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Thursday, May 11, 2017

LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

Using subjective camera POV for a whole movie (‘YOU solve the murder!’) is one those perennial ideas that sounds good if you don’t think too much about it.  Effective enough in small doses, it soon wears out its welcome and slows things down considerably.* Art may thrive on rules & limitation, but has anyone licked this particular trick? Even Orson Welles, who toyed with using the technique for his first film project, an adaptation of HEART OF DARKNESS, gave it up. (Later this year, Delmer Daves used it for the opening section of DARK PASSAGE/’47, helping Humphrey Bogart coyly hide facial surgery.) The technique is extreme, but having your lead be the camera is fun in limited doses, especially with director/star Robert Montgomery & cinematographer Paul Vogel pulling off some clever effects. Things You Can’t Miss: a big kiss right on top of us; a sock in the jaw. Things You Notice Subliminally: barely perceptible dissolve-edits when camera position or lenses need a quick change within a shot. But more often, the technique reduces rather than heightens visual storytelling, leaving a film that plays out like radio drama. (Probably because the technique restricts editing choices.) The case? Well, we’re in Chandler-town, so there’s plenty of hard-nosed dames & action, with P.I. Marlowe taking it on the chin before sussing out the mystery of an estranged wife gone missing and why police dick Lloyd Nolan has it in for him. Audrey Totter is in fine early form as a not-so-bad girl and Tom Tully’s police Captain gets a rare chance to evolve into something like a good egg. As Philip Marlowe, Montgomery is smooth & cynical, cackling with contempt even when he’s playing sincere. With a few more reverse angles to help out, he might have scored. As a one-off, this just gets by.

DOUBLE-BILL: Maybe something was in the air? In addition to DARK PASSAGE (see above), not so hot with or without subjective camera, Hitchcock played with extreme POV in the faux one-shot of ROPE/'48. OR: Stick with Montgomery starring in and directing the superior, if still peculiar film noir RIDE THE PINK HORSE/’47.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Like a mime using ten minutes instead of ten words to get a point across.

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