LA private eye Phillip Marlowe is hired to find the runaway wife of magazine publisher Derace Kingsby. A female corpse turns up in a California lake near Kingsbys holiday cabin, but is identified as Muriel Chess, wife of the caretaker, rather than Cryst
Like The Thief, the silent (rather, dialogue-free) film made in 1952 and Scent of Mystery, the first (and only) feature in Smell-o-Vision, this stands as a monument to the inadvisability of saddling an entire film with a technically interesting but ultimately pointless gimmick.
Most adaptations of Raymond Chandler's Marlowe novels try to adapt the author's distinctive voice with a first-person narration, but Robert Montgomery - who stars as 'Phillip' Marlowe and directs - shoots the entire film through a subjective camera, effectively casting the audience as the private eye, warning us to pay attention to clues and not trust any of the suspects. Though a few moments - when Marlowe is punched in the face by a thug or kissed by Audrey Totter - work well in the 'lion in your lap' manner favoured by 3-D movies, the trick soon wears thin, prompting audiences to recall that people do not see the world in black and white with elegant panning camera movements and a lush music track.
If you get past the tricksiness, this is a fine adaptation of the novel - though uncredited, Chandler worked on the script, the only time he tried to adapt one of his books for the screen, and is responsible for the in-jokes about the pulp magazine business - with Totter especially good in shoulderpads as the tart heroine and familiar grouch Lloyd Nolan excellent as the desperate, crooked cop in the case.
Superb performances in this taut thriller.