I went into this knowing that the “I am a camera” gimmick does not work for me. Still, it’s such a noble experiment that I had to see it again.
Philip Marlow (Robert Montgomery) is not satisfied with the miserable fees he gets as a private detective so he decides to turn author. He is amazingly successful with his first submission to a pulp magazine and called in for a chat with editor A. Fromsett. This turns out to be the lovely Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) and she has more on her mind than the story. She offers Marlow $300 to locate the missing wife of her publisher (Leon Ames), Chrystal Kingsby. It is clear Adrienne has some ulterior motive as she clearly lusts after the publisher and, more precisely, his money.
Marlow’s quest leads to multiple beatings, a couple of murders, and assorted run-ins with police and is much too convoluted for me to explain here. Throughout, one question is “How fatale is Adrienne’s femme?” With Lloyd Nolan as a hostile cop and Jayne Meadows as a survivor.
It is just amazing that MGM, of all studios, indulged Montgomery in this audacious bit of film-making. Sadly, the gimmick results in a lot of “deer caught in the headlights” style acting (except on the part of Totter who does very well) and does not advance the story or improve the picture. One thing MGM did hold on to, however, was its glossy production values so we get a very noir story told in high-key lighting. I doubt that there is another film like it, though, and it’s worth seeing at least once.