20th Century Fox
Gene Tierney - Laura Hunt
Dana Andrews - Mark McPherson
Clifton Webb - Waldo Lydecker
Vincent Price - Shelby Carpenter
Judith Anderson - Ann Treadwell
Dorothy Adams - Bessie Clary
Otto Preminger - Director
Otto Preminger - Producer
Jay Dratler - Screenwriter
Joseph La Shelle - Cinematographer
Lyle Wheeler - Production Design
David Raksin - Film Score
The body of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), face destroyed by a shotgun blast, is found in her apartment. On Sunday morning, two days after the murder, detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is called in to conduct the investigation. The first person on McPherson's list of suspects is a well-known art critic named Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). Though Waldo claims to be the only man who really knew Laura, he is unable to shed much light on the murder. Waldo accompanies McPherson to the home of Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson), Laura's wealthy aunt. She admits to having an affair with Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), even though he had been engaged to Laura. Shelby then appears and offers an alibi which turns out to be just as questionable as Waldo's and Anne's.
After visiting the scene of the crime, McPherson finally gets Waldo to open up a little. His story of Laura's past is portrayed in an economical flashback sequence which begins with their meeting five years earlier. As an enterprising young saleswoman for an advertising firm, Laura approaches Waldo in a restaurant and requests that he endorse her fountain pen ad. After rejecting the request and harshly ridiculing her, Waldo has a sudden change of heart. By way of apology for his behavior at the restaurant, he offers to endorse the pen and then asks Laura out for dinner. This proves to be the beginning of a happy and mutually fulfilling relationship between Waldo and Laura. With Waldo's aid and encouragement, Laura soon becomes a top level executive in her field.
Though she eventually begins to see other men, none of them mean anything until she meets Shelby Carpenter at a cocktail party. Playing upon her sympathetic nature, Shelby gets a job under Laura, and they soon become romantically involved. Only a few days before the murder, Laura announces her engagement to Shelby. In a desperate attempt to prevent the marriage, Waldo tells Laura that Shelby is also involved with Anne Treadwell and a model named Diane Redfern. After verifying this charge, Laura decides that she must go to the country to think things out. On the night of the murder, she calls Waldo and tells him of her plans.
Having learned a great deal from this story, McPherson parts company with Waldo. The next evening, he returns to Laura's apartment to think things out. What begins as just another murder case soon becomes an obsession for Mark McPherson. This situation would be perfectly consistent with the classic detective tradition but for one twist: The obsession is with the victim instead of the murder. It takes McPerson approximately one day to realize that Laura is the exact opposite of "just another dame." The job is still to catch the murderer, but the investigation gives McPherson (and the viewer) a haunting image of Laura which captures his personal feelings.
This image comes primarily from Waldo Lydecker, the supercilious art critic who is a self-appointed authority on beauty. To Waldo, Laura is much more than just a beautiful woman--she is an enigmatic dream come true. As affected by his influence and filtered through his perceptions, she becomes an almost abstract personification of his refined aesthetic ideals. This image of Laura is so important because it is about all that McPherson and the viewer have to go on in the first half of the film. As it turns out, it is this dream which captures McPherson's heart, and which dominates the film's elegant romanticism. Instead of falling in love with the real Laura, McPherson falls in love with a narrative portrait of her, "painted" by Lydecker.
--SPENCER SELBY, from Dark City:
The Film Noir
Although generally categorized as a noir film, Laura is more a mixture of romance and detective story in structure. Gene Tierney is heartbreakingly beautiful, but she is not the noir film's stereotypical bad girl who uses her lover, only to abandon him when he has fallen hopelessly in love. Nor is there the bleak vision of hopelessness so essential an element in the true noir film.
Neither of the two most memorable elements of Laura--the painting and the music--are human. The sentimentalized portrait of Laura is so romantic that McPherson falls in love with the subject even though she is dead. The haunting music of Laura by David Raksin [mp3] made it equally possible for every man in the cinema to fall in love with the image of the ravishing Tierney, and that music remains a staple of late-night piano bars and supper clubs.
Often described as everybody's favorite mystery movie, Laura had a few slightly odd subtexts. Although all the men in the movie seem to be in love with Laura, Lydecker's interest appears to be more as Pygmalion, and the rather fey journalist gives a more meaningful look to the handsome McPherson when they first meet than he ever does to Laura. Shelby, too, seems to walk on his toes a wee bit. And for all her sexy beauty, Laura does not project very much heat, except perhaps unintentionally.
Academy Award nominations went to Otto Preminger (Best Director) and Clifton Webb (Best Supporting Actor). Astonishingly, the memorable theme music and still much-loved song, "Laura," did not get a statue.
--OTTO PENZLER, from The 101 Greatest Films
of Mystery and Suspense, 2000
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