So, Christmas noir? The opening of a lively chorus caroling and holiday cheering over Christmas cards displaying the credits evokes holiday spirit, except there’s always just the slightest manic edge to their liveliness creating a noir frisson. Then the chorus ends in a startled drop as the last card slips away to reveal a gun. Click here for a Silver/Ursini commentary on the opening.
You have holiday parties, mistletoe, presents that give away true intentions, mixed with a disappearing adulterous wife, her charmingly sleazy actor boyfriend, her sophisticated and two-faced husband, a high-class gold digger of an assistant publisher, a brutal and probably crooked cop, and a high strung mystery woman. Leon Ames is at his most smarmy-charming as the husband, Audrey Totter is tart as a Granny Smith as the assistant, Lloyd Nolan is at his menacing and slightly psychotic best as the cop, and Jane Meadows is positively manic. I needed a sedative after five minutes of her. Bob Montgomery’s Philip Marlowe wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t my favorite. He was smart and wary, but he was also a little too full of himself – especially when putting down Audrey Totter’s publishing executive. Lloyd Nolan wasn’t the only one who wanted to slap him around. And speaking of Lloyd, the character he plays here went a long way to inspiring one of the characters in the sequel to Bait and Switch, Letter from a Dead Man.
I just love the great Chandler names: Muriel Chess, Adrienne Fromsett, Derace Kingsby, Mildred Havilland, Chris Lavery, and Det. Degarmot – they just roll off your tongue. But they’re real names, too, with the quirkiness you find on class rosters or employment lists. Spolier Alert for people who speak French: The actress playing Crystal Kingsby is listed as Elay Mort (Elle est morte.)
The plot’s a convoluted, dashing sleigh ride but it’s worth the trip. Have fun!
If I have time, I’ll try to review some other Christmas or Holiday noir, like Coverup, Lady on a Train, Repeat Performance, or The Thin Man Goes Home. Otherwise, there’s always next Christmas – with any luck!
collection of Lady in the Lake title cards: http://annyas.com/screenshots/updates/lady-in-the-lake-1947-title-sequence/