Sunday, March 27, 2011

...and another thing: A Favorite Film: LADY IN THE LAKE starring Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter

I'd seen this film before, but years ago, so I'd forgotten parts of it. Watched it last night and I have to admit I was laughing a good deal of the way through. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's a terrific noir-ish sort of film based on one of my favorite Raymond Chandler stories, LADY IN THE LAKE. And instead of Bogart, it stars Robert Montgomery as Philip Marlowe. But see, here's the thing:

The film - directed by Montgomery himself - must have had a budget of 99 cents - tops. Except for a couple of night time car scenes, everything was shot indoors. Even though part of the story takes place at a camp site in the country - we never see where the body of the 'lady in the lake' (of the title) is found. It's all explained to us by Montgomery as he appears during a couple of breaks in the story as a kind of avuncular 'host'.

Robert Montgomery is an odd sort of duck. Not movie-star handsome yet there's something about him that's compelling. You either like him or you don't. My feeling has always been that a little of Montgomery goes a long way. But I like him well enough in this.

This is a film with a BIG gimmick: The camera's eye is our eye, the film is shot from the first person point of view of Marlowe as he moves around 'town' trying to find the missing wife of a publisher played inanely and laughably by Leon Ames. (What a weakling! He made my flesh crawl.)

We don't see much of Marlowe in the film except when he stands in front of a mirror or when the film 'breaks' for his 'hosting' duty. A bit odd that, but I went with it. Shooting in front of a mirror is extremely difficult I understand, but it's very well done. Tricky, but it works well.

Audrey Totter, an actress who has trouble playing 'sincere' on her good days, plays Adrienne Fromsett, a woman who - horror of horrors - actually works for a living. (She has shoulder pads!) She is the associate of publisher Derace Kingsby played by Ames. I actually like Totter, but she is not someone who intantly charms you. She takes getting used to. The camera should soften her up a bit, but in this film, it doesn't bother.

Marlowe is instantly smitten with her even though - horror of horrors - she's made her mark in the 'man's' world of publishing. Later when she asks him what he wants in a wife, he says he wants someone to 'take care of him' someone who, I assume, doesn't work - at least outside the home. Hey, who wouldn't want someone to take care of our every whim?? You can't blame Marlowe for that. Though I had a good laugh.

Here's the gist of Chandler's story which, actually, is one of my favorites: Publisher Kingsby's wife has gone missing. It is presumed she's run off with a sleazy guy named Chris Lavery. And oh my goodness, you have to see this guy's get-up when he first answers the door to Marlowe. I do believe he shops at 'gigolos are us.' I won't describe it, you have to see it.

When Marlowe tracks down Lavery in Bay City, he claims he hasn't seen Mrs. Kingsby in two months. Here's the thing though, it's Adrienne who's hired Marlowe to find the wife, NOT the husband. At least not right off. So that's kind of - huh? Obviously Adrienne has some sort of design on the hubby. Marlowe laughs at her for that. Marlowe does a lot of laughing in this film. It's sort of a snicker/chortle/laugh, a 'tough guy' laugh, that is kind of off-putting. You be the judge.

Anyway, Lavery attacks Marlowe and sets him up to be arrested for 'drunk' driving by the Bay City cops. In this way we get to meet the two Bay City cops who play a large part in the story. Lloyd Nolan is the gruff and nasty (though strangely attractive) DeGarmot and Tom Tully is his boss. They warn Marlowe off the story and out of Bay City. But does Marlowe listen?

On his second trip back to Bay City, Marlowe runs into Lavery's 'landlady" played fabulously to the crazy hilt, by Jayne Meadows. She's flashing a gun, claiming to have found it on the landing and where the heck is Lavery, he owes her back rent. Marlowe goes upstairs after the landlady leaves and finds Lavery dead in the shower. A really good creepy sort of scene.

Okay, after this, that and the other, Marlowe realizes that DeGarmot is in this ugly story up to his neck and sets a trap for him while all the while the cops think Marlowe killed Lavery and is somehow mixed up in the disappearance of Kingsby's wife.

Jayne Meadows as the erstwhile 'landlady' shows up in the end to play a scene of demented hysteria that is so over the top, I always look forward to it.

The story, in typical Chandler style, has a few gaping holes and the film gives Marlowe a happy ending quite out of keeping with the whole idea of 'noir'. In truth, except for Lloyd Nolan and Jayne Meadows who play their 'noirish' parts to the hilt, you might think the rest of the story takes place in another genre. Well, except for the fact that all the men in the story appear as 'weaklings' (except for Marlowe of course) and all the women appear 'strong' - something that noir films used occasionally to great effect. It's all kind of a mish-mash, really.

But, I must say, it is most enjoyable 'mish-mash'. I really do like this film even if my review hints otherwise. But you have to go into it with your eyes wide open. It's a hoot. Montgomery did the best he could with a non-sensical screenplay and zero budget. The camera gimmick saves the day, I think. And I do like Lloyd Nolan a lot. And Jayne Meadows throws herself into her part with all the vigor you could want in a woman playing loony-toony.

On the whole, I think, a film worth watching if only to see how Montgomery's interpretation of Marlowe differs from Bogart's. I liked the book much better, though. Read that if you get a chance.


  1. Why in the world did they cast Audrey Totter in it? I remembered it as Veronica Lake.
    But I do remember the POV trick. A couple of movies used that--THE INVISIBLE MAN, was it? Never very satisfying.

  2. And let me know what you think of Kavalier and Clay. Son has been agitating me to read that for years.

  3. Patti: Yeah, Audrey Totter. I don't know what it is about her that is so off-putting at first. I think maybe it's because she has a very 'stylized' face.

    I don't remember any other p.o.v. films. I recently saw THE INVISIBLE MAN but there was no camera gimmick - that I noticed anyway.

  4. Will do on Kavalier and Clay. I'm taking my time with it because I began it when I wasn't in the mood and started reading other stuff instead.

  5. Golly, this brings memories of Robert Montgomerys TV shows, we used to love his mysteries..
    Blast from the past Nolan,and Totter.
    I was just thinking the other day of how many bit players there were and how good they were, like Guy Kibbie and so many more.
    have a relaxing Sunday yvonne

  6. You know, Yvonne, I do vaguely remember the Robt. Montgomery Show. Vaguely. Oh the old character actors were the best.

    Thanks, I've been relaxing all day. Hope you did as well. :)

  7. That picture of Audrey Totter (the one with the "I just stuck my finger in the electrical outlet" look) is priceless. I don't think I would have let the publicist use that one. And as for Rocky, we have a German Shepherd we call the burrito dog. I try to resist, but she's going to be 14 this summer and I have trouble denying her anything. Yes, I know she'd be better off if she ate less, but it doesn't work like that.

  8. Carol: Yeah, it's funny in the film as well. She had this odd sort of face. It wasn't beautiful or even, really, pretty. It was just arresting. I had trouble believing her in the part.

    Oh, our dogs. They rule our lives that's for sure. I've always been ruled by a dog - at least for the past twenty years.

    Rocky would be MUCH better off about five pounds lighter. But he is just so persistent! Ha!

  9. I saw this film last year and liked it a lot, and laughed, as you did during much of it.

    I liked Montgomery, Trotter and Meadows. It was a hoot!

    Your comments are hilarious--i.e., she worked for a living, she wore shoulder pads.

    I saw a 1951 noir, His Kind of Woman, with Robert Mitchum (not my usual choice of heroes, but he was fine in this) and Jane Russell. (Checked out the library's films starring Russell after she died.)

    It turned out to be an entertaining movie, with Vincent Price doing a great job playing an actor who is doing a heroic job, yet quoting his own lines in the middle of a shoot-out. Lots of fun. I recommend it.

  10. Kathy: Yeha, you have to laugh during some films even if you like them and you're laughing for the wrong reasons.

    I loved HIS KIND OF WOMAN, saw it last year. Maybe I'll watch it again just for old time's sake. Russell and Mitchum were great friends and it shows in the ease with which they work together. I love Vincent Price in his non-horror roles best. I really like him in this. ;)

  11. This website is just sending me to the library's catalogue constantly to look up classic movies, and it seems to have a lot of them, luckily.

  12. I aim to please, Kathy. I'll bet you're having fun though. :)

  13. Yvette, I got a kick out of your cheeky LADY IN THE LAKE movie review! People either love it or hate it. When I first saw it in my teens on TV, I found it fun as a "gimmick" movie, though as I got older I appreciated scenes like Lloyd Nolan's harrowing attempt to snuff Robert Montgomery's Marlowe via vehicular homicide. Someday I must write a full-tile blog about it (maybe for Christmas, since that's when the story takes place :-)), but in the meantime, here's my IMDb review, if you're interested: Keep your great blog posts coming, Yvette!

  14. Dorian, the link you left refuses to take me to your review. I keep getting other websites instead.

    But in the meantime, thanks for your comments. Yes, I admit it: I AM CHEEKY! Ha! I like all of Lloyd Nolan's scenes in this. I think I'm going to recommend this film at Christmas as well. You know, from the opening credits done to singing of Christmas carols, you'd think the film was a light-hearted romp.

  15. Your reviews are great! I so look forward to them, cheeky and hilarious, yet also informative with charactor/actor analysis and insights.

    By the way, relating to the alternative media here, Reactions to Reading has a very positive review of "The Water Room," by Fowler, which you so highly recommended. I can't wait to get to this series.

  16. Thanks, Kathy! I'm a sucker for praise. Ha! With the Fowler books, don't forget to begin at the beginning: FULL DARK HOUSE.

  17. I put Full Dark House on reserve at the library, and am waiting for it. I follow advice.

    I think not all books and audiotapes are available in Australia, but that's not true in The Big Apple. And besides, I can always go to Abe Books and get a used copy, which I must do with some Nero Wolfe books not available at the library.

  18. Some of the Nero Wolfe books are available in anthologys which feature 3 or 4 of the stories in one book. (The full length novels.) These are handy when you're first starting out on the Wolfe path. :)

  19. Oh, I read Nero Wolfe as a teenager many moons ago. I liked the books, but stopped, don't know why.

  20. Yvette, here it is, December 2011, and here we are reliving the oddball fun of both my blog posts for LADY IN THE LAKE and last week's TotED post HIS KIND OF WOMAN! Your LitL review is as funny and entertaining now as it was then. I loved your mock shock at Audrey Totter's character working for a living, and wearing shoulder pads, yet! :-) In this case, it seems our great minds think alike! Yay, us! :-)

  21. Actually Dorian, I can see from my own post that LADY IN THE LAKE was NOT a Christmas perennial at my house. HA.

    I probably got it confused with something else. Old lady memory works in mysterious ways.

    Anyway, from now on it will be a perennial - How's that?

  22. Yvette, as far as I'm concerned, it's never too late for a movie (or anything else) to become a perennial! You've sold me! :-)

  23. So I finally watched this movie tonight. I must say that I really can't stand Robert Montgomery's voice in it. It seems like he's yelling all the time. Where I didn't like him, I loved Audrey Totter. She pulled her face a lot, but there is something mesermerizing about her on screen.


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