Lady in the Lake

Robert Montgomery's 1947 film noir 'Lady in the Lake' is an interesting film that uses the technique of POV (point of view) to tell the story. Montgomery directed this film as well as starred in the leading role of Philip Marlowe. Based on the Raymond Chandler novel, Marlowe is hired to find a publishers missing wife.

The film is an interesting but ultimately failed experiment in film technique. Orson Welles proposed to do an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' when he was first hired to make a film for RKO. Welles had planned to do the film in the point of view of Marlow (odd that it's the same name) but for a variety of reasons Welles abandoned 'Heart of Darkness' for 'Citizen Kane'. It was a smart move for Welles as the technique limits the filmmaker. For this reason 'Lady in the Lake' lumbers along, chained to the point of view of Marlowe and never giving the audience the opportunity to see how Marlowe reacts or feels. For Montgomery the point of view allowed the audience to participate in the film as if they were Marlowe. This fails as we are not Marlowe and although we are carried along by the dialogue and plot we never really participate in the film. Film is a window into the characters lives and just because we share their visual point of view, it doesn't mean that we share in the characters thoughts or feelings.

I have seen this technique used well in the BBC comedy 'Peep Show'. What separates 'Peep Show' from 'Lady in the Lake' is that 'Peep Show' shifts the POV shots between the characters. This allows you to see a character react visually to the events of the story. It gives you the window into their thoughts and feelings. 'Peep Show' takes it a step further by giving the characters internal monologues where we hear their private thoughts.

'Lady in the Lake' was interesting to watch as it highlights the strengths of traditional and classic film technique. Alfred Hitchcock's Rope was a similar exercise in making a film that seemingly employed no cuts. 'Rope' was made to preserve total continuity and look like it was made in a single take. Hitchock reflected on this experiment with Francois Truffaut:

"When I look back, I realize that it was quite nonsensical because I was breaking with my own theories on the importance of cutting and montage for the visual narration of a an experiment Rope may be forgiven, but it was definitely a mistake when I insisted on applying the same techniques to Under Capricorn."

Montgomery's 'Lady in the Lake' can also be forgiven as an experiment in technique. It is no wonder that we don't use the technique as 'Lady in the Lake' highlighted the flaws in using extensive POV for storytelling. 'Rope' was a more successful experiment and remains an entertaining film today. This is probably due to Hitchock's acknowledgement that although there were no cuts in the film, he staged the film in a way that it was 'precut'. Although the film had no physical cuts, he blocked it in such a way that he was still able to follow simple film grammar of establishing shots, medium shots and close ups. He just used a dynamic and moving camera as opposed to cutting.

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