"Did you ever see a dream walking?" Dana Andrews does, in Otto Preminger's LAURA
Jun 5, 2002 (Updated Jun 6, 2002)
Review by ebrown2
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
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"I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her. And I had just begun to write Laura's story when - another of those detectives came to see me. I had him wait. I could watch him through the half-open door. I noted that his attention was fixed on my clock. There was only one other in existence, and that was in Laura's apartment in the very room where she was murdered."
So opens perhaps the greatest of all film noirs, Otto Premenger's LAURA. The beautiful and talented advertising executive Laura Holt (Gene Tierney-in her signature role) has her face blown off at point-blank range from a double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun blast. Her rich aunt, Ann Treadwell (Dame Judith [REBECCA] Anderson), Shelby Carpenter, a ne'er do well Southern playboy and Laura's fiancee and Waldo Lydecker, a waspish newspaper columnist and Holt's best friend all avow that she was as personable as she was lovely, and hadn't an enemy in the world. Detective Lt. Mark McPherson figures otherwise, and begins to uncover a viper's nest of hatred and personal intrigue. As he learns more about her, he is shocked to find himself falling in love with the dead woman...
Filmed in late 1943, the movie had a difficult genesis. The great director Rouben Mamoulian (DR. JECKYL AND MR. HYDE-1931) originally was set to helm the picture, but the dissatisfaction with his rushes was general and producer Preminger jump started his own directing career by firing his rebarbative auteur and taking over the megaphone himself, over the protests of Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. LAURA would prove to be his most famous and lasting film directing acheivement, as his later career was more famous for breaking up the Motion Picture Code authority (in such films as THE MOON IS BLUE and THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM) then in producing movies of lasting reputation, although ANATOMY OF A MURDER still holds up. By the late 60's and 70's, Preminger's output was strictly MST3K material along the lines of ROSEBUD and the insulting-to-all-humans "racial drama" HURRY, SUNDOWN.
By all accounts, Preminger was a world-class sphincter. Vincent Price observed that this trait worked to the advantage of LAURA in that Preminger added the nasty edge to the upper-class society circles that Laura moves in, thus making her murder more believable.
Lydecker: "Yesterday morning after Laura's body was found, I was questioned by Sergeants McAvity and Shultz. And I stated: (He reads from his typed statement) 'On Friday night, Laura had a dinner engagement with me, after which she was ostensibly going out of town. She phoned and cancelled our engagement at exactly seven o'clock. After that..."
McPherson: "...you ate a lonely dinner, then got into the tub to read.' Why did you write it down? Afraid you'd forget it?"
Lydecker: "I am the most widely mis-quoted man in America. When my friends do it, I resent it. From Sergeants McAvity and Shultz, I should find it intolerable."
LAURA originally began its existence as the first novel of the mystery writer Vera Caspary. Like Preminger, she would never again attain the heights of her first major work. The screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and
Elizabeth Reinhardt (as Betty Reinhardt) is a marvel of construction, both in its brilliantly witty dialogue (much of which is here reproduced for your reading pleasure) and its handling of the potentially trite device of flashback.
The only nit that I can personally pick with the movie is that its blend of the two genres of noir and the classic puzzle-style "cozy" mystery are rather uneasy, but that also helps to contribute to its charm. The screenplay does a good job of answering the question of what would happen to a streetwise detective thrust into an Agatha Christie setting.
Lydecker: Laura had not definitely made up her mind to marry him. She told me so herself, last Friday when she called up to cancel our dinner engagement. As a matter of fact, she was going to the country to think it over. She was extremely kind, but I was always sure she would never have thrown her life away on a male beauty in distress.
Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker is the centerpiece of the movie. Based on equal parts of Walter Winchell (who loved the movie, BTW) and the recently  deceased cultural maven for the masses Alexander Wolcott, Lydecker is precise, epicine...
Oh, what the heck, he's -gay.-
Even in 1944, the text here wasn't "sub" at all. Webb's catfights with Price are a joy to behold and his panache at everything he does gives this movie a unique style. This was the first sound movie that Webb ever did (he was featured as a dancer in a few silent films), and his previous career as a dancer and comic actor wonderfully illuminate his performance here. Although Webb would go on to have a long career in Hollywood as a superb character actor (including being the original Mr. Belvedere), he would never top his appearance in this movie.
As for his private life, he was one of the most openly gay members of the old Hollywood community. In point of fact, his Fox contract for this film contained a clause that stated that any negative remarks or other insults about his sexuality would constitute a "deal-breaker" in modern Tinseltown argot. Webb and bosom pal Humphrey Bogart would often engage in fake arguments at stuffy parties that would result in phony knock-down drag-out fistfights as they mocked the stereotypes of "tough-guy" and "pansy" long before it was fashionable to do so.
Shelby: (To McPherson) I suppose you've heard losers whine before, especially in your profession, eh?
Yes, that tall and handsome drink of water in the ice cream suit -is- our favorite horror ham, Mr. Vincent Price himself, in his favorite film role. (I've had many a friend say, "Hey, that's Vincent Price...!" when they see his first entrance in the movie) Like the majority of the old horror stars, Price was a truly likable and vastly erudite man. He studied art history at Yale and in Europe, where he was tapped for the role of Prince Albert in the London production of VICTORIA REGINA. The play proved a smash both in London and New York, and launched his career in films. At first, the studios tried to make him into a conventional Hollywood leading man, but his mid-Atlantic manner and slightly decayed and perfectly Gothic good looks worked against such a fate. Although he would not star in a horror movie until 1953's remake of HOUSE OF WAX, after his film debut in SERVICE DE LUXE (1938) Price would see himself cast in more period pieces such as THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES (1940) and DRAGONWYCK (1946-reuniting with Gene Tierney). His Shelby Carpenter is all oozing charm and affable self-deprecation, at least until the chips are down and his innate viciousness and cowardice shine through. Price has every reason to be proud of his performance.
"When a dame gets killed, she doesn't worry about how she looks."
Lydecker: Will you please stop dawdling with that infernal puzzle? It's getting on my nerves.
McPherson: I know, but it keeps me calm.
Dana Andrews was born on Jan. 1, 1909 to a hard-shelled Baptist preacher, one of a family of 13 children. His fond memories of his fundamentalist childhood lead him to atheistic humanism and a life-long battle with alcoholism. Trained as an opera singer (!), he instead gravitated towards acting, primarily in Westerns, before his war deferment opened up his chance at his first leading role in an A-picture as the saturnine yet handsome homicide detective Mark McPherson. We are informed at the start of the film that Lt. McPherson is a man of incomparable courage, capable of single-handedly apprehending a gangster who killed three of his fellow cops. However, in Laura Holt's upper-class world, McPherson finds himself out of his depth and uses his hard-boiled manner as a defense against the barbs of Lydecker and Co., only to find his defences slipping as the spirit of the dead Laura begins to pry open his emotional reserve. Aside from THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946), Andrews would never have another role as good as this one. (yeah, I know, it's getting tiresome)
"Young woman, either you have been raised in some incredibly rustic community where good manners are unknown or you suffer from the common feminine delusion that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from the rules of civilized conduct, or possibly both.
I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.
Ordinarily, I am not without a heart...Shall I produce X-ray pictures to prove it?
Gene Tierney is luminously beautiful as the icon of doomed romance and title character of the film. She makes the obsessions of the men in her life believable, even as she is warmly human and definitely fallable. As the book-length Laura issue of Scarlet Street No. 22 points out, we -almost- see her boil water, but she is refreshingly modern in her desire for independence, and, tragically, in her co-dependent relationships. Tierney would go on to essay several other film roles (I'M NOT GOING TO SAY IT AGAIN!), most notably as the mirror-image opposite of Miss Holt in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. I have to disagree with Tierney's self-assessment of her performance as "ordinary." It is subtle and well-judged, of a piece with the rest of the film.
"No dear, I didn't, but I thought of it."
Dame Judith Anderson is most famous for her portrayal of the ultimate maid from hell, Mrs. Danvers, in REBECCA. (1940) Her turn as Ann Treadwell, while a small role, is more nuanced and petty. She makes a good match for Price's hollow "gentleman caller."
"For a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes."
From the Oscar-winning cinematography to the stunning David Raskin score, LAURA satisfies on all levels. Be sure to fast foreward through the original trailer at the beginning of the FOX VHS, as it contains a spoiler! Be prepared to enter a world of danger, intrigue and dark romance. Be ready to recommend it to your friends until you make yourself totally obnoxious.
For further reading, be sure and get a copy of SCARLET STREET Issue 22 from their website at www.scarletstreet.com.
It's a steal at $5.
The following website also contains tons of LAURA links and articles:
Good reading and happy viewing!
Read all comments (8)
Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good Date Movie
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12
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