Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Tis the Season - Part III

The title card is an invitation to - murder!

'Tis the season to take it easy, to get together with like-minded folks and enjoy a bit of cheer. Even hard-boiled fellas like Philip Marlowe need to kick back every once in a while.

1947s Lady in the Lake is based on Raymond Chandler's novel with a screenplay by Steve Fisher. Fisher wrote the popular novel I Wake Up Screaming, the play Susan Slept Here and movies and television including the Bogie flick Dead Reckoning, Song of the Thin Man, and episodes of Jane Wyman Theatre, Have Gun Will Travel and Fantasy Island.

Lady in the Lake was the first official directorial credit for actor Robert Montgomery. He had been honing the skill for a while, even taking over the directorial chores for Richard Thorpe for 1937s Night Must Fall. Montgomery was nominated for an Oscar for his chillingly real performance as a psychopath in that film. Oscar winning cinematographer for Battleground, Paul Vogel assists in creating the moody, noirish atmosphere. Other of his crime pictures include High Wall, Black Hand and The Tall Target.


The poster advises or warns patrons this is not the usual fare.

Allowed to cut loose on the project, Montgomery decided to shoot the film through the subjective eye of the camera and his character. It's certainly the correct project for such an approach as part of the fun of Chandler's work is the running commentary provided by Philip Marlowe as the reader tags along on another of his ventures into a society of the depraved and the misleading.

We get an opening shot of Montgomery/Marlowe inviting us to hear of his latest case and establishing his look before we are off to the races. Things happen quickly for Marlowe. He gets a case. He gets knocked around. Everybody wants him off the case. He won't back down because now he's mad or...maybe he's fallen for some skirt. That's the other thing about Marlowe, he may have been kicked around and should know better, but he wears his heart on his sleeve.


Montgomery sets the shot.
Audrey Totter as Adrienne Fromsett.

In this case, the gal is his latest client. Her name is Adrienne Fromsett and she's played by one of film noir's greatest and favourite actresses, Audrey Totter. Miss Fromsett has been kicked around by life and does not, most definitely not, wear her heart on her sleeve. She hires Marlowe to find her publisher boss's wife so he will be free to divorce her and move on. Things, of course, get complicated with gigolo boyfriends, unfriendly cops, crazy women with guns and with Adrienne.


Marlowe to Adrienne: "Imagine you needing ice cubes".

All of these complications are set to the background of the Christmas season with office parties and Christmas trees and carol singing. Is it the time of year, the brush off from the boss, or his own unique charms that have the steely Miss Fromsett falling for our guy?


Marlowe gets a look at himself after stepping on official toes.

The subjective camera takes a little getting used to. The first time I saw this film years ago I found it distracting and almost annoying. Later on, I sat back and enjoyed the off-beat rhythm it created. After all, life isn't a play with all the characters in neat groupings. When people look at us what exactly do they see?

The cast is rounded out by Leon Ames as the publisher, Dick Simmons in a fun turn as the gigolo, Jayne Meadows as a mysterious flirt and Tom Tully and Lloyd Nolan as a couple of small town cops.

Tom Tully, Lloyd Nolan - friends or foes

Montgomery includes a raucous car chase supported by a choral music background. He would use voices again in the score for his 1960 film The Gallant Hours.

In the midst of the whirlwind that is Marlowe's Christmas week he and Adrienne do have some down time. Christmas morning is spent with Marlowe recuperating from injuries while they share life stories and listen to a radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol. Private Eyes are people too, you know.



A lot of movies, especially detective movies, are like a lot of other movies and that is part of their charm. Lady in the Lake tries to be just a little bit different and that is part of its charm. It has made its way into my perennial holiday must-watch list. Persistent fellow that Marlowe.

9 comments:

  1. I think, like you, it had to grow on me. Now it's my favourite Marlowe movie. Oh, CW, I want to watch it again...NOW! You always do that to me!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Magic Movie Fairy will make it so, Miss McCrocodile!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great piece. I prefer to think of it as "Christmas with Lloyd Nolan", but then we all have our own private fantasies...uh, perspectives.

    I haven't seen this in years, and I'm a little foggy on some of it, but like you, I get a kick out of films that have an event, like Christmas, in the background that colors the story but does not overwhelm it. The magnificient Robert Montgomery is always fun to watch.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, Jacqueline, although I don't sigh over Lloyd Nolan as if he were Joel McCrea, there is something compelling about Lloyd's voice and the way he rocks the fedora. Of course, talent is also very attractive.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well, I grant you, he's no Charles Lane (sigh).

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh,no, you don't Jacqueline. Lloyd Nolan is mine, all mine! Or at least that is how I'd like to behave around Mr. Nolan. Maybe if we could have been cast in this movie by Robert Montgomery we might have cheered up Lloyd's sorry character before he went off the deep end...ah, we can dream, can't we?

    Patricia, I really like the way that you point out how this movie grows on you after the initial awkwardness of watching this different movie.

    It would be great if they could have made a few more movies from this subjective POV. I guess audiences were thought to be incapable of understanding the technique. Now you've made me want to see this one again. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi, Moira. I wonder if Lloyd Nolan knew what a chick magnet he was!

    ReplyDelete
  8. A terrific post.

    This is my weekend movie - just in from the Neflix vaults. Haven't seen it in a while. Am really looking forward to it. This one and THE BRASHER DOUBLOON with George Montgomery as Marlowe are my two favorite Chandlers.

    I've just found your blog and am really enjoying it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yvette, so pleased to meet you here. I think Montgomery (Robert) would be pleased to know he is one of your favourite Marlowes.

    ReplyDelete