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Film / Lady in the Lake

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Lady in the Lake is a 1947 Film Noir mystery directed by and starring Robert Montgomery, adapted from Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novel The Lady in the Lake.

Marlowe (Montgomery) is hired by crime-fiction editor Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) to find Chrystal Kingsby, faithless wife of Adrienne's boss, Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames). Seems Chrystal sent Kingsby a telegram claiming that she was going to Mexico to get a quickie divorce so she could marry her gigolo boyfriend, Chris Lavery. However, Lavery is still in town and says he hasn't seen Chrystal in a month. Chrystal was last seen at Derace Kingsby's estate at Little Fawn Lake, where police have just recovered the dead body of a woman named Muriel Chess, wife of the caretaker. And Muriel knew Chris Lavery... More plot twists follow in classic Raymond Chandler fashion, including Marlowe running afoul of local cops Capt. Kane (Tom Tully) and Lt. DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan).

Montgomery's official directorial debut,note  this film is best remembered today for being shot almost entirely in P.O.V. Cam from Marlowe's perspective, with the other characters addressing the camera directly and Montgomery's face only being visible when Marlowe looks in a mirror.


  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: After the Distracted by the Sexy moment where Marlowe gawks at the receptionist (see below), an irritated Adrienne says "I must be losing my touch."
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Marlowe and Adrienne spend much of the movie angrily sniping at each other, even after she asks him to kiss her.
  • Chandler's Law: Well it is a Raymond Chandler adaptation. Marlowe is unpleasantly surprised near the end when the door opens and it's not Capt. Kane the honest cop, but DeGarmot the very Dirty Cop, pointing a gun. Marlowe's surprise allows DeGarmot to punch him in the face and get Marlowe's gun.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Chris Lavery's landlady, Mrs. Falbrook, seen briefly by Marlowe at the Lavery murder scene. She's actually Mildred Havelend, aka Muriel Chess, and she's the murderer.
  • Credits Gag: Chrystal is listed in the opening credits as being played by "Ellay Mort". It's a joke, a play on the French "elle est morte", "she is dead."
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The formerly cold-as-ice Adrienne melts after falling in love with Marlowe. By the end she decides to quit her publishing job and become Marlowe's literary agent as well as wife.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The film is set at Christmastime, seemingly for no other reason than to provide an ironic counterpoint to its story of lust, betrayal and murder. The opening credits are presented as a stack of Christmas cards picked up one at a time, eventually revealing a gun at the bottom. Scene transitions are accompanied by a choir wordlessly singing carols in a minor key. A hardnosed cop gets distracted from his interrogation of Marlowe when the cop's daughter calls the office and starts reciting "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to her over the phone.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Marlowe is chatting with Adrienne when he pivots all the way around in his chair to watch the voluptuous blonde receptionist leave the room.note 
    Adrienne: Have you been marooned on a desert island, or do you just find it difficult to concentrate?
  • Faking the Dead: It turns out that Muriel Chess/Mildred Havelend isn't dead after all. She murdered Chrystal Kingsby, put her clothes on Chrystal, and chucked the body in the lake.
  • First-Person Perspective: Except for the bookends, the film is almost entirely shot from the perspective of you being Marlowe.
  • Gold Digger: Eventually Adrienne admits that she is this. When Marlowe's brusqueness causes Derace to disavow any romantic interest in her, she gets mad at Marlowe, saying "Now you've lost me my million dollars."
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Me, I don't like certain kinds of private dicks."
  • Impairment Shot: The constant P.O.V. Cam becomes this when a dazed Marlowe climbs out of his car, after DeGarmot ran him off the road and the car rolled over into a ditch.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Marlowe, his usual cynical, world-weary self. After having sex with Adrienne he says he still has to figure out whether or not she's a murderer.
  • Look Behind You: Subverted. Marlowe says "I never thought you'd get here, Kane" and DeGarmot sneers "There's nobody back of me, Marlowe. You think I'd turn my head and let you jump me?" Kane is right behind him, clambering up the fire escape, and DeGarmot gets shot.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Marlowe is hired to find a runaway wife, and winds up investigating three murders.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: At the beginning of the film, Marlowe introduces himself with "My name is Marlowe, Phillip Marlowe."
  • Narrator: Aside from a couple of moments when Robert Montgomery looks into a mirror, we also see him in three brief shots (one in the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end) where Marlowe, addressing the audience directly, narrates his story.
  • No Fourth Wall: Opens with Marlowe, seated at a desk, telling the audience his name and explaining how the mystery got started. And of course for most of the movie the P.O.V. Cam means that other characters are addressing the character directly.
  • Not With the Safety On, You Won't: The stress must have gotten to Mildred, who has already killed three people but forgot to take the safety off when pointing the gun at Marlowe, allowing him to take it from her.
  • P.O.V. Cam: Shot almost entirely from Marlowe's point of view, with the camera going where Marlowe goes and seeing what Marlowe sees. The idea was to mimic Marlowe's first person narration visually on the screen. Apparently Raymond Chandler hated the idea and had his name removed from the credits.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: In the novel, Marlowe mentions once that under other circumstances he might have made a play for Adrienne Fromsett, but his interest never goes further than that. In the movie, she's the love interest.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Marlowe is surprised to find that publishing executive A. Fromsett is Adrienne Fromsett.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: As the above poster shows, Marlowe is pointing to kill, but given the POV nature of the film, it makes sense.
  • Second-Person Narration: Starts with Philip Marlowe addressing the audience directly, saying stuff like "You'll meet the people, you'll find the clues...and maybe you'll solve it quick, and maybe you won't." This sets up the P.O.V. Cam for the rest of the movie, with other characters looking at the camera and addressing Marlowe and the audience as "you".
  • Sexy Secretary: Adrianne Fromsett's blonde receptionist, played by Lila Leeds.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Marlowe makes reference to "petticoat fever" while being confronted by DeGarmont. Petticoat Fever was the title of a 1936 film that Robert Montgomery had starred in.
    • Marlowe and Adrienne listen to a radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol, complete with Dickens' closing text.
  • Title Drop: More than once Marlowe refers to the corpse of Muriel Chess as "the lady in the lake."
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: Marlowe, who thinks there's a pretty good chance that Chrystal Kingsby might try to kill him when they meet, leaves a trail of rice behind so that the cops can find him.
  • Unbroken First-Person Perspective: A very rare non-video game example of a story told almost entirely in unbroken first-person view; Russian Ark is another.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: As Marlowe explains in his intro to the audience, the whole story has already happened.
  • You're Cute When You're Angry: Earlier Marlowe had told Adrienne not to act cute with him. When Marlowe starts snarking, Adrienne hisses "Who's being cute now?", only for Marlowe to shoot back "You are."