Laura (1944) Review

Heralded by many as the greatest Film Noir ever made, Laura contains all the elements the genre is famous for including doomed romance, dark obsession, a no nonsense detective and a deceptive dame as well as plenty of twists and turns to keep even a modern audience entertained.

Directed by Otto Preminger who also made the James Stewart crime mystery Anatomy of a Murder and the Frank Sinatra drug drama The Man with the Golden Arm, Laura is based on the novel of the same name by Vera Caspary published in 1943.

Opening with the voice over of wealthy and highly influential columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) we learn that Laura (Gene Tierney) one of his closest confidents, has been brutally murdered in her own apartment by a shotgun blast that disfigured her so badly there was barely any of her left to identify.

The detective assigned to the case is Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) a heroic cop who took down a mob boss singlehandedly and is now looking into who destroyed this young and beautiful woman’s promising life. Questioning Waldo first McPherson is about to visit the various other suspects and Waldo decides to come along with him for his own interest and amusement.

The list of potential murderers includes Laura’s rich aunt, played by Judith Anderson, and Laura’s fiancé Shelby, played by horror legend Vincent Price in one of his early roles, although both seem to have perfect alibis and excuses against any involvement in the terrible tragedy.

As McPherson mulls over the evidence Waldo takes him back to his first meeting with Laura and the story of her life plays out before us offering up insights into not only this complex character but also who slayed her.

Winning an Academy Award for Best Black and White Cinematography Joseph LaShelle’s camera glides through the opulent apartments the rich socialites inhabit showing shadows everywhere, shadows that hide the dark truth that each character desperately tries to hide.

Brilliantly scripted and packed full of cynical snappy dialogue the story moves along at a perfect pace and while all your attention is focused on Laura’s foul final moments and learning who gunned her down it is easy to miss the brilliant character development taking place right before your very eyes.

Hardboiled detective McPherson who throws accusations around ignoring the suspect’s plights and pleas while playing his kids baseball puzzle is more affected by his journey into high society and the memories of the past than it first appears and his determination to uncover Laura’s killer is linked to his growing fixation with her and her haunting portrait that hangs in her now empty apartment.

Brought alive in flashback Laura transforms from a simple ambitious advertising assistant to the powerful confident woman that several men fall uncontrollably in love with and Gene Tierney plays the character exceptionally well. Alongside this both Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb taking their clichéd characters and elevating them into something else entirely by the end of the movie.

Best of all for horror fans is seeing Vincent Price’s turn as the affable love interest under suspicion which is at total odds with the roles he is best known for. Proving himself far more skilled in his craft than many may expect Price shows Shelby as a character whose friendly façade hides a volcano of inner emotion which can only be contained for so long with the police and Waldo constantly hounding him.

Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-ray release is filled to the brim with excellent extras including audio commentaries from composer David Raksin, film professor Jeanine Basinger and film historian Rudy Behlmer as well as interviews and featurettes. Most fascinating of all are the four radio adaptations of Laura it contains broadcast in 1945, 1948 and 1954 and staring many of the films cast they offer completely different versions of the same story which play out very differently in your mind as opposed to on the screen.

For Film Noir fans Laura is a must have however it is just as essential for film lovers, cinephiles and murder mystery obsessives searching for a story as timeless as this brilliant movie.

Movie Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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