Sunday, March 4, 2012

LADY IN THE LAKE (Robert Montgomery, 1947, USA)

Private Dick Philip Marlowe tries his hand at writing, he spiritedly pleads: “If I should die before I live” and learns the hard way that life often imitates fiction. Robert Montgomery directs and stars as Chandler’s protagonist but fails to infuse Marlowe with the weariness of wandering down mean streets, and resorts to gimmicky cinematography to inculcate the audience as accomplice to this dangerous mystery.

Montgomery begins the film by directly addressing the audience, which immediately skews the structure: is this Marlowe or Montgomery speaking to us? The story is then split into three more chapters where Montgomery speaks to the camera, breaking the POV form to convey some important plot point…but it seems he is just vying for screen time. Montgomery’s prosaic delivery thuds with heavy handed wisecracks, losing all interest as the words seem to float from the ether; without reaction shots or close-ups, it becomes very difficult to empathize with Marlowe. This is filmed almost entirely indoors with the usual camera tricks of Marlowe looking into a mirror (to remind the audience we’re supposed to be in his gumshoes) and without any establishing shots for reference: it seems to go from one room to a door to the next room…and so on. Even the very nexus of the plot is conveyed through dialogue instead of some intriguing visual and soon the artifice becomes annoying. 

There are a few interesting moments such as the car chase, where Marlowe keeps looking in the rear-view mirror at his adversary, and the crash as the camera is juggled and fades to black(out). But even this device is used two more time in fistfights and again the form subsumes the substance. Though the femme fatale’s revelation is a bit of a surprise, the convoluted scheme is a fraud that holds little mystery because Marlowe doesn't discover it…he is told. The frisson of solving a fatal crime, as danger lurks around every corner, is kept at camera’s focal length and the audience is too distanced to care. Ultimately, the film is an experiment that has potential but it becomes as cold as a bloated corpse in a frozen lake. 

Final Grade: (C-)


KimWilson said...

I agree, but you're going to make a lot of people mad with your C- grade. LOL

Page said...

I saw a few of the Dick Marlow films recently when they ran on TCM.

I've still got Murder My Sweet on my DVR. Have you seen it, is it any good?

Wasn't Lady in the Lake the one where we see the story unfold through Marlowe's eyes, seeing his image only when passing a mirror or in shadow?

I found the content weak although I wanted to enjoy it, I really was bored throughout. When they found the missing girl, I wasn't all that interested anymore.

I did enjoy your review though. I'm a big fan of Montgomery's but Bogart filled the part the best for me. Perhaps I'll enjoy Murder My Sweet more.

Alex DeLarge said...

Thanks Page! I haven't seen MURDER MY SWEET but I need to remedy that ASAP.

James Brannan said...

This is a fine, interesting article. I enjoyed reading it, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

By the way, I would like to invite you to join my blogathon, "The Great Breening Blogathon:" It is celebrating the life and work of Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code between 1934 and 1954. As we honor his birthday, which is on October 14, we will be discussing and analyzing the Code era, breening films from other eras, and writing about our own ideas for classic movies. One doesn't have to agree with the Code and Mr. Breen to enjoy that! I hope you will do me the honor of joining. We could really use your talent!

Yours Hopefully,

Tiffany Brannan