September 21, 2005
The 1940s marked the golden age of film noir and one of the genre’s key directors was Otto Preminger and one its signature films was Laura (1944). The year it came out was a pivotal one as four other noir classics were also released: Double Indemnity, Woman in the Window, Phantom Lady, and Murder My Sweet. These films revolved around murder and enveloped it in richly textured black and white cinematography.
Detective Mark McPherson (Andrews) is investigating the murder of affluent, Park Avenue socialite, Laura Hunt (Tierney). He sifts through her possessions and questions friends and associates trying to get a handle on who she was and why she was killed. McPherson has two potential suspects, Waldo Lydecker (Webb), a sarcastic critic, and Shelby Carpenter (Price), Laura’s rich fiance. Both men played pivotal roles in the woman’s life and did not like each other. We find out through flashback that both men were captivated by her beauty as they recount their experiences.
Lydecker tells McPherson how he met Laura and how he taught her to dress and act in high society. In doing so, he reveals his petty jealousies feeling that she betrayed him by allowing an artist to paint her portrait. Lydecker is a scheming manipulator, a petulant child who whines when he doesn’t get what he wants: Laura. He clearly resents the young, good-looking Carpenter and her attraction to him. To complicate matters, Laura shows up at her apartment one night, much to McPherson’s surprise. So, who was murdered, why and who did it?
Gene Tierney, with her bewitching good looks that draws the men in the movie under her spell, is a quintessential femme fatale. Her captivating presence dominates the screen and haunts it in her absence as it does for the first third of the movie. Dana Andrews is fine as the terse McPherson. He’s got the tough guy speak down cold but comes across as a little stiff, lacking in personality in favour of a just-the-facts, Jack Webb-style performance.
Vincent Price, known mostly for his numerous horror film roles, is excellent as a suave high society type. Clifton Webb is also good as the cranky critic. One of the joys of Laura is watching these two actors verbally spar with each other as a bemused Dana Andrews observes. It doesn’t hurt that the dialogue the actors speak is very well written. In one scene, Lydecker apologizes to Laura for being aloof with her, “Ordinarily, I am not without a heart.” She replies, “Really?” To which he counters, “Shall I produce the X-Ray pictures to prove it?”
Laura features classic noir iconography: trenchcoat-clad men, rain-slick streets at night and mysterious women up to no good. Ultimately, it’s a film about obsession and how one woman is the object of it—so much so that a by-product is murder. Laura stands as one of the quintessential noirs. It contains all the key stylistic and thematic elements so masterfully executed by Preminger and his cast and crew.
There are two audio commentaries, the first by composer David Raksin and film professor Jeanine Basinger. The latter provides an analysis of the movie and brief biographical sketches of the cast. Raksin doesn’t speak often and when he does it is superficial comments. This leaves it to Basinger to provide the bulk of comments and interesting factoids.
The second track is much stronger and features film historian/author Rudy Behlmer. He goes into great detail about the film’s evolution, from play to novel and then the big screen. His comments are backed up by extensive research from script drafts, production notes and interviews he personally conducted. Behlmer really knows his stuff and presents the definitive look at how this movie came together.
“Biography Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait” is an episode from this popular A&E program featuring the famous actress. Her life is a tragic story of a woman who had it all but fell victim to mental illness. This is an excellent profile of Tierney’s life and career.
“Biography Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain” is another A&E production in the same vein as the Tierney profile. This is an excellent look at Price’s prolific career and how he became a legend of the horror genre but off screen was a jovial man and something of an art critic.
Also included is a deleted scene with optional commentary by Behlmer. It shows more of Laura’s transformation into a sophisticated socialite.
There is a theatrical trailer.
Finally, there is an option which allows you to watch the movie with the deleted scene inserted back in.