DATELINE: Hard-Boiled School of Detectives
You have to enjoy a murder mystery that is set on Christmas and begins with a potpourri of carols to set the mood. We laughed all too hard during the opening scenes: it’s witty, sharp, and clever. Lady in the Lake is a classic.
The Raymond Chandler story was directed by Robert Montgomery in 1946 with the star also briefly in front of the camera. Mostly, he narrates, keeping his face out of the limelight.
Lady in the Lake is quite inventive and will leave you quite impressed with Montgomery’s dry and cynical comments. However, this style tends to undercut the film noir aspect, as it is studio-bound.
Director Montgomery also suffers from low budget-it is that makes his original murder tale cut too many corners. We never make it to the lake to see the lady fished out, only hear about it. Yet, the quick pace will surprise you.
That too is part of the first-eye view of the film: we see only what detective Philip Marlowe sees—and characters look directly into the camera frequently as they talk to Montgomery. It is diverting and intriguing. Alas, the mystery itself is not clever enough to fit the film’s technique.
Cast is uniformly superb, especially Audrey Totter as the femme fatale, Leon Ames as her boss, owner of a lurid crime publication, and Lloyd Nolan as a dubious cop.
We must confess that light-leading man Robert Montgomery is not as tough as the Marlowes of Bogart and Mitchum, but his dry and cynical wit is hard-nosed enough to cause other characters to give him a sock in the nose more than once.
You will fondly remember Lady in the Lake for its originality and dark humor.