Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Film Review: Laura (1944)

Detective Dana Andrews cannot take his eyes off a murdered
woman's portrait in the film noir classic Laura.
If there was one genre that peaked during the '40s it would be film noir, mostly because of Humphrey Bogart's breakthrough presence. All Bogy's great film noir titles came in those ten years, iconic movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, and To Have and Have Not. Despite Bogie's dominance, however, there were plenty of other memorable film noir made in the '40s, my favorite of which is Laura.

When successful advertiser Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) is shot dead in her apartment just a few days before her intended wedding, at first Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is at a loss to understand why anyone would want to see her killed. The more he investigates, however, the clearer it becomes to him that almost everyone she knew might have a motive for murder.

In the first half of the movie we meet all the suspects and get and eloquent synopsis of her life out of the mouth of her friend Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). McPherson himself becomes so taken with everything he hears about Laura's character as well as the hauntingly lovely portrait of her that hangs on the wall that he begins to fall in love with the dead woman himself. Just as the threads of the story have worked themselves into an impossible knot, we are treated to a memorable plot twist: Laura herself walks through the door, blissfully unaware that she was presumed murdered. But who was killed that night in her apartment, then? And why was she found in Laura's apartment wearing Laura's clothes? (Is that a good lead-in or what?)

Although Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews put on great performances as the lead characters, Clifton Webb undoubtedly steals the show as Laura's journalist friend who remains obsessed with her even after she appears dead. Webb's performance is deliciously venomous and at times heartbreakingly passionate, making the audience vacillate between loathing, admiration and pity throughout the picture. Interestingly enough, a young Vincent Price plays Laura's ne'er-do-'ell fiancĂ©e Shelby, and Judith Anderson (famed for her incredibly creepy performance as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca) portray's Laura's aunt who is in love with Shelby.

This movie survives remarkably well to the present day. Except perhaps for the final scene, which may strike modern sensibilities as overly dramatic, the entire production seems tastefully done and not terribly dated in the acting and filming style, which is extremely rare to find.

Laura rates a solid 9 of 10 in my book, easily the best non-Bogart film noir ever made

Buy on DVD:
Laura (Fox Film Noir)The Maltese Falcon (Three-Disc Special Edition)The Big Sleep,To Have and Have Not (Keepcase)Key Largo (Keepcase)

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