Like the majority of the characters to have crossed our eponymous tragic heroine's (Gene Tierney) path before her untimely demise, Lydecker was not merely in love with the woman. He was also infatuated by her every move, hypnotized to the point of teetering on insane asylum sanctioned madness. His creeping voiceover doesn't give off the effect of a man distraught by suddenly crippled admiration - he sounds like a formerly raging white Persian stroking Svengali whose demeanor has cooled now that his control has withered away. Lydecker might underline our first impression of the film, but his disembodied, Shakespearean eloquence gives off distinct unease.
"Laura," released in 1944 and produced and directed by the incomparable Otto Preminger ("Fallen Angel," "Anatomy of a Murder"), concerns itself with the investigation of the titular figure's murder, sliding along silkily as Agatha Christie-esque puzzlings pervade the atmosphere. Here, the question isn't who murdered Laura Hunt. The why is more apposite, considering all interrogated by Detective (and protagonist) Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) seem to comparatively look at Laura as if she were some sort of angel put on Earth for all to gawk at. But like Lydecker, the crowd of suspects are shrouded in individual airs of conniving, arrogant dispositions. Innocence isn't so clear, and that unclarity one of "Laura's" many pleasures.
It is a quintessential film noir, a personification of what "The Big Sleep" might have been if convolution weren't so prevalent and if straightforward storytelling were foremost and not attitude. And yet its central mystery is not necessary its most fascinating feature (the much sought-after killer is fairly obvious once the ball gets rolling and we begin to better get acquainted with the involved). Most compelling is its analyzation of obsession, and how its many forms, from detrimentally all-encompassing to dysfunctionally functional, can incur danger and can invite the unhealthy psychological practice of romanticized idolization.
"Laura" can be enjoyed both as flavorsome popcorn entertainment and cerebral commentary, but I think I like it best when viewing it strictly as a pitch perfect exercise in the film noir genre - its scorching dialogue, hauntingly melodic score, pulp novel photography, and unsettling sheen of sophistication are all scrumptious and beautifully icy to the touch.
It's a melting pot of Preminger's artistic dexterity, sinfully elegant one minute and competently cryptic the next. But the film, deservedly beloved as an untouchable classic, came fairly close to being produced as forgettable studio fare. Initially, "Laura" served as a passion project for Preminger, who had only recently discovered the Vera Caspary novel of the same name and was eager to adapt it into a film. Enamored with its studying of the bourgeoisie and its famed plot twist, he was set to direct and produce the work for 20th Century Fox, which was temporarily being run by William Goetz (veteran chief Darryl F. Zanuck was fighting in WWII).
But after Zanuck came back to Hollywood and discovered that Preminger, whom he despised, was the person in charge of the production of a potentially massive movie, he immediately fired him, choosing to replace him with reliable blockbuster churner Rouben Mamoulian ("Grand Hotel," "Queen Christina").
Mamoulian's melodramatic approach, paired with his undernourishment of his actors (he was of little help to Andrews and Tierney, who were relatively new to the industry, and alienated Webb, whom he openly thought was miscast), though, brought in meager rushes devoid of any sort of emotional flourish. It wasn't until then that Zanuck realized that his enemy was the best man for the job all along. The rest is history.
In store seventy-some years later is an attractively rendered procedural, enlivened by its thorough investigating of its characters, its simultaneously eloquent and sinister screenplay, and its critiquing of the psychological effects power and wealth can have on people who've never quite known what it's like to be the smallest person in the room, to be a victim of struggle or an object of working one's way up to the top. It's a whodunit with the good sense to try to find the emotional centers of its suspects, to see its focal victim as something besides worshipped prey without a voice.
As Laura, Tierney is a woman of will and wit, an alluring being to her admirers because of her strength. Andrews, a toughie who's never known a lady as anything other than a doll or a dame, is exceptional as a man of resolve covering up the fact that he's smitten with the woman he's investigating the death of. Judith Anderson, as Laura's stone-faced aunt, is bewitchingly mystifying; Vincent Price, as the latter's kept-man also engaged to marry the title femme, tries desperately to appear as everything but the wolf in sheep's clothing that we're so certain that he is. But Webb, whose columnist Lydecker insists that he writes with a goose quill dipped in venom and insists that no man can ever love Laura as well as he can, makes the utmost impression as a supposed man of pristine confidence who's actually deeply vulnerable.
And we're just as vulnerable to the spells of "Laura" as Lydecker is to his adulation - with its iconic eponymous tune swaying from scene to scene, it haunts, existing in a ghost world where love can never be easily returned and where success will never be enough so long as emotional emptiness is endless.
Before the movie even starts I'm seriously intrigued by the preview, a detective on a murder or missing person case is falling in love with a girl he's never met because she's presumed dead. Everyone has had something with this Laura, she's quite the grab. I'm still a little confused about Shelby, who Laura was to marry, and his relationship with that other woman. At first I thought she was his mother, but then it seemed like she was his girlfriend or wife and just totally going along with his wanting to be with Laura. Needless to say, it added to the dynamics and entertainment value.
There's lots of flashbacks, piecing things together, trying to make sense of what doesn't add up. Once again, Joseph LaShelle makes Preminger's staging look perfect, noir lighting that isn't as shadow heavy as other efforts - it's a cleaner picture.
Laura lived pretty well, made a decent penny. And now detective McPherson is moving in to her abandoned shelter... for the sake of the investigation of course. I always say that ghosts exist whether a person is dead or not, because what someone leaves behind has an aura, and her essence is still in this room, as McPherson experiences. He touches her things, sits in her furniture, feels his world the way a method actor would gain sense memory. When halfway through the film we get our major twist, I think he's dreaming. But I'm glad he's not, it would be terribly unsatisfying. This is what now carries the movie forward: Laura is alive. And from there a conspiracy is unraveled that's a bit fuzzy in my memory. But it was all enthralling. Gene Tierney has to be one of the most beautiful women I've seen in front of a camera from the 1940s, it's no wonder there's something about her.
It is a quite confusing way of thinking, however, i find it very interesting how the movie played out. This picture captivated my interest and made me want to finish it, not like many movies I watch. The beginning was kind of confusing to help place the rest of the movie, but you did understand more as the picture went along. I would recommend this to anyone I see.
We have characteristics of film noir - the unreliable narrator (which is somewhat confusing since he only seems to narrate at the very beginning), a story that focuses on crime - specifically the aftermath of the murder of the titular character - and as I have stated, darkness found towards the conclusion of the film. A lot of the film seems like a boring love triangle drama - make that a love square consisting of Laura, Detective McPherson, the film's brief narrator: Lydecker, and Carpenter. Naturally, each man offers something different to Laura and each has his own flaws. Unfortunately, none of these romances is developed well enough so we never know which one is supposed to be the focus of the story.
This conflicting love triangle is one of two stories in the film - the other focusing on the question of who attempted to murder Laura and why. If the film was more devoted to this mystery rather than the underdeveloped romances Laura has with different men, this may have turned out to be a very tense film similar to the repertoire of Hitchcock. Luckily this film is saved from being below decent since its conclusion is tense and to the point. No falling action in this film, leaving it to end on an exciting climax.
I plan to revisit this film in the near future to make sure I did not miss something which would make this film great. Overall this is a well-made film, but a tad boring in my opinion.