Review by C.J. Bunce
The first virtual reality movie? It’s innovative and brilliant, and showed that Robert Montgomery the actor also had the talent to be a director as much a visionary as Alfred Hitchcock. The film is his 1946 film noir Lady in the Lake, an experimental movie years ahead of its time, and much more than an adaptation of another Raymond Chandler novel featuring detective Philip Marlowe. It’s a great story, elevated by unusual direction and a cast of actors tasked with doing something no one had quite done this way before–react and act entirely toward the audience in the place of the protagonist and the film’s point of view.
It’s about murder, and it takes place at Christmas, and the entire film from beginning to end is wrapped up in a bow like your very own Christmas present, available now to stream at Vudu, or here at Amazon on Prime Video or DVD. If you haven’t seen it, give it a viewing this weekend and you might just see it as the next best Christmas movie of its type since Die Hard, although since it predates Die Hard by four decades you’ll want to flip that thought around. Along with the requisite noir tropes, Lady in the Lake has visual effects and story surprises at every turn. It’s pure cinema gold.
Maybe it’s the first “Choose Your Own Adventure,” or the first major first-person roleplay movie (it could be its own video game). It’s lauded as the first movie to use subjective camera cinematography, now called a point-of-view shot, for the entire film. I love this vintage movie review from the New York Times: “YOU do get into the story and see things pretty much the way the protagonist, Phillip Marlowe, does, but YOU don’t have to suffer the bruises he does. Of course, YOU don’t get a chance to put your arms around Audrey Totter either.” Audrey Totter is the leading woman, equal parts damsel in distress and femme fatale, she is a perfectly constructed counterpart for Chandler’s famous detective Marlowe. Those eyebrows and that stare should have been insured–she uses them to her character Adrienne Fromsett’s advantage to make you–in Marlowe’s shoes–feel the same distaste and compassion as he does.
Montgomery almost becomes a non-character behind the camera, with primarily his voice all we know of him from beginning to end. Did he record his lines in post-production or just use good sound equipment and perfect timing while filming? Two supporting characters are also high points: Legendary actor Lloyd Nolan portrays the perfect tough and cocky noir police detective, and legendary actress Audrey Meadows plays landlord to one of the movie’s key suspects.
Have a Merry Christmas weekend!