Robert Montgomery starred in and directed this quirky mystery based on Raymond Chandler's novel "The Lady in the Lake." The whole movie is seen through the eyes of private detective Philip Marlowe, and his face (Montgomery's face) is shown only occasionally, mostly as a reflection.
This is a clever approach but not very audience-friendly, or at least it wasn't with the limited technology of the 1940s. As a viewer, you're supposed to be part of the action, seeing things exactly as Marlowe would see them. But you're always aware that what's supposed to be a pair of curious eyes is just a swiveling camera. Everything seems slow and unreal.
Fortunately, Montgomery sounds exactly the way Marlowe should sound, with an insolent edge to his voice even at those rare times when he's not making a wisecrack. He essentially narrates this film, just as the character of Marlowe narrated the novels, and that's a big plus. There's plenty of crackling dialogue, too.
Screenwriters were always taking liberties with Raymond Chandler's convoluted plots. They had to. But it initially puzzled me that a novel set in midsummer should be turned into a movie set at Christmastime. I think I've figured out the answer.
One of the many plot points in the novel concerned a supposed drowning at a lakeside resort in the California mountains (the lady in the lake). Marlowe spent a good part of the book nosing around the resort, and Chandler's putting him in that bucolic setting was a refreshing change of pace from the previous novels.
But shooting scenes from Marlowe's point of view in the great outdoors would have been a chore. So while the screenplay retains the drowning incident, everything about it happens off-screen. The mountains are snowy and mostly deserted, so Marlowe barely even pays them a visit. The urban scenes from the book are emphasized instead. That's a pity.
I wish Montgomery had made another, more conventional Marlowe film. But this is all we've got. It's a sometimes enjoyable oddity.
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