Imagine “Hardcore Henry” without any shakey-cam or nauseating fight sequences, and you’ll get the idea for “Lady In The Lake.”
The film follows private detective Phillip Marlowe, having been portrayed by many actors including Humphrey Bogart, Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum but now being played by Robert Montgomery, as he decides to stop being a private dic., supposedly because it doesn’t pay well, and becomes a mystery novel writer, starting with one of his own cases. But as Marlowe turns his story into his publisher (Audrey Totter), she asks him to take on a case that would pay handsomely, involving the missing wife of his publisher’s boss. Marlowe takes the case, and quickly finds out that murder and betrayal is involved here.
What separates “Lady In The Lake” from other mysteries and noir at the time is the entire film is shot from Marlowe’s first-person perspective. What the detective sees, the audience sees as well. This means that every character is talking directly into the camera and we see little of Montgomery, only briefly catching a glimpse of him in the mirror or his shadow if the lighting is right.
This idea can work, but after watching this film and “Hardcore Henry,” I have become convinced that it is a novelty that wears thin quickly. We never feel any connection to Marlowe because we can’t see how he’s reacting to everything. He finds a note addressed to the missing wife at the publisher’s house and we have no idea if he’s confused, angry, upset or a bit of everything.
Granted, the movie is more about letting the audience solve the case along with Marlowe, but the first-person perspective gets old rather quickly when everyone keeps talking into the camera and we hear the disembodied voice of Marlowe yell at every suspect. Still, I do appreciate that “Lady In The Lake” is basically saying the fourth wall doesn’t exist here, especially when Marlowe introduces the film by telling us we are the stars.
Overall, while the mystery of “Lady In The Lake” is solid, the camera-work and perspective of the film gets old after the first act. Montgomery tries to be the smooth-talker as well as having the brevity of Phillip Marlowe, but something seems off about his performance, especially since Bogart and Gould captured the role so brilliantly. Nothing all that special here, just a gimmick that over stays its welcome.
Final Grade: C