Pre-Christmas Noir

I was so happy when I hit the point in Lux Radio Theatre’s February 1948 production of “The Lady in the Lake” when detective Philip Marlowe needs some information, picks up the phone, calls a friend at the newspaper, and gets the facts he needs. And it’s right around Christmas.

That’s enough of an excuse for me to include the story here today, in a blog ostensibly discussing the portrayal of journalists in radio drama. We don’t get to hear much from the reporter, but he delivers the information needed at a key point in the case. Speed, efficiency and facts, what more do you want from a reporter?!

A lot of radio stories throw reporters fully into the role of detective, or have detectives impersonate reporters to get information… Or have detectives investigate reporters getting killed — or, less often, killing someone. It’s enough to have one just getting some for a change and then disappearing out of the story without as much as a byline.

Another thing reporters and detectives have in common, besides working on holidays, is that the daily job of drumming up facts can convince them they have enough of a story to twist some of those facts into a semi-autobiographical novel and maybe make a little more money. And that gets us back to The Lady in the Lake.

In this Raymond Chandler novel, detective Philip Marlowe has decided to write a detective novel. The first femme fatale is the publisher’s agent… who offers to buy the novel, but also wants to hire him to investigate the disappearance of her boss’s wife. He suspects that she has her cap set for the millionaire publisher.

The hour-long Lux Radio Theatre production stars Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter, both from the original 1947 motion picture. ( IMDB Lady in the Lake page ) In an interesting twist, the Lloyd Nolan bad-cop role in the movie is played in the radio adaptation by Gerald Mohr, who later in 1948 got to play Philip Marlowe as star of his own radio series. It must have been challenging to deliver the Raymond Chandler style detective story complexity in a half hour weekly format. Lady in the Lake has enough plot twists to fill the Lux hour.

The movie is a curiosity, in that Montgomery directed and starred, but didn’t spend a lot of time on camera. The film was an experiment in narrative form, with the camera taking the detective’s point of view, as shown in this IMDb still, showing Montgomery’s hand in the foreground and his reflection in a mirror behind his seductive costar. Think video game or virtual reality. So Montgomery’s radio performance may not be that much different from his mostly voice film performance.

It will be interesting to see Audrey Totter in the film version, which is available on Turner Classic Movies. It may have been more difficult to convey the different aspects of her character in a voice-only role.

I think Montgomery does a respectable job, functioning as both hero and narrator, although sometimes I got the feeling he was channeling Bogart.

As usual, the audio file playable above is from the collection of the Old Time Radio Researchers group, stored at the Internet Archive. I have had a few articles published in the group’s newsletter, and may compile my last few Philip Marlowe posts into another one. Browse back through the blog for a couple of examples of the half hour Adventures of Philip Marlowe radio show, on those occasions when he ran into newspaper folk, for better or worse.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1940s, adaptations, detectives, magazines, movies, reporters. Bookmark the permalink.

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