Pulp Corner: Laura
Film Noir comes in many different styles and movie conventions with the foremost usually being crime and mystery. In the past I never would have considered that to be a favorite of mine but in the last few years it’s been such a foundation of the movies I’ve watched and the books I’ve read that I’ve come to accept it for what it is. When it comes to mysteries in film noir sometimes they make the movie work and sometimes they are just the means to an end without comprising the quality of the film.
Recently, I finally got around to watching ‘Laura’ the 1944 movie directed by Otto Preminger. It’s been one of those highly regarded noirs that I’ve heard about for years but hadn’t had the chance to watch. The title character played by Gene Tierney is dead before the movie begins and it’s only through flashbacks (a noir staple) that we piece together her story.
Detective McPherson (Dana Andrews) starts his investigation with Waldo Lydecker, a wealthy socialite friend of Laura’s who writes a newspaper column that’s topic often revolves around crime and murder. With that as his profession he asks McPherson if he can tag along throughout the rest of the suspect questioning. I thought this might turn the movie into almost a buddy cop flick (luckily it did not) especially since McPherson possesses the traits of a typical noir male lead, cold and laconic whereas Lydecker is brash and charismatic. Portrayed by Clifton Webb, Lydecker easily steals the show throughout the movie. He’s masterfully arrogant in such a way that only a small wealthy man could be. We find out that he is responsible for Laura’s rise through upper society as well as the advancement of her advertising career.
In the next line of questioning we meet Laura’s fiancé, Shelby. Shelby is a playboy whose only interest seems to be social ladder climbing, with a hulking frame and easy going demeanor he is a natural adversary for Lydecker. Watching the movie, I had no idea Vincent Price was Shelby. I guess I’ve never seen him so young and without a mustache. I never realized how physically big he was either. We are also introduced to Laura’s wealthy Aunt, Ann Treadwell. It soon becomes clear that Ann and Shelby have secretly been involved in a relationship. McPherson has his work cut out for him.
Laura is very much a movie about obsession. Ann Treadwell is obsessed with Shelby. Shelby is obsessed with using people to get ahead in life. Lydecker is obsessed with Laura and the company she keeps. McPherson even becomes obsessed with her, not just the actual case but the huge portrait that hangs above the fire place and the things she wrote in letters to other people. Hell, even her former maid is obsessed with Laura. It’s almost Hitchcockian.
And what about Laura? Gene Tierney does an admirable job, she’s certainly beautiful. Yet she doesn’t exude the kind of things we associate with men losing their shit over. She’s a small town bumpkin and her performance over all is good but rather lackluster. It doesn’t matter though, it’s the image and memory of her that conveys the obsession.
Laura’s a weird unraveling mystery but it’s definitely worth your time. It’s easy to get drawn into this dark moody movie right from the start. Otto Preminger also directed the excellent crime/court room drama, ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ starring the great Jimmy Stewart. I might have to check and see what else he has to offer.
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