I’ve been aware of this mystery film for some time because of its status as a Gimmick Movie, and finally got a chance to see it. The gimmick is that the camera is the detective. What you see is what he is seeing, so except for a couple scenes where he is near a mirror, you never see him at all.
The movie stars Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, and Lloyd Nolan, and Robert Montgomery directed. Supporting roles are played by Tom Tully, Leon Ames, Jayne Meadows, and Dick Simmons. The screen play is by Steve Fisher, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. And Kathleen Lockhart (Gene’s wife and June’s mother) has a nice cameo as Mrs Grayson.
If you recognize the Chandler name, you know the detective in question is Phillip Marlowe. And as Montgomery explains the gimmick, he challenges the viewer to solve the murder. Now this is a film where the beginning has all the credits and the end has “The End”. So the challenge struck me as odd because there is a Spoiler in the credits. See if you can find it.
I will not discuss the plot, but I loved the following series of lines leading up to a punchy finish, so I will set up the exchange. Marlowe has found the detecting business slow of late and so has written a short story based on a case of his. He has submitted it to a publisher and has been called in to discuss it. Audrey Totter plays the publisher’s assistant, and as the interview progresses she calls in the publisher, played by Leon Ames. She introduces Marlowe as their newest author and a real detective.
Leon Ames: “Detective?”
Audrey (who is more than a little bit snarky): “Um-hmm. That’s what makes his stuff so authentic. So full of life and vigor and heart. So full of… What would you say it was full of, Mr. Marlowe?”
Robert: “Short sentences.”
Uniformly good performances and truly interesting camera work. And of course, the snark factor. I liked this one a lot.