I had this whole plan for a month of Christmas-themed Vintage Movie Monday posts. And then finals happened. But! That doesn’t mean I can’t still tell you about the weirdest Christmas movie I’ve watched this year, Lady in the Lake.
It’s based on a Raymond Chandler novel of the same name, so you know what that means: Christmas noir! A terrific subsubgenre with, as far as I can tell, only one other entry, the superb Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005).
The film has a very strange experimental visual style, which is kind of off-putting at first. It is told mostly in the filmic first person, as though the camera were Phillip Marlowe’s point of view. The other actors address the camera directly, and at times, the actor playing Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) addresses the camera (himself) in the mirror. It’s actually excellently done, but I wouldn’t want to watch a whole slew of films like this. The studio really played up this aspect in the marketing, though, probably because it was so novel.
As these posters show, the marketing materials promised that “You” would solve a murder mystery with Robert Montgomery in the film!
I’m certain there’s plenty written (if not, there needs to be) about the viewer’s response to the direct gaze of the actors. It might, interestingly, bring male and female viewers to the same level in some way, though of course women might also feel cognitive dissonance when Marlowe is finally shown in the mirror.
The story is a standard noir yarn: boy meets girl, boy gets mixed up in murder investigation, boy gets crap kicked out of him, boy outsmarts everyone in the end. But in a neat reversal, the supposed femme fatale is actually the good girl who gets the boy in the end while the innocent lamb is the cold-blooded murderess. It all takes place over Christmas, and fittingly for a holiday movie if oddly for a noir, there’s a happy ending.
All the actors are excellent, but Audrey Totter (above) is really something out of this world. Her faces alone are worth watching for.
For some darker, more cynical but not totally depressing holiday film fare, I’d definitely suggest pairing this with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for a really fun double feature.