Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Laura (1944)

This being my first review for the site (go easy on me folks) I decided on the film, Laura, but as I started to write this review a major question popped into my head, “How does one write a review or commentary for a major film entry in the world of noir without giving away a major, and I stress MAJOR plot spoiler? I’m not too sure, but, for the benefit of those who may not have seen Laura, I’m going to do my best to talk about and review this classic noir without giving away the MAJOR plot spoiler.

Directed masterfully by Otto Preminger, who was not set as the original director for Laura, but was the only director available when the original director, Rouben Mamoulian was pulled from the project, this production presents career-making performances from stars Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, and Vincent Price.

From the opening frame when we first meet Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) and the first words we hear are his voice-over, “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” we know this will be a murder mystery like none other seen in the 1940s. Lydecker is a newspaper columnist who is full of himself, a pompous ass, who believes he had fallen in love with Laura (Gene Tierney) and would do anything to help her succeed in the advertising industry and be accepted with the rich and fabulous of the city.

Enter Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), your typical 1940s hard-boiled detective, who is investigating the murder of Laura through interviews of the two possible suspects, Lydecker and Laura’s fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). Through the interviews, Laura’s story is told by means of flashbacks, a technique used in most but not all noirs, and through these flashbacks we begin to uncover how Lydecker fell for Laura, how Laura began to fall for Shelby, and how their obsessions for her love result in her death.

Through these interviews of Laura’s suitors McPherson has no real success which he uses as an excuse to go to Laura’s apartment at night where he searches for clues by going through her personal letters in the hopes of getting one step closer to finding the person who murdered her. What he doesn’t realize or tries not to show is that he to has become obsessive for Laura and is slowly falling in love with a dead woman. He is eventually called on it by Lydecker when he says, “You better watch out, McPherson, or you'll end up in a psychiatric ward. I don't think they've ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse.”

I did say McPherson was your typical 1940s hard-boiled detective, right? Well, what would a hard-boiled detective be without his alcohol? After doing a search through Laura’s apartment, our detective helps himself to a few drinks and falls asleep on one of the sofas only to be awakened to the shock of his life…

And that is where, my friends, to avoid spoiling anything for you, I must quote an old saying, “This is where the plot thickens.”

The script itself is what drives Laura along. The scriptwriters have presented us an intriguing storyline with outstanding plot twists all throughout Laura. You must give credit to scriptwriters of this film, Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt; the trio do an outstanding job adapting the best selling 1943 detective novel by Vera Caspary.

David Raksin’s score for Laura is a beautiful and at times haunting theme that sets the tone and pacing for the entire movie. The story behind this score is to be believed -- that Preminger told Raksin to take a weekend and come up with the theme or he was going to used Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” The ultimate theme that Raksin developed was a perfect fit for the film and Preminger used it for the entire movie.

All the acting performances for Laura were considered career-making for the four leads. However, without Clifton Webb as Waldo
Lydecker, this film would be nothing. Webb is believable as the full-of-himself newspaper columnist who believes that he is the right man for her and does everything in his power to prevent Laura from having other relationships with men--including attacking the men with words through his newspaper column.

Webb also gets some of the best dialogue in the film. Early in the film, Laura approaches him to endorse a pen; his reply, “I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom." His delivery of this line just shows you what kind of man Lydecker really is.

Webb’s Lydecker is considered to be one of the most memorable characters in all of film noir and cinema.

The ultimate credit should also be given to the director Otto Preminger, for when he took over this film it was a mess! From the acting to the cinematography and all the way down to the film score, Laura would not have become the classic noir it is without Preminger at the helm.

Written by NoirFanatic


Felix said...

Love your site.

Anonymous said...

my all-time favorite noir. great review.

Ginger Ingenue said...

"This being my first review for the site..."

I love your site!

LAURA was my first review too. I think I posted it second, though, but I remember writing it, thinking how I didn't want to be a spoiler from the get-go. :)

Staton Rabin said...

Thanks for your review of one of the greatest films of all time. I respectfully disagree, though, with the notion that without Clifton Webb's performance as Waldo, the film would be nothing. The more times I see the movie, the more I appreciate the masterful, understated performance by Dana Andrews as the detective, which is overshadowed by the great but showier performance by Webb. Andrews is utterly convincing as a man who has been a homicide detective for years, and manages to convey almost without a word that he has indeed fallen in love with "a corpse". Watching Andrews in this role is like taking a master class in film acting.

Adriano Miranda said...

LAURA is the highest point of the Film Noir! Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt is perfect, the role of your life! Dana Andrews embodies the most cynical and romantic detective of the movies!
A perfect film with better music (David Raksin) that movies ever made! God save the Seventh Art and protect copies of LAURA for eternity
(Adriano Miranda-City of Franca, Sao Paulo, Brazil )

Paul McGoran said...

I agree with STATON RABIN (above)about the importance of Dana Andrews to this film. Everyone remembers Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker, and nearly everyone falls in love with the gorgeous Gene Tierney as Laura, but Andrews as Mark McPherson is the heart and soul of this film. Without him there is no romance at all in this most romantic of mysteries. After all, the thought of the bitchy Waldo (Clifton Webb) or pusillanimous Shelby (Vincent Price) in bed with Gene Tierney can only call up disbelief and laughter.

Post a Comment