Lady in the Lake

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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 1943 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, frequently using 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 Los Angeles 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. But according to Fromsett, Lavery says he has not seen Chrystal for two months, and the telegram appears to be fake. It becomes obvious to Marlowe that Fromsett wants her boss for herself (for his money, as she later admits).

Marlowe goes to see Lavery (Dick Simmons), who claims to know nothing about any trip to Mexico. Lavery, however, says that Mrs. Kingsby WAS a beautiful woman before revising it to "is." He sucker-punches the detective. Marlowe wakes up in jail. He is questioned by Captain Kane (Tom Tully) and a belligerent Lieutenant DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan). Marlowe refuses to divulge anything, and Kane releases him.

Marlowe learns that a woman's body has been recovered from a lake owned by Kingsby, and that Kingsby's caretaker, Mr. Chess, was 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 learns 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 see Lavery again. Inside the unlocked house, he encounters Lavery's landlady, Mrs. Falbrook, holding a gun she claims to have just found. Upstairs, he finds Lavery dead, shot several times. He also finds a handkerchief with the monogram "A F".

Before calling the police, Marlowe goes to the publishing house to confront Fromsett, interrupting a Christmas party. In private, she denies killing Lavery. Kingsby, learning that Fromsett had hired Marlowe to find Chrystal, tells her theirs will be strictly a business relationship from now on. A furious Fromsett fires the private eye. Kingsby immediately hires him to find his wife.

Marlowe informs the police of Lavery's death. At the scene, he suggests that Muriel was hiding from DeGarmot. The two men scuffle. Kane takes Marlowe into custody, releasing him only out of Christmas spirit.

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

Marlowe finds the parents have been intimidated into keeping silent. His car is then run off the road by DeGarmot. Regaining consciousness after the crash, Marlowe gets to a telephone and call Fromsett for help. She takes him back to her apartment, where she claims that she has fallen in love with him. They spend Christmas Day together while he recovers from his injuries.

Kingsby receives a telegram from his wife, asking for money. Marlowe agrees to drop it off, as Kingsby is being followed by police detectives. Placing his trust in Fromsett, Marlowe instructs her to have the police follow him after ten minutes, following a trail of rice he will leave.

The woman Marlowe meets (Jayne Meadows) turns out to be Mildred Havelend, alias Mrs. Falbrook, alias Muriel. She killed Chrystal (the "lady in the lake"), in addition to her former employer's wife and Lavery.

DeGarmot was in love with Havelend and helped her cover up the first murder. Then she fled from him and married Chess.

Haveland pulls a gun on Marlowe in her apartment. DeGarmot tracks them down, having overheard Fromsett speaking to Captain Kane and following Marlowe's trail of rice. He plans to kill them both with Havelend's gun and stage it to look like she and Marlowe shot each other. DeGarmot then shoots a pleading Mildred several times. Kane arrives just in time to gun down his own crooked cop. Marlowe and Fromsett decide to leave for New York City to start a new 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] Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film two and a half out of four stars, commending its first person perspective storytelling but criticized its confusing plot and dated presentation.[5]

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.[citation needed]


  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.
  5. ^ Leonard Maltin; Spencer Green; Rob Edelman (January 2010). Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. Plume. p. 357. ISBN 978-0-452-29577-3. 

External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]