Monday, August 13, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Lady In The Lake (1947)

Released about 3 months after 1947's Dark Passage*, this movie also employs the first-person-perspective camera-work that somebody must have been wanting to play with at the time.  Where Dark Passage abandons the conceit fairly early in the movie, Lady in the Lake (1947) uses the trick more or less for the duration of the film except during a few, brief framing sequences during which Robert Montgomery, as Philip Marlowe, addresses the audience before merging with them in a spot of cinematic magic during which the audience is given a sort of thrill-ride like experience of seeing the film from Marlowe's perspective.

It's an oddball stunt, one easier to pull that the matinee jazz of 3D pictures or smell-o-vision, but Montgomery's direction definitely gives the effort a sort of "check this out!" quality, drawing attention to itself with awkward use of mirror shots that don't accomplish much but remind the audience that we're all watching a movie here - and, boy, isn't THAT cool...?

The plot is based upon a Raymond Chandler book I've yet to read, and which I'm sure they jiggered with a bit, but it's just as much of a convoluted tangle of wonky motivations I've more or less come to expect from Chandler, but, oddly, not something I hold against him as it certainly keeps you guessing and works better to suggest something about what happens when people with complicated lives collide - even when the stories are famous about Chandler not certain of his own plot points.

It's a murder mystery at Christmas, which gives the movie an odd backdrop.  It's the desperate and lonely working around a missing person a dead body in the water, office Christmas parties, wreaths on doors and Dickens dramatized on the radio.

The movie features Robert Montgomery both before and behind the camera, and Leon Ames, who you might know from Angel Face, Anchors Aweigh, Song of the Thin Man and other pictures and who sort of mastered the snivelling, confused wealthy-guy-voice you probably still hear in your head.

The star and highlight of the movie is, of course, Ms. Audrey Totter.  Jenifer of SF is a huge Totter fan and was my film-pal at Noir Fest this year, and she recommended I check out this movie.

If you Google for images of Totter, the pic that invariably comes up is from this movie.

I won't spoil the context, but it's a great scene.  And Ms. Totter does angry/ beautiful as good or better than any.

Kudos to Totter for acting to a lens for about half the movie, but she pulls it off better than the rest of the cast, and her character has a pretty solid 1940's-style arc that I won't spoil and that she lights up like fireworks.  She's nothing less than fantastic as Adrienne Fromsett, and as rocky as the story could be at times, Totter gives it the momentum it needs to carry through to the end.

Oh, hell, here's one more:

and here's a rare pic from the movie where Totter isn't furious or exactly glowering.

All in all, an interesting installment in the world of noir, but an oddball picture.  Noir doesn't usually do "experimental", so that makes it worth a look, and with Totter's terrific performance it almost works.  But I'm not sure Montgomery quite untangles the plot as well as he could have and the trickery of the POV stuff also wears thin when we're looking at anyone but Totter, all eyes and lips and selling the idea of Marlowe's POV.

Check it out as something different, especially on a cold night around Christmas.

*and about 8 months before Hitchcock's Rope, which was also pretty stunt-a-riffic

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