LAURA (1944) 

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Gene Tierney
Dana Andrews
Clifton Webb
Vincent Price
Judith Anderson
Dorothy Adams

Otto Preminger



Time: 88 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Film-Noir/Mystery/Romance

Won Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Webb), Art Direction, Screenplay and Director.

LAURA is a classic film noir mystery with a campy tone that brings intrigue and amusement to the rather mundane workings of a murder investigation. Someone killed Laura Hunt (Tierney) in her own apartment at close range with a shotgun. It's up to our lonely and cynical detective Mark McPherson (Andrews) to uncover the identity of the murderer. Since there's no sign of a break-in, it's obvious that our unfortunate heroine knew the person who gunned her down. He interviews the usual suspects – Laura's jealous mentor Waldo Lydecker (Webb), her cheating fiancÚ Shelby Carpenter (Price) and lying aunt Ann (Anderson) – and discovers a mass of deception and betrayal, but no concrete motive and no murder weapon. Nor does he actually seem to care. The more he learns about Laura the more he wishes she were still alive, so he could be the one to woo her. When his deepest desire come true, the investigation becomes even more messy, uncovering a case of mistaken identity that sends the killer into an emotional tailspin that jeopardizes Laura's life for a second time.

The first half of the film is a haunting ghost story, as the personality of Laura is revealed (in flashbacks) through the eyes of the men who supposedly loved her. Though he never met her, McPherson seems more concerned with who Laura was than with who took her life. He's the most lethargic detective I've even seen onscreen. Solving this crime won't bring the lovely Laura back to life, so what's the point? Her miraculous return from the dead gives the film, and our hero, a jolt of energy that sends the story in a whole new direction and brings greater complexity to the proceedings. It wouldn't be a great film noir without a drastic and shocking turn of events. McPherson suddenly pulls out all the stops to find the killer, partly to protect Laura, but mostly to engender good will. That Laura never proves herself worthy of such unrelenting admiration is immaterial. What keeps this downward spiral of emotions entertaining is the constant finger pointing in every direction, even at Laura herself. Considering the distinct lack of masculinity of her male companions, there's a moment when she appears to be the only character with enough balls to carry out such a violent crime. When the real killer is finally revealed, their identity is not exactly a surprise (there's only a few people it could be), but the motive and method are clever enough to make it suspenseful and satisfying.

" I must say, for a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes."

Webb may be only a supporting character in this melodramatic mystery, but his bitchy footprints reverberate through every scene. He made Laura into the dazzling creature she became and he'll be damned if he's going to allow anyone, including Laura herself, to debase his creation. Since their relationship is clearly not a sexual one, it was only a matter of time before Laura broke free to enjoy more physical pursuits. Without Webb's pitch perfect performance, this film would be long forgotten. Not to be left behind, Price also makes his shallow, gutless lover a character you can't take your eyes off of. His looming physicality and smarmy, self-deprecation adds subtle contradictions to Shelby's persona. It's hard to believe that someone as smart as Laura would agree to marry such a putz, but he's her best option until the melancholic, yet distinctly masculine detective comes along. Andrews is no great charmer, but at least his intentions are clear. His desperation and lust are emotions easily understood and simple to control. His character is there to move the story along and give it stability, not the most exciting reasons, yet necessary ones.

After watching Tierney's powerful and unforgettable turn in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, I was really looking forward to her performance here. Unfortunately, the part doesn't require her to be anything more than perfectly lovely. She gives Laura intelligence and sophistication, but, the sad fact is, she's merely a pawn in this masculine power struggle. The way she's treated is somewhat akin to a priceless piece of art. Everyone wants to possess her because she's unique and beautiful, yet they care nothing about her dreams and desires. She tries to punish Lydecker and Shelby by casting her affections onto McPherson, but it comes too little too late. The film may be about her, but she's not the main attraction. The story is well crafted, leading one to and fro with reckless abandon, spinning a web of jealousy that unravels deliciously. However, it wouldn't be half as fun or clever without such marvelous characters and the biting dialogue they spew at one another. The effusive cinematography and languid score also add to the mood and style of the piece, almost tipping the tension from sublime to ridiculous. Despite it's subject matter, LAURA never takes itself too seriously, making it the most fun you'll experience from a film noir.

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