Starring: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price
Director: Otto Preminger
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
When dramatic shadows are cast about the sets and the characters linger in a haze of cigarette smoke, you can be pretty sure that you’re watching film noir, especially if it’s shot in black and white and there’s a detective on the scene, preferably on the tail of some hot young dame. Laura practically defines the genre with its twisted tale of obsessional love and its examination of multiple murder suspects. Like All About Eve, which came out five years later, the story is told from the perspective of an older, cynical man – in this case the writer and broadcaster Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) – reflecting on the fate of a dazzling beauty whose dead body has just been discovered in her own apartment.
As he tells it, Laura (Gene Tierney) was a plucky designer with an advertising firm who brazenly approached him with a request to endorse a fountain pen. He dismissed her with the claim that he only writes with “a goose quill dipped in venom”. But something about her touched him so he reneged on his decision and furthermore, took it upon himself to nurture her, Pygmalion style. However, their thirty year age difference proved a barrier to a lasting romance and more “muscular” men moved in to stake their claim. The Kentucky playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) was about to wed Laura when her face was blown off at close range by a double barrel shot gun. Whodunit? That’s exactly what detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is determined to find out. But when he starts falling in love with “a corpse”, or at least Laura’s portrait pre-murder, his judgement is severely impaired.
Laura is a haunting movie. Its eerie, monothematic score by David Raksin was later popularised and recorded by artists such as Frank Sinatra. The film was nominated for five Oscars, winning one for Best Black and White Photography by Joseph LaShelle. But what really makes it so unique are the complex characters and their intriguing behaviour; Laura’s aunt Ann, for instance, played by Judith Anderson, laying claim to her nieces’ fiancé while calmly powdering her nose. Credit goes to Otto Preminger who, as producer, initiated the adaptation from Vera Caspary’s original novel then replaced Rouben Mamoulian as director. His vision is one of tantalisingly dark and tangled web indeed.