Phillip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) is tired of being a broke hard-boiled detective. To try to increase his cash-flow shortage he writes a murder story based on one of his cases entitled “If I Should Die Before I Live”. He submits his story to Kingsby Publications and receives a letter from A. Fromsett asking him to come to the office to discuss his story.
When he gets there he finds out that A. Fromsett is really Adrienne Fromsett and she wants to hire him. Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames) is the president of the publishing company and Adrienne is his executive assistant. Adrienne wants Marlowe to find Kingsby’s wife Chrystal (Ellay Mort). A month earlier Kingsby received a telegram from Chrystal stating that she was going to Mexico to get a divorce and was running away with a guy named Chris Lavery (Dick Simmons). Adrienne doesn’t believe it.
Marlowe had done enough of these kinds of searches to know that Adrienne has designs on her boss and wants to find Chrystal so he can serve her divorce papers. Marlowe goes to see Lavery and gets nothing but a punch in the face for his efforts. He wakes up in jail. Captain Kane (Tom Tully) and Lieutenant DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan) question Marlowe but eventually release him.
Marlowe finds out from Adrienne that Chrystal was last seen at Little Fawn Lake. Kingsby owns the property up there. She tells Marlowe that a woman was found dead in the Lake. She was identified as Muriel Chess. Kingsby’s caretaker, Mr. Chess, was arrested for the murder. Adrienne believes that Chrystal killed her. Muriel ends up being an alias for Mildred Haviland. Mildred had been hiding from a cop that matches DeGarmot’s description.
Piece by piece Marlowe puts together a strange series of events. Marlowe goes to Lavery for more information. His landlady Mrs. Falbrook (Jayne Meadows) is in his house looking for back rent. When she leaves Marlowe finds Lavery dead. Marlowe accuses Adrienne. Kingsby finds out that Adrienne hired Marlowe. Adrienne fires Marlowe. Kingsby hires him. Marlowe tells the police about Lavery. Marlowe accuses DeGarmot of trying to stalk Muriel. Marlowe ends up in jail again, temporarily. Marlowe then finds out that Muriel is suspected in the death of her previous boss’s wife. DeGarmot begins following Marlowe. By now Marlowe has bits and pieces of clues but not enough to put together the whole picture. Not until Kingsby shows up saying that Chrystal contacted him looking for money.
“Lady in the Lake” was released in 1946 and was directed by Robert Montgomery. It is a crime/mystery and a film-noir based on the book by Raymond Chandler. Robert Montgomery directed and starred in the film as the lead character Philip Marlowe. Montgomery attempted to represent the film as a first person narrative. The movie was shot from the main character’s viewpoint. Except for a few scenes where Montgomery talks directly into the camera, the character Philip Marlowe is only seen reflected in mirrors, windows and as shadows on walls and doors. All the other actors talk and act directly to the camera as if it were Marlowe they were talking to. It was an interesting concept but difficult to maintain for an entire movie. Some aspects of it were done well and added some interesting aspects to the cinematography but a lot of the time it was people talking to themselves and trying to look like they weren’t. Without another actor on screen to work off of some of the film looked a little blank as far as emotion. The concept wasn’t new, but had only been done sparingly, for example when a murder victim is backing away from their killer and it’s too soon in the story to reveal the killer yet.
The movie had a great script and the actors were also good, but I felt the first person narrative took just a little bit away from the movie as a whole. Chandler also had an issue with the narrative. The screenplay was written by Steve Fisher who changed the story from summer to Christmas time, basically creating a murder mystery Christmas story. Despite the movie’s flaws it was a good film. The story unfolded wonderfully with a few twist and turns that kept it interesting. It’s tough to screw-up Raymond Chandler. **SPOILER: The actress who plays Chrystal Kingsby is Ellay Mort. The actress does not exist. Ellay Mort is a phonic spelling of “elle est morte” which means she is dead in French.**