Movie Review - Lady in the Lake (1947 - United States)
I always start my movie reviews with my personal five star rating at the top of the page, but in this case I find it impossible to do so. Lady in the Lake is such an unusual picture, so far unlike anything else that I have ever seen, that ranking it against other movies is inappropriate.
If Lady in the Lake is neither a good movie nor a bad one, it most definitely is extraordinary, unique and to times absolutely horrifying to watch, which makes it a must-see for anyone interested in the way movies are made. It is the only full-length film released by a major studio ever shot with a completely subjective camera. That means that what we see is—and is only —what the film’s main subject sees. Where he looks, we look. When he cannot see something, we don’t see it either. For the entire movie. And the only time we see leading man Robert Montgomery is when he looks in a mirror.
We only see leading man Robert Montgomery when he looks in a mirror
And because the subjective camera hides him from us, we start to loathe Robert Montgomery's bitter, sarcastic Phillip Marlowe almost instantly. Without the subtle clues of facial expression and body language to soften our opinion, all we have is the nasty dialog given to the character by Steve Fisher’s screenplay, based on Raymond Chandler’s novel.
“Why don’t you shut up and start acting like a woman,” he tells Audrey Totter's femme fatale by way of foreplay. I started hoping she would shoot the annoying SOB almost immediately, and my hope lasted right through the chirpy, pasted-on, MGM-obligatory happy ending, which was not in Chandler’s book. Frankly, I was still hoping that at least one well-placed shot would ring out right through the closing credits.
Watch the entire movie right now:
- Amazon.com: Lady in the Lake: Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan: Movies & TV
Amazon.com: Lady in the Lake: Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan: Movies & TV
So, if Lady in the Lake is that relentlessly annoying, why watch it? Because it's the only one of its kind, because it's gutsy and because the parts that do work—the moments when we watch a still life of tabletops or door frames while Marlowe has no human to look at; the completely black screen (a cinematic taboo) when Marlowe passes out; the ability of the actors to carry remarkably long single-cut scenes while breaking the cardinal rule of acting (DO NOT look into the lens!)—are amazing. The fact that any of it works at all is amazing, actually.
It was promoted by MGM on its release as being the first film of its kind and as innovative a change in movie making as had been the birth of talkies. Reviews were not as kind to Robert Montgomery, who directed as well as starred, and noted that the rarity of the technique loses its charm quickly and becomes annoying just as fast. The weird explanatory prelude—during which Montgomery sits at a desk and tells us what a subjective camera is—doesn’t help make the picture more palatable, it has the opposite effect of placing yet another layer of oddity on top of this most odd of films.
You might also enjoy these unusual films:
- Movie Review - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920 - Germany)
The most famous of the German Expressionist films, and one of the best of the silent era, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a unique masterpiece of visual storytelling and a must-see for anyone who loves movies.
- Movie Review - Memento (2000 United States)
Memento is a simply astonishing film by Christopher Nolan--featuring a terrific turn by Guy Pearce--that wraps a puzzle inside a mystery, then ties it up with an enigma. Excellent, a must see!
- Movie Review - The Artist (2011 - France)
The Artist is just a delightful movie! Whether--like me--you love old movies or have never before seen a silent film, you are going to be happily surprised by The Artist!
- Move Review - High and Low (1963 - Japan)
Akira Kurosawa's 1963 film of suspicion, deceit and greed, High and Low, is a wonderfully realized piece of visual story telling, and a must see for any student of film history or cinematography.
It was made at the height of the noir era, and the convoluted plot is nearly a pastiche of every noir cliché. I realize that none of this is a ringing endorsement for the movie, and yet I still recommend that you watch it, for the original trailer and ads for the film do not lie, it truly was a remarkable cinematic innovation, as amazing as the first talking picture or 3D film. The fact that the subjective camera technique didn’t catch on the way those other two did in no way diminishes the historical interest of Lady in the Lake.
If for no other reason, you should watch this truly unique picture because whenever someone attempting to impress you bores you instead with a list of the same auteurs and landmark films, you can casually drop the names "Robert Montgomery" and "Lady in the Lake” into the conversation. If they know anything about movies, they will be the ones impressed, because Lady in the Lake is the most little known film that deserves a place on that list of film milestones, and so does Montgomery.
(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at RobertaLeeArt.com.)
Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Drama Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 43 min.
Directed By: Robert Montgomery
Written By: Steve Fisher
Based On A Book By: Raymond Chandler
Robert Montgomery - Phillip Marlowe
Audrey Totter - Adrienne Fromsett
Lloyd Nolan - Lt. DeGarmot
Tom Tully - Capt. Kane
Leon Ames - Derace Kingsby
Jayne Meadows - Mildred Havelend