[box cover]

Lady in the Lake

This odd 1947 version of the Raymond Chandler novel was directed by actor Robert Montgomery, who also stars as hard-boiled private dick Philip Marlowe. It's a gimmick picture, with the gimmick being that you, the viewer, experience the story through Marlowe's eyes — as Montgomery explains it, talking directly to the camera at the top of the film: "You'll see it just as I saw it. You'll meet the people, you'll find the clues. And maybe you'll solve it quick, and maybe you won't. You think you will, eh? Okay, you're smart. But let me give you a tip — you've gotta watch them. You've gotta watch them all the time. Because things happen when you least expect them." Montgomery does a fine job of mouthing Chandler's wise-guy dialogue, but it's perhaps best that he's not in front of the camera most of the time — he's a bit too cultured to be completely believable as the imperturbable Marlowe. We do see him during the course of the story, although it's mostly his feet and hands with the occasional peek in the mirror. Obviously, the goal was to give the audience a bit of a through-the-eyes thrill ride as Marlowe gets knocked out, claws his way to consciousness, and is even hit by a car while solving the mystery, but it's a contrivance that gets old quickly and makes the relatively short picture's 82 minutes seem much longer. As a treatment of the classic Chandler film, it fails as well, and the story — about a search for a missing woman that leads to a more labyrinthine series of plot points — is boilerplate pulp drama. The subjective camera, while an interesting concept, ironically serves to make the viewer more aware of every camera angle and shift in perspective, and when the movie's obligatory femme fatale leans in with huge, puckered lips to kiss Marlowe/us, it's almost like a parody of a bad 3-D film. As an early example of noir cinema and an interesting attempt at experimental filmmaking, it's worth seeing — but as entertainment it's an abject failure. Warner's DVD release of Lady in the Lake, part of their "Film Noir Classic Collection: Vol. 3," offers a good transfer in the original full-screen ratio (1.33:1), although from a soft, muddy source-print that's generously peppered with scratches, specks, and other video noise. The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio (English, with optional English, Spanish or French subtitles) is clean but unexceptional . Also on board is a commentary track by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini that alternates between the pair merely pointing out what's on-screen and offering genuinely enlightening information on noir conventions. Slimline snap-case in the box-set.
—Dawn Taylor



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