  

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