#95) Laura (1944)
OR “The Original Gone Girl”
Directed by Otto Preminger
Written by Jay Dratler and Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt. Based on the novel by Vera Caspary.
Class of 1999
The Plot: Business executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) is murdered and Det. McPherson (Dana Andrews) is brought in to investigate. Among the suspects are her charming fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), her mentor/famous columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), and her socialite Aunt Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson). As the clues pile up and stories are changed, McPherson finds himself falling for the deceased Laura.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “[l]ess a crime film than a study in obsession” and praises Preminger’s direction, as well as the score and cinematography.
But Does It Really?: “Laura” still packs quite the punch over 70 years later. Its style is prime noir and the whole cast plays it in the most wonderfully suspenseful way. At no point are you ever completely sure who killed Laura, and the twists just keep coming. Anyone trying to craft the perfect murder mystery needs look no further than “Laura”.
Everybody Gets One: Title character Gene Tierney**, as well as Clifton Webb and two of the three screenwriters.
Wow, That’s Dated: ‘40s terminology like “dames” and “dolls”, cars with suicide doors, newspaper columnists with any sort of major clout or influence.
Seriously, Oscars?: “Laura” received five Oscar nominations, and took home one for Joseph LaShelle’s black-and-white cinematography. Preminger, Webb and the screenwriters all lost to that year’s feel-good big winner “Going My Way”. “Laura” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, perhaps to make way for that other, more famous 1944 noir film. More surprisingly, David Raksin was not nominated for film noir’s most iconic score. And this was back when Best Score had 20 nominees. Come on!
- This film stars a man named Dana and a woman named Gene.
- McPherson’s handheld puzzle game; the Fidget Spinner of 1944.
- Perhaps the greatest joy of watching this film is seeing young Vincent Price in one of his early films. This film’s second biggest mystery is Vincent’s disappearing/reappearing southern accent.
- Like so many of the New York elite, Waldo dines at the Algonquin. Do you think he knows Benchley?
- As is often the case with the great film noir mysteries, so much is conveyed through action and reactions rather than dialogue. And everyone plays it so close to the chest it creates wonderful tension.
- Shelby briefly mentions hearing Laura’s “mules” across the room. Mule in this case being an old term for slippers. Though the alternative is a fun visual as well.
- After making a career playing characters like Bessie the maid, Dorothy Adams must have been pissed when Thelma Ritter came along.
- She doesn’t get much to do, but Gene Tierney has more sex appeal in just a few shots than most actors do in whole films.
- If the murder described throughout the film was actually that gruesome, then my kudos to the unseen cleanup crew. That apartment is spotless.
- Waldo quotes Ernest Dowson’s “Vitae Summa Brevis”, which is where we get the phrase “days of wine and roses”.
- And as always, buy your War Bonds at this theater!
- The film has been remade a few times. In 1955, “Laura” was condensed to an hour-long episode of “The 20th Century-Fox Hour” starring Robert Stack, Dana Wynter, and a well-cast George Sanders as Lydecker.
- The Germans took a shot at “Laura” (poor choice of words) for television in 1962.
- The last remake of “Laura” was in 1968, adapted by Truman Capote and starring Lee (younger sister of Jackie) Bouvier. Seeing as how Lee’s acting career never took off, it’s safe to say this version is not very good.
- Following the popularity of the score, Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics to the “Laura” theme (despite not having seen the film) and created a jazz standard.
Further Viewing: Gene Tierney followed-up “Laura” with “Leave Her to Heaven”, the rare color film noir. Tierney’s femme fatale performance gives her more range to play than her more iconic work in “Laura”, and she received her only Oscar nomination.
** 2018 Update: Gene Tierney now appears on the list in “Leave Her to Heaven”. Hey, that’s this post’s Further Viewing! Who knew I could be so prescient?