First Person Noir

POSTED: April 30, 2021

Sometimes you find out something and then forget to remember it. Years ago I learned of a major movie made entirely in the first person, but never made a note of it.

Today I wanted to offer it to a student group as an example of unusual storytelling techniques.

I thought hard and googled. Eventually I found it. The movie in my mind: The Lady in the Lake, directed by Robert Montgomery in 1947. And yes, I have seen it. And yes, if memory serves, it counts as “interesting” rather than anything more.

Wikipedia says:

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 (MGM), after eighteen years with the studio.

Montgomery’s ambition was to create a cinematic version of the first-person narrative style of Chandler’s 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. 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.