Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Lady in the Lake (1947)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Lady in the Lake (1947)

In director/star Robert Montgomery's film-noir murder mystery - his directorial debut film - it was a Christmas-themed classic crime noir adapted from Raymond Chandler 1944 novel of the same name by Chandler himself. It featured a unique and unusual gimmick - an experimental and revolutionary perspective known as "subjective camera"; the main hard-boiled detective protagonist was off-camera for most of the film, although sometimes viewed in mirrors. Everything was seen or viewed from his first-person POV or perspective.

The mystery plot was very convoluted and twisting - difficult to follow at times. It basically involved a search for a missing, promiscuous wife who had allegedly run off to Mexico with a handsome, gigolo boyfriend named Chris Lavery. The quest for the missing woman ("Chrystal Kingsby") was instigated by a gold-digging femme fatale who had ulterior motives to marry Chrystal's rich husband - her own boss Derace Kingsby.

[Note: Astute viewers would have noted a crucial clue - the on-screen credit for Ellay Mort as murder victim "Chrystal Kingsby" who was never seen on-screen, was a French pun: "Elle est mort" translated: 'She is dead.']

The detective's search discovered that the wife might be responsible for the murder of a mysterious "lady in the lake" found near a summer cabin near Little Fawn Lake owned by Kingsby. The victim was initially identified as 'Muriel Chess' - the wife of Kingsby's cabin caretaker Bill Chess, and he was charged with the crime. A key discovery was that Muriel had another name - Mildred Havelend. Soon after, Lavery's suspicious landlord 'Mrs. Falbrook' was seen just before Lavery's shower murder. It was up to Marlowe to fit the pieces together and discover who was behind the murders (involving switched identities, a deadly love-triangle, and a double-cross) - and to discover the deadly motives of 'Mrs. Falbrook' (with her many aliases).

  • after the title credits (with a choir singing 'Jingle Bells'), in the film's opening prologue set in private detective Phillip Marlowe's (Robert Montgomery) office in 1940s Hollywood, he spoke directly to the audience - smashing the 4th wall. Fed up with his low-paying profession as a PI, he decided he wanted to write and publish his own script for a murder story. It was titled "If I Should Die Before I Live" - the story was "based on an authentic case" that he had investigated, in retrospect. He planned to sell it for a profit to a lurid, horror-story pulp magazine:
    • "...Right now, you're reading in newspapers and hearing over your radios about a murder. They call it "The Case of the Lady in the Lake." It's a good title. It fits. What you've read and what you've heard is one thing. The real thing is something else. There's only one guy who knows that. I know it. This "Lady in the Lake" business started just three days before Christmas. I was tired of being pushed around for nickels and dimes so I decided I'd write about murder. It's safer. And besides, they tell me the profits are good. So I pounded out a story - on that - and I sent it up to the Kingsby Publications, Incorporated, specialists in gore."
  • he cautioned and also challenged the viewing audience to look for clues, to try and solve the who-dun-it, step-by-step:
    • "You'll see it just as I saw it. You'll meet the people, you'll find the clues and maybe you'll solve it quick, and maybe you won't. You think you will? Okay, you're smart. But let me give you a tip. You've got to watch them. You've got to watch them all the time. Because things happen when you least expect them"
  • the intriguing, twisting plot began in the office of Kingsby Publications, Incorporated, where Marlowe met with the pulp magazine publisher's conniving, self-interested, tough-girl and witchy career woman Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) - the film's manipulative femme fatale; the female editor-assistant had contacted him on false pretenses - she was less interested in his manuscript than in hiring him to investigate a case of a missing wife ("without his knowing you're looking for her"), the promiscuous, month-long estranged Chrystal Kingsby (Ellay Mort); Chrystal had been married for 10 years to Adrienne's own boss - millionaire editor-in-chief Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames); Adrienne was eager for Kingsby to begin divorce proceedings against Chrystal, or to find Chrystal dead, so that she could marry her boss
  • Adrienne viciously pre-judged Chrystal: "She's run off with another man. She's a vicious woman. A liar, a cheat, and a thief. She may even end up in the hands of the police."
  • [Note: Early on, Marlowe considered Adrienne "cold-blooded." He suspected that the self-interested, gold-digging Adrienne had her own romantic sights set on marrying the wealthy Kingsby: "I have an allergy against getting mixed up with tricky females who want to knock off the boss's wife and marry him for themselves."]
  • however, the well-known detective Marlowe accepted Adrienne's second offer of $500 for his "authentic" manuscript that she described as "so full of life and vigor and heart"
  • in the office, one of the film's interesting camera angles (Marlowe's eyes) followed the publisher's receptionist - a flirtatious blonde bombshell (Lila Leeds)
  • Adrienne invited Marlowe to her apartment to discuss the matter further: (Adrienne: "I wonder how it would be to discuss this over a couple of ice cubes. Would you care to try?" Marlowe: "lmagine you needing ice cubes")
  • at her place, Marlowe found an obviously well-displayed copy of a recent telegram from Chrystal to Derace (her husband) declaring that she had run off to Juarez, Mexico two months earlier with muscle-bound, smarmy, smooth-talking gigolo boyfriend Chris Lavery (Dick Simmons), in order to divorce Derace and marry Lavery. Adrienne declared the telegram on her desk as a fake or "phony" - and Marlowe agreed. She claimed she had recently spoken to Lavery who denied the accusation: "I ran into Chris Lavery last week and he said he hadn't seen Chrystal Kingsby for two months"
  • Marlowe visited the residence of Chrystal's gigolo lover Chris Lavery in his Bay City house, who denied knowing anything and any accusations of wrong-doing: "I haven't seen her in a month of Sundays...I don't hanker for any part of her. Not for all the money in the world." Feeling insulted by Marlowe's attitude and questioning, Lavery abruptly punched him in the face - rendering him unconscious

Chris Lavery (Dick Simmons)

Lavery's Punch to Marlowe's Face
  • Marlowe awoke in a police jail cell with a black right eye, and was briefly questioned by two Bay City police detectives: tough and belligerent Lieutenant DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan) and Captain Fergus K. Kane (Tom Tully). He was charged with being found drunk in his car (a DUI) that had run over the curb (Lavery's set-up), before his release by Captain Kane
  • Marlowe again spoke to Adriennne in her office (during a 2nd visit), who gave him a tip to visit Kingsby's summer retreat cabin near Little Fawn Lake (in the mountains beyond Arrowhead), where Chrystal was last seen; before leaving for the lake, the case became even more complicated when Marlowe and Adrienne learned that a female's drowned body was found in the lake ('the lady in the lake'); the corpse was suspected to belong to Muriel Chess, the wife of Kingsby's caretaker Bill Chess; Chess was charged with murdering his wife Muriel; Adrienne suspected that the caretaker's wife was murdered by Kingsby's wife Chrystal (who hated Muriel)
  • after visiting the summer resort area, Marlowe reported back to Adrienne at four in the morning in her apartment - he told her that the body (submerged for almost a month) was not Chrystal's; his main discovery was that the victim Muriel Chess had another name - Mildred Havelend. She had recently married Bill Chess because she was a fugitive from unknown circumstances involving a "tough cop" ("She married Chess because she wanted a place to hide. It seems that a tough cop was after her") - was the "tough cop" DeGarmot?
  • Marlowe also surmised that Mildred/Muriel had squabbled with Chrystal over Chris Lavery's affections, and that Lavery was a key figure in their disappearances ("That ties him up with two missing women, Chrystal and Muriel"); as Marlowe left, Adrienne warned him: "You'd be crazy to fall in love with me, Marlowe"
  • during a second visit to Lavery's unlocked house, Marlowe encountered fast-talking Mrs. Fallbrook (Jayne Meadows), the alleged landlady; she was coming down the stairs and holding a gun in her hand (she said she found it on the stairs). She claimed she was there to collect the overdue three months rent check; after Mrs. Fallbrook left, upstairs, Marlowe searched and discovered a handkerchief with Adrienne's monogram: "AF", running water in Lavery's bathroom sink, bullet holes in the shower door glass, and Lavery's corpse slumped on the shower floor (the killer was presumably Mrs. Fallbrook who had come in through the upstairs porch and surprised him)
  • a private Christmas-Eve gift party was in progress in the publishing office when Marlowe barged in to speak privately to Adrienne, and informed her that Lavery was shot dead with a gun that he produced; he was suspicious that Adrienne's handkerchief was found on Lavery's dresser. When Mr. Kingsby interrupted their conversation, he denounced Adrienne for scheming and meddling in his private affairs regarding Chrystal, and for using Marlowe to find her: "You had no right to meddle. Chrystal is to be left alone to do what she wants to do....I won't have you prying into my private affairs." He believed his wife was innocent regarding Lavery's death, and wanted Adrienne to quit interfering: ("If you think you're going to harm Chrystal, you're very much mistaken"). He promised to keep his relationship with Adrienne strictly business-related in the future
  • angered, the failed gold-digger Adrienne fired Marlowe: ("You're off the case. There isn't any case anymore"); However, on the way out, Marlowe was re-hired by Kingsby to find his wife and exonerate her from any murder charges: ("I'd like to keep my wife out of it"). He stressed his continuing love for his wife, with no plans for divorce: "But the one thing I know is, I love my wife intensely."
  • Marlowe returned to the scene of Lavery's death with the gun; Lieutenant DeGarmot, one of the Bay City cops, had been called to the scene. Marlowe suspected that he was the "tough cop" who had been asking questions about Mildred/Muriel a few weeks earlier at the lake:
    • "There was a fellow there a few weeks ago looking for Mildred Havelend. He acted like a cop, I was told. A tough cop with bad manners, like you...She and Muriel Chess were the same girl. She changed her name because she was hiding out from this tough cop. Does it add up?...I think this female had a shady past, and you knew something about it"
  • Marlowe was extremely suspicious of DeGarmot, who knew both Mildred and Lavery - and both were now dead; after a brief scuffle with DeGarmot, the cops unsuccessfully attempted to charge Marlowe with Lavery's murder. Marlowe was brought downtown by Capt. Kane, but was soon dismissed
  • [Note: The key to the whole plot was the identity of 'landlady' Mrs. Fallbrook. She was actually the supposedly-drowned Muriel Chess/Mildred Havelend who had married Bill Chess, Kingsby's caretaker, and then assumed the married name of Muriel Chess, in order to hide her real identity as Mildred Havelend from the "tough cop." It was now also more than likely that Chrystal was the corpse in the lake, not Muriel.]
  • later that evening, Adrienne visited Marlowe's hotel room, hoping to encourage him to see her more positively ("I thought you liked me"), although he was sarcastic toward her: "The girl I like won't be editing a string of crime magazines, or looking for a quick million bucks, or trying to hang a murder on another woman"
  • Marlowe dismissed Adrienne when he received a phone call from an LA Chronicle reporter with damaging information about Mildred's/Muriel's background. Marlowe sought further information from some victim's parents, the Graysons (Morris Ankrum and Kathleen Lockhart), in Bay City:
    • Mildred was a nurse for a doctor in Bay City named Almore
    • the doctor's wife, Florence Almore, was found dead
    • the cop investigating the case was named DeGarmot, who ruled the death was a suicide; it was a probable cover-up to protect Mildred's guilt; Florence's parents - the Graysons - disagreed with the ruling and thought it was murder, but then were pressured, presumably by an intimidating DeGarmot, to keep quiet
    • afterwards, Mildred disappeared
  • as Marlowe was driving off from the Graysons' home, DeGarmot pursued him and ran Marlowe's car off the road, and he was knocked unconscious. Although drenched in alcohol to appear DUI, Marlowe was able to stagger to a gas station phone booth to call Adrienne to rescue him and help him recover. She gladly cared for the injured Marlowe in her apartment, when she admitted her love for him (with the camera on her for a lengthy time) - on Christmas Day. She vowed to abandon her evil ways to show her romantic affection for the private detective:
    • "We'd be fine together. In everything, we'd be fine together if only you - just...I don't know. You don't think I'm honest. I want you to know that I am...I want to take care of you. Maybe it isn't glamorous, I don't know, but I want to be your girl. That's what I want for Christmas. Don't laugh at me... (She kissed him) It's just like you said that day. We're both alike. In everything we're alike. We'll be fine together. We will, won't we? This is what the world is really like, isn't it?"

Adrienne Taking in Marlowe to Help Him Recover

Injured Marlowe Reflected in a Mirror

Adrienne: "I want to take care of you"

Leaning Forward With Her Eyes Closed For a Kiss
  • a frantic Kingsby arrived to find Marlowe. He reported on an alleged demand by Chrystal (a telegram from Bay City) asking for money. Although he suspected a trap, Marlowe volunteered to deliver the $500 cash funds to her near a cocktail bar called The Peacock Room
  • a dark-haired woman led Marlowe to her apartment - to his surprise, she was the 'landlady' Mrs. Fallbrook - or Mildred, holding a gun on him. Marlowe explained his reasoning about how Mildred had been involved in murdering Florence Almore, the wife of her previous employer (a Bay City doctor) by asphyxiation in her car. And that the missing Chrystal Kingsby was the corpse in the lake:
    • Marlowe: "The lady in the lake, instead of being you, is Chrystal Kingsby. Is that an accident?"
      Mildred: "Yes. Chrystal and I traded clothes one night. She had on my things, and I had on hers. We went across the lake to see if we could fool my husband, Bill Chess, that was my husband."
      Marlowe (deducing): "And Chrystal fell in the lake and sank to the bottom."
  • Mildred had made it look like the corpse in the lake was her alter-ego Muriel Chess. Marlowe believed that Mildred/Muriel and Chrystal had jealously fought over handsome male Chris Lavery. This rivalry was clearly Mildred's motive to kill Chrystal and make it look like Muriel was the dead body in the lake, so she could run away with Lavery. After Chrystal's drowning/murder, Mildred fled and ran away to El Paso - and Lavery "was the only one who knew the real identity of the lady in the lake" - the reason that Mildred also eliminated him and killed him in the shower
  • Marlowe also knew about love-struck Lieutenant DeGarmot's romantic involvement with Mildred. Earlier, the cop had partnered with Mildred to hide and cover up the murder of Florence Almore. His covered-up investigation ruled that Almore's death was a suicide. After the case closed, Mildred fled. She "double-crossed" DeGarmot by abandoning him and changing her name to Muriel Chess (after marrying Bill Chess, Kingsby's caretaker) with the intent to hide and get away from the "tough cop"
  • the final resolution came when Lieut. DeGarmot unexpectedly arrived and knocked Marlowe to the floor. He described his feelings of double-cross and betrayal by Mildred after he had helped her to cover up the Almore murder. DeGarmot had relentlessly tracked her down - and he now was finally able to confront her face-to-face in her apartment. DeGarmot chastized her:
    • "People aren't safe with a woman like you in the world and people have to be protected. I never expected to find you here tonight. I thought you were dead. I wish you were, because you're a murderess. And this time, dead's the way I'm gonna leave you....Yes I was out of my mind the night that Florence Almore died (and) you made a sucker out of me. Even after you ran away, I still loved you. You made a clown outta me, a bad cop. But tonight's the end of it, and of you."
  • Marlowe attempted to dissuade DeGarmot: ("The Almore case won't come up. They'll convict her for Chrystal's murder or Lavery's. You'll be clear"), but DeGarmot's intention was to kill both Marlowe and the deceitful Mildred with her gun and stage it to look like she and Marlowe had shot each other, in order to frame them for the other murders. DeGarmot shot her multiple times - point-blank - in view of Marlowe, as she begged for her life - to no avail: ("No. Please, please wait. Don't, honey. Honey, we were gonna, we were gonna be a guy and his girl, that's the way you said it, I remember those very words, I remember...All our dreams can come true if you'll only just. Please! I love you, remember, I'm your girl.")
  • the crooked cop DeGarmot was then gunned down by Capt. Kane and another officer through a window, before he could kill Marlowe
  • at the end of the film after the case was solved, Adrienne and Marlowe left NYC together to begin a serious romance

Introduction of the Plot by Phillip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery)

Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) in the Publishing Office

The Camera's POV Following a Flirtatious Blond Office Receptionist

Adrienne with Her Wealthy Boss Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames)

Adrienne Speaking to Marlowe in the Publishing Office (Mirror Reflection)

Fake Telegram in Chrystal's Apartment - About Chrystal's Divorce, and Her Planned Marriage in Mexico to Chris Lavery

Tough Cop Lt. DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan)

(l to r): Capt. Kane (Tom Tully) and Lt. DeGarmot

Adrienne in Her Office - During 2nd Visit From Marlowe

Marlowe Visiting Adrienne at Her Apartment After a Trip to Little Fawn Lake to Report on His Discoveries

The Deadly Landlady 'Mrs. Fallbrook' (Jayne Meadows) (aka Mildred Havelend, or Muriel Chess) - Who Was Eventually Unmasked as the Killer of Both Chrystal and Chris Lavery

Lavery Shot Dead in Shower

Private Christmas Party - Marlowe Confronted by Adrienne and Mr. Kingsby

Adrienne in Marlowe's Hotel Room

Marlowe's Conversation With The Graysons - A Crucial Piece of the Puzzle

The Lady Demanding $500 Was Not Chrystal, but Mildred!

Lieut. DeGarmot's Anger at Mildred for Being Double-Crossed - He Shot Her to Death, and then Died Himself

Marlowe and Adrienne Together in the Conclusion


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z