Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Lady in the Lake (1947)

Well, I have said it before and I will say it again. The key to happiness is lowered expectations. After having watched "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (1941) and being completely taken with Robert Montgomery in the movie, I dutifully looked for a movie I might have of his that I hadn't yet watched. Sure enough, I had a film noir, Philip Marlowe movie just waiting on me to get around to watching. You might guess that I was very excited about this and so ... unfortunately, expectations were high.

Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter in "The Lady in the Lake"

"The Lady in the Lake" stars Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe and Audrey Totter as Adrienne Fromsett. Robert Montgomery actually did double duty in this, not only was he the star but also the director. Somehow, someone came up with a brilliant idea (sarcasm dripping here) to do this film totally in first person point of view. That means the audience sees everything from Philip Marlowe's eyes, i.e. the camera is Philip Marlowe. Aside from a few glimpses in mirrors and windows, we only see Philip Marlowe for a few minutes during prologues for scenes. (The fact that the movie needed prologues thrown in because of the complicated plot was an instant warning in and of itself.) So keep in mind, I watched this movie solely because Robert Montgomery was in it. Yet, even though he is the star - the protagonist of the film - he is only seen for maybe 5 minutes of the entire movie. Yay, me.

I can't believe I was suckered into two of these in a row. I went from "The Thomas Crowne Affair" (1968) movie gimmick of multi-image screen to the "Lady in the Lake" camera point of view movie gimmick. Both with disastrous results. I think the main problem in the "Lady in the Lake" is pacing. Since the filmmakers wanted to make it feel realistic for the audience, the camera slowly lumbered from marker to marker in what could only be described as an excruciating old lady's pace. They wanted to show Philip Marlowe getting out of a car and checking out a guy on the ground and hiding behind a fence. In what would take today's cameras 30 seconds to do, with the camera setups in the 1940s, it takes minutes which to, at least today's audience, feel like days.

The other disappointing thing is that ... and I really hate to say this ... but I really disliked Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe. That is hard to say given you only see him for 5 minutes. I think if we had actually seen him, I would have warmed up to him. As is, you only hear his dialogue and it doesn't sound like Robert Montgomery at all. It sounds more like Robert Montgomery imitating Humphrey Bogart because he thinks that is the way Philip Marlowe should sound. His delivery is terrible. Whereas Bogart comes across as a wise-cracker, Montgomery's dialogue comes off as obnoxious. I think, again, maybe if we had nonverbal clues via actually seeing Montgomery on film, it wouldn't have been as obnoxious, but as is, not so good.

The last point I want to make contains a spoiler. If you don't want to hear about the end of the movie, turn away now.


Even if the pacing were fixed, and even if Montgomery didn't try to imitate Bogart in a most obnoxious way, the other thing I truly hated about this movie was the Adrienne Fromsett character. So what if she wasn't the actual murderer? She still was a tramp trying to sleep her way to a million dollars while making sure the wife of the guy she was sleeping with stayed out of the picture. On top of that, when she told Philip Marlowe how much she cared for him and how she loved him, it was the most disingenuous speech I have ever heard. The entire time I was hoping he was just playing her to get info and then he would cut her loose. But at the end, he stays WITH the disingenuous, gold-digging tramp? Are you KIDDING ME? I actually threw a pillow at the TV screen at the end of the movie. Just ... I couldn't believe it.

******************************END SPOILERS***********************************

Before I close, I do want to say that I have seen the gimmicky, first person point of view thing work well in other movies. I will use the beginning of "Dark Passage" (1947) with Bogie and Bacall as an example, which happened to be released the same year. The camera portraying Bogart in first person point of view works brilliantly in the beginning. Not only that, but they have the good sense to ditch the gimmick so they can get the movie going faster than a turtle with a camera strapped to it's back.

My point being, it isn't just one thing in the movie - it is the whole movie. If you haven't guessed already, I really disliked this one. Take my advice and don't waste your time.


kda0121 said...

Sorry you didn't enjoy Lady in the Lake. It's not one of my all-time favorites, but I did find it interesting. I think Bob was onscreen for more than five minutes, albeit in mirror and window reflections. Montgomery was trying his hand at directing and just got a bit gimmicky and carried away. I forgive him. I agree with you about the Adrienne character. Audrey Totter, the actress who played her, just has a bad girl, bitchy look about her and I cannot figure out why Marlowe fell for her. Much more satisfying was the Bogie and Bacall match-up in The Big Sleep.

AbbyNormal said...

I completely agree about "The Big Sleep" being far more satisfying. I almost added at the end to watch "The Big Sleep" instead, but I figured all you guys already have :-)

Jennythenipper said...

Noir is not my thing. I know Lady in the Lake is considered a classic of the genre, in at least, I've heard of it and it was in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. I'll skip this one. I would have watched it for RM, too!

AbbyNormal said...

Jenny - You are wise beyond your years. Just watch "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" again, instead.