Starring Robert Montgomery, Audrey Trotter and Lloyd Nolan
Book by Raymond Chandler, 1943
Last week I watched Robert Montgomery impersonate Philip Marlowe in the peculiar film noir, The Lady in the Lake. The poster reads “You and Robert Montgomery solve a murder mystery together”. This weird adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s classic opens with Montgomery sitting at a desk fondling his gun. For four minutes he lectures the audience. “Hi, I’m a detective. I solve murders. Can you say murder?” All he’s missing is a comfy cardigan.
How could a book by noir master Raymond Chandler produce such a turkey? I decided to do some of my own sleuthing. It didn’t take me too long to track down a copy of the real deal, The Lady in the Lake published in 1943.
It only took a few pages for the trail to get warm. In a nutshell, the screenplay has serious symmetry issues. The screen writer Fischer must have thought why bother with a stinking dead body in the lake? Forget about it. Who cares. And for that matter, why does Philip Marlowe need to be a detective? Let’s make him an aspiring crime writer. He is only solving a missing person’s case so the publisher will use his story.
Even better, make the publisher a sassy love interest for Marlowe. Gumshoes are suckers for prissy dames that despise them on the spot.
Bogart Smogart — Cast Robert Montgomery as the oddly preppy Philip Marlowe. Montgomery can talk the talk but looks suspiciously like a tennis pro. Well, actually Montgomery cast himself as Detective Marlowe.
Yes, Montgomery was the director/Ahab of this ship. As head artiste he chose to film the entire movie from Marlowe’s point of view. You know the gimmick — it’s like the dog’s perspective in the Beggin Strips’ commercial. What does your dog want? Murder! Murder! Murder!
So after the intro we only catch glimpses of Montgomery in mirror reflections (Turning Marlowe into kind of a reverse vampire). But I still haven’t figured out how this makes me feel like I’m solving a murder with him. Or why it’s now set at Christmas, in Hell A of all places. So this is where detective Louise quits and pours herself a cocktail.
The Lady in the Lake, not a classic. But not a total loss either. Especially for a whole new movie. And, Audrey Trotter’s reaction shots — priceless!