Cleaning Out the DVR: Lady In The Lake (dir by Robert Montgomery)


(Lisa is once again in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She recorded the 1947 film noir Lady In The Lake off of TCM on June 17th!)

You are Raymond Chandler’s world-famous private detective, Phillip Marlowe!

Well, no.  Actually, you aren’t.  Lady in the Lake is best-known for being one of the first (if not the first) film to be shot from the viewpoint of the main character but actually, the film goes out of its way to remind you that you’re seeing the story through Marlowe’s eyes but you’re not Marlowe yourself.  There are three scenes in which Marlowe (played by Robert Montgomery, who also directed the film) is seen sitting behind a desk and directly addressing the audience.  He shows up to fill in a few plot details and to assure the audience that, while the film they’re watching may be experimental, it’s not too experimental.  For his part, Montgomery looks and sounds absolutely miserable whenever he has to speak directly to the audience.  One gets the feeling that these scenes were forced on him by nervous studio execs, who were probably worried that the film would be too weird for mainstream audiences.

However, the rest of the film is seen totally through Marlowe’s eyes.  When Marlowe gets punched, we see the fist flying at him.  When Marlowe smokes a cigarette, we see the smoke float away from him.  When Marlowe leers at every single woman that he meets, the camera leers as well.  When Marlowe looks at himself in a mirror, we see his reflection.  When Marlowe passes out after a beating or a car accident, the image grows blurry before fading to black.  There’s even a rather clever scene when Marlowe leans in for a kiss, just to suddenly change his mind and pull back.

Today, of course, the film’s technique doesn’t seem quite as revolutionary.  We’re used to point of view shots and moving cameras.  Last year, Hardcore Henry told its entire stupid story through a point of view shot and the shaky cam effect actually made me physically ill.  In Lady in the Lake, there is no shaky, hand-held camera work and I was happy about that.  Marlowe may turn his head left and right and he may walk forward but he apparently has nerves of steel because the image stays steady and only shakes when Marlowe’s getting beat up.

As for the film’s plot, it opens with Marlowe explaining that, since he’s not making enough money as a P.I., he’s decided to try his hand at writing for a pulp magazine.  While his stories are not accepted, publishing executive Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) does hire him to track down the missing wife of her boss, Derace Kingbury (Leon Ames).  As Marlowe quickly figures out, nobody’s motives are exactly pure.  Adrienne wants to marry her boss and get her hands on his money.  The wife’s lover (Richard Simmons) claims that he hasn’t seen her in weeks but still lets slip that she may no longer be alive.  The police (represented by Lloyd Nolan and Tom Tully) are corrupt, rather rude, and may know more than they are letting on.  Even a seemingly innocent landlady (Jayne Meadows) might have a secret or two.

And, of course, there’s the dead woman who is discovered in a nearby lake.  Her identity holds the key to many mysteries…

It’s an intriguing puzzle and it actually helps to see everything through Marlowe’s eyes.  If nothing else, it cuts down on the red herrings.  If Marlowe stops to stare at something, you know exactly what he’s staring at and you can be sure that it will prove to be important at some point in the story.

By the way, did I mention that Lady In The Lake is not just an experimental film noir but a Christmas movie?  Seriously, it opens with holiday music playing in the background and the opening credits are printed on cheery Christmas cards.  It’s only after the credits are over that we see that there’s a gun underneath the cards.  As a director, Montgomery does a great job juxtaposing the cheeriness of Christmas with the sordidness of the people who Marlowe has to associate with on a daily basis.  He may be dealing with a bunch of murderers and greedy con artists but almost everyone has a Christmas tree in their apartment.

In fact, it’s so easy to get so wrapped up in the film’s technique that the viewer runs the risk of not noticing just how dark and cynical Lady in The Lake truly is.  Everyone that Marlowe meets is sleazy.  Marlowe, himself, does not come across as being particularly likable.  Every room that Marlowe enters is underlit.  Interestingly, with the exception of the opening credits and a driving montage, there’s not much music to be heard in the film, a reminder that we’re only hearing what Marlowe hears.  And, in Marlowe’s world, there’s no music playing in the background to provide relief from the tension.  There’s just a mix of lies and threats.

Lady in the Lake is an intriguing film and it shows up on TCM fairly frequently.  Keep an eye out for it.

Marlowe at the Movies Returns!: Bogie & Bacall in THE BIG SLEEP (Warner Brothers 1946)


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It’s been a long time since we last visited with Raymond Chandler’s fictional “knight-errant”, PI Philip Marlowe. Way too long, so let’s take a look at THE BIG SLEEP, starring Humphrey Bogart as the definitive screen Marlowe. This 1946 Howard Hawks film was a follow-up to 1944’s hit TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, which introduced audiences (and Bogie) to luscious Lauren Bacall . The pair was dynamite together onscreen, and off as well, marrying a year later. Their May/December romance was one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories, lasting until Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957.

For me to try and explain the plot here would be futile, as it takes more twists and turns than a “Balinese belly dancer”. Marlowe is hired by elderly General Sternwood, whose sexy young daughter Carmen is being blackmailed. The General’s other daughter Vivien, a sexy divorcee, is also in trouble. This takes Our Man Marlowe…

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The Big Let-Down: CHANDLER (MGM 1971)


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“Some (producers) are able and humane men and some are low-grade individuals with the morals of a goat, the artistic integrity of a slot machine, and the manners of a floorwalker with delusions of grandeur”- Raymond Chandler, “Writers in Hollywood”, first published in Esquire Magazine, Nov. 1945

I had high hopes for CHANDLER, I really did. An homage to the hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler (born July 23, 1888) with Warren Oates as the titular detective sounded like it’d be right up my dark alley. But as much as I wanted to like this movie, I was let down by its slow pace, convoluted script, and butchering by studio execs. Much of the film was cut, scenes were replaced, and the result is an evocative mood piece that ultimately doesn’t satisfy the noir lover in me.

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I don’t have a problem with Warren Oates as Chandler, with his Bogie-esque look and low-key performance…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday Raymond Chandler


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Raymond Chandler was born on this date in 1888. He began publishing his short crime fiction in the pages of the pulp magazine Black Mask, and soon became one of the greatest “Hard-Boiled” writers of the 20th Century. Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe is the most iconic PI in fiction, and his novels and stories have been adapted to the screen numerous times. Here are 4 Shots from the movie works of Raymond Chandler:

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Murder, My Sweet (1944, D: Edward Dmytryk)

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Double Indemnity (1944, D: Billy Wilder)

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The Blue Dahlia (1946, D: George Marshall)

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Marlowe (1969, D: Paul Bogart)

Philip Marlowe, TV Detective


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Philip Marlowe’s Hollywood history saw the shamus portrayed on the big screen by some very big names. Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Montgomery, George Montgomery, James Garner, Elliott Gould, and Robert Mitchum (twice) all played Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled private eye at one point in their careers, with varying degrees of success. Los Angeles’ favorite detective also appeared on the small screen, and I decided to do some sleuthing and investigate the TV life of Philip Marlowe.

MARLOWE LIVE!

It was Robert Montgomery who first brought Marlowe into America’s living rooms on his anthology series ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS. But this time around, Zachary Scott played the gumshoe in a 1950 adaptation of THE BIG SLEEP. Marlowe fans would have a four year wait until he came back in another anthology, CLIMAX! hosted by William Lundigan. This time around, Dick Powell returned to the role in a 1954 telecast of THE LONG GOODBYE. There’s not…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: The Big Sleep, The Lady In The Lake, The Long Goodbye, The Big Sleep


Happy belated birthday, Raymond Chandler.  These four shots from four films show four different versions of Chandler’s most famous creation, P.I. Philip Marlowe.

Four Shots From Four Films

The Big Sleep (1946, directed by Howard Hawks)

The Big Sleep (1946, directed by Howard Hawks)

The Lady In The Lake (1947, directed by Robert Montgomery)

The Lady In The Lake (1947, directed by Robert Montgomery)

The Long Goodbye (1973, directed by Robert Altman)

The Long Goodbye (1973, directed by Robert Altman)

The Big Sleep (1978, directed by Michael Winner)

The Big Sleep (1978, directed by Michael Winner)

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #16: Double Indemnity (dir by Billy Wilder)


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The 1944 best picture nominee Double Indemnity is probably one of the most imitated films ever made.  While it may not be the first film noir, it is one of the most influential and its plot has been duplicated in countless films.  In fact, it’s such an influential film that all one has to do is say, “Indemnity” and you automatically know that they’re talking about murder.

Most people assume that the film is the story of Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), an insurance agent who thinks that he’s smarter and smoother than he actually is.  When Phyllis Deitrich (Barbara Stanwyck) approaches him with questions about how much her husband’s life insurance would pay off if his death was accidental, Walter immediately figures out that she’s talking about murder.  At first, Walter tells her that he’s not interested but actually he’s very interested.  Soon, he and Phyllis are lovers (though Walter, from the start, seems to know that Phyllis is just using him) and he’s plotting out her husband’s murder.  After he does kill Phyllis’s husband, Walter makes it look as if he fell from a train.  At first, the death is ruled a suicide but, just as Walter hoped, his best friend and fellow insurance agent, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), announces that it wouldn’t make any sense for a suicidal man to jump from a slow-moving train.  Instead, Keyes successfully argues that the death should be ruled an accident and, as a result, the life insurance pays out for double of its value.

However, the money makes Walter paranoid.  He starts to worry that Phyllis will betray him.  Even worse, he’s approached by the dead man’s daughter, Lola (Jean Heather).  Lola tells Walter that she believes that Phyllis not only killed her father but her mother as well.  Soon, Walter is involved with both Lola and Phyllis.  Walter claims that he feels guilty and protective of Lola but MacMurray’s wonderfully ambiguous performance leaves us wondering just how much we should trust anything that he has to say.

Now, as I said before, the film may be narrated by Walter Neff and it may be set into motion by his affair with Phyllis but ultimately, the film is not about his relationship with Phyllis.  Instead, it’s about Walter’s friendship with Barton Keyes.  When we first see Walter, he’s recording a confession specifically for Keyes to hear and the film ends not with Walter and Phyllis but instead with Walter and Keyes.

In many ways, Keyes is the opposite of Walter.  Whereas Walter is slick and amoral, Keyes is rather nerdy and ethical to a fault.  Walter respects Keyes for his brilliant mind and, to a large extent, he does what he does because he wants to prove that he’s just as smart as Keyes.  Keyes is the type of man that Walter aspires to be while Walter is the dark side of Keyes’s own obsession with mystery.  It’s only appropriate that the film ends with Walter and Keyes because, ultimately, their friendship is the heart of the film.

Double Indemnity is a classic.  Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray set the standard by which all future illicit couples would be judged.  But really, the film is stolen by Edward G. Robinson.  Over the course of his long and remarkable career, Robinson was never once nominated for an Oscar.  Watching Double Indemnity, you can’t help but wonder how such an injustice could have happened.