I’m writing this on the 5th, so technically it’s still the holiday season and we’re good till the Feast of The Epiphany on January 6th, right? It’s supposed to be the twelve days of Christmas, or so the song says.
But I guess it’s time for fellows to hang up their Rudolph ties with the illuminated noses and to toss out their wilted mistletoe boutonnieres whether they got any laughs or kisses or not. The gals will stuff their snowflake pattern tights into the back of the sock drawer and drop the unworn spangly club dress off at the dry cleaners. The tree will get unplugged, even if the ornaments aren’t boxed up just yet. All the good Christmas gift Godiva’s have been eaten, so only the really weird ones are left in the fancy gold box, the half full bottles of syrupy sweet holiday wine should probably be spilled out. And, yes: It’s time to concede that it really is too late to mail the Christmas cards.
Once again, December sped by without enough time set aside to re-watch some cherished Christmas favorites, and I don’t mean the 24-7 merry-marathon of saccharine seasonal romances on The Hallmark Channel. Normally I squeeze in a couple nights for Shane Black’s brilliant Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or even the first Lethal Weapon movie. Better yet, Harold Ramis’ 2005 The Ice Harvest (a particular favorite of mine) and actor/director Robert Montgomery’s 1947 Lady In The Lake.
Montgomery’s directorial debut isn’t dripping in holly and mistletoe and, in fact, was originally intended to be set in mid-summer, using a script penned by the source novel’s author, Raymond Chandler himself. It was some two years later that MGM finally went into production, by then using a briefer (by nearly a third) script by Steve Fisher, which switched things to Christmastime. The holiday setting aside, the story bears little resemblance to Chandler’s novel. Still, there’s a generous bit of vintage 1940’s B&W Christmasy-ness evident throughout, including the film’s opening credits, flipping through a series of Christmas cards that conceal a gun.
You know this flick, of course, because of actor/director Montgomery decision to mimic Chandler’s (and so many other hard-boiled crime novels) first person narrative approach by shooting nearly the entire film from private eye Philip Marlowe’s POV. We only see what he (Montgomery) sees. It feels a little gimmicky at first and takes some getting used to, but applause to Montgomery for some brave artistry. (Then again, please note that this was his last film with MGM after an 18 year relationship.)
Audrey Totter is terrific but then she always was. As for Lloyd Nolan, I prefer him as a tough-talkin’ good guy – or at least a sort of good guy. Robert Montgomery may not be most readers’ vision of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, anymore than Dick Powell was, but both contemporaries acquitted themselves well, IMHO. The story? Well, it’s a little convoluted, but most adaptations of Chandler’s novels were, and lets face it, Chandler’s novels themselves were pretty convoluted. We don’t read them for neatly crafted whodunits. But the movie’s a lot of fun and suitable seasonal viewing for any classic noir and mystery fan, so I’ll earmark Lady In The Lake for the next Christmas and be more diligent about setting out the syrupy wine and edible gifted Godiva’s for a movie night in 2019.