Lady in the Lake

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This article is about the film noir. For other uses, see Lady in the Lake (disambiguation).
Lady in the Lake
Directed by Robert Montgomery
Produced by George Haight
Screenplay by Steve Fisher
Based on The Lady in the Lake
1943 novel
by Raymond Chandler
Starring Robert Montgomery
Audrey Totter
Lloyd Nolan
Narrated by Robert Montgomery
Music by David Snell
Cinematography Paul Vogel
Edited by Gene Ruggiero
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • January 23, 1947 (1947-01-23) (United States)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,026,000[1]
Box office $2,657,000[1]

Lady in the Lake is a 1947 American film noir that marked the directorial debut of Robert Montgomery, who also stars in the film. The picture also features Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames and Jayne Meadows. The murder mystery was an adaptation of the 1944 Raymond Chandler novel The Lady in the Lake. The film was Montgomery's last for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, after eighteen years with the studio.

Chandler, a twice Oscar-nominated screenwriter who did not author the screenplay for this or any other screen adaptations of his own novels, disdained Montgomery's ambition to create a cinematic version of the first-person narrative style of his Philip Marlowe novels. With the exception of a couple of times when Montgomery (in character) addresses the audience directly, the entire film is shot from the viewpoint of the central character, Marlowe. The audience sees only what he does. MGM promoted the film with the claim that it was the first of its kind and the most revolutionary style of film since the introduction of the talkies. The movie was also unusual for having virtually no instrumental soundtrack, the music in the film being instead provided by a wordless vocal chorus.

The film's script, written by Steve Fisher, changes the novel's midsummer setting to Christmastime, and frequently uses holiday themes as an ironic counterpoint to the grim aspects of the story. The opening credits are shown on a series of Christmas cards, which turn out to be concealing a gun.


Tired of the low pay of his profession, hard-boiled private detective Phillip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) submits a murder story to Kingsby Publications. He is invited to the publishers’ offices to discuss his work but soon realizes it is merely a ploy. A few days before Christmas, publishing executive Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) hires him to locate the wife of her boss, Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames).

One month earlier, Kingsby’s wife, Chrystal, had sent her husband a telegram saying she was heading to Mexico to divorce him and marry a man named Chris Lavery (Dick Simmons). But, according to Fromsett, Lavery says he hasn't seen Chrystal for two months; she's missing, and the telegram appears to be a fake.

It quickly becomes obvious to Marlowe that Fromsett wants her boss for herself (for his money - as she later admits).

When Marlowe goes to see Lavery, the Southerner claims to be unaware of any trip to Mexico. And he has a slip of the tongue and says Mrs. Kingsby WAS a beautiful woman, then revises it to an "is". Then Lavery sucker punches the detective. Marlowe wakes up in jail, where he is questioned by Captain Kane (Tom Tully) and a belligerent Lieutenant DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan). When Marlowe refuses to divulge anything about his case, Kane warns him not to cause trouble in his district and releases him.

Marlowe learns that the body of a woman has been recovered from a lake owned by Kingsby and Kingsby's caretaker there charged with the murder of his wife Muriel. Fromsett suspects that Chrystal is the real killer, as she and Muriel hated each other. Little Fawn Lake was also where Chrystal was last seen. Marlowe investigates and reports to Fromsett that Muriel was an alias for a woman named Mildred Havelend and that she was hiding from a tough cop – whose description fits DeGarmot.

Marlowe goes to call on Lavery again. Inside the unlocked house, he instead encounters Lavery's landlady, Mrs. Falbrook, holding a gun she claims to have just found. Upstairs, he finds Lavery dead in the shower, shot several times. He also finds a handkerchief with the monogram "A F".

Before calling the police, he interrupts a Christmas party at the publishing house to confront Fromsett. In private, she denies killing Lavery. Kingsby comes in and, after learning that Fromsett hired Marlowe to find Chrystal, tells her theirs will be strictly a business relationship from now on. A furious Fromsett fires the private eye. Marlowe immediately gets another job; Kingsby hires him to find his wife.

Marlowe then informs the police of Lavery's death. At the scene, he suggests that Muriel was hiding from DeGarmot. The two men scuffle, before Kane separates them and sends Marlowe on his way.

Marlowe obtains more information on Muriel from a newspaper contact. It turns out that Muriel had been a suspect in the suspicious death of her previous employer's wife - a woman named Florence. The investigating detective, DeGarmot, ruled that death a suicide; but the victim's parents strongly disagreed.

When Marlowe goes to question them, he finds they have been intimidated into keeping silent. Afterwards, he is run off the road by DeGarmot. Regaining consciousness after the crash, he manages to get to a telephone and call Fromsett for help. She takes him back to her apartment, where she tells him that they have much in common and that she has fallen in love with him. They spend Christmas Day together while he recovers from his injuries.

Kingsby shows up and informs Marlowe he has received a telegram from his wife, asking for money. Marlowe agrees to drop it off, as Kingsby is being followed by police detectives. Placing his life in Fromsett's hands, Marlowe instructs her to have the police follow him after ten minutes, following a trail of rice he will leave behind.

The woman Marlowe meets (and who had asked for money from Kingsby) turns out to be Mildred Havelend, alias Mrs. Falbrook, alias Muriel and is the one who killed Chrystal (the "lady in the lake"), Florence (her former employer's wife), and Lavery.

DeGarmot was in love with Havelend and helped her cover up the first murder, but she fled from him and married Kingsby's caretaker, Mr. Chess.

DeGarmot tracks down Marlowe and Havelend (having overheard Fromsett speaking to Captain Kane and following Marlowe's trail of rice grains). DeGarmot plans to kill Marlowe and Havelend with Havelend's gun and stage it to look like they shot each other. DeGarmot murders Mildred, but Captain Kane gets there just in time to gun down his own crooked cop. Marlowe and Fromsett leave for New York to start a life together.



MGM bought the rights to Chandler's novel for a reported $35,000.[2]

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $1,812,000 in the US and Canada and $845,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $598,000.[1][3]

Critical reaction[edit]

The New York Times film critic wrote, "In making the camera an active participant, rather than an off-side reporter, Mr. Montgomery has, however, failed to exploit the full possibilities suggested by this unusual technique. For after a few minutes of seeing a hand reaching toward a door knob, or lighting a cigarette or lifting a glass, or a door moving toward you as though it might come right out of the screen the novelty begins to wear thin."[4]

Radio adaptation[edit]

Lux Radio Theater broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on February 9, 1948 with Montgomery and Totter reprising their roles.


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ SCREEN NEWS.: Oberon and Corvin Will Star at Universal Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Feb 1945: 12.
  3. ^ "Top Grossers of 1947", Variety, 7 January 1948 p 63
  4. ^ The New York Times. Film review, January 24, 1947. Last accessed: December 29, 2007.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]