Saturday, December 13, 2008

Laura (1944)

Waldo Lydecker: She was quick to seize upon anything that would improve her mind or her appearance. Laura had innate breeding, but she deferred to my judgment and taste.... Her youth and beauty, her poise and charm of manner captivated them all. She had warmth, vitality. She had authentic magnetism. Wherever we went, she stood out. Men admired her; women envied her. She became as famous as Waldo Lydecker's walking stick and his white carnation. ~Laura (1944)
It is counted among the best of the noirs, and yet Laura, the 1944 film starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, it not considered to be a true film noir. According to one critic:
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.
Laura is among my favorite detective films; the novel by Vera Caspary is also excellent, not hopelessly dated like many popular books written in the forties. The plot surrounds the brutal slaying of Laura Hunt, called a "bachelor girl" because she lived on her own after finding success as an advertising executive. New York police detective Mark McPherson, ruggedly played by Dana Andrews, embarks on a quest to find her murderer. As he pieces her life together from the accounts of her friends and by investigating her elegant Manhattan apartment, McPherson begins to fall in love with her. He becomes especially entranced by the Laura's portrait which hangs in her living room.

Laura's friend the writer Waldo Lydecker enjoys sharing with McPherson everything he knows about Laura, who managed to retain her integrity and femininity amid the rat race of the advertising industry. It is interesting to see from the flashbacks that Laura, in spite of her business success, has conducted herself as a lady, bringing to her work a distinctly feminine touch. Living a glamorous life did not make her look down on domesticity; she was always ready to help those in need, showing kindness towards all, even the undeserving. Everyone loved her and some people loved her too much.

Laura's fatal flaw was her abysmal choice in men. Vincent Price is unforgettable as Shelby Carpenter, Laura's playboy fiancé who turns out to be a gigolo. Shelby was two-timing Laura with her aunt Mrs. Treadwell (Judith Anderson), a wealthy socialite. Clifton Webb is Waldo, whose love for Laura dominates his life. Waldo mocks McPherson for coming so often to Laura's apartment and intending to buy her portrait. "McPherson, did it ever strike you that you're acting very strangely? It's a wonder you don't come here like a suitor with roses and a box of candy - drugstore candy, of course," he says. Finally, one rainy night, McPherson falls asleep in front of Laura's picture, drink in hand. It is then that the truth is revealed.



Mark said...

I love this film. I was interested in your comment that "Laura" isn't really a noir, even though in many ways it feels like one. Another Gene Tierney film of the same period, "Leave He To Heaven" is, I believe, sometimes considered as noir-ish, even though it was shot in technicolor.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Mark, that is true~ I have written about "Leave Her to Heaven" somewhere on this blog, too!