One of my college profs was David Raksin. He got his start orchestrating and composing with Charlie Chaplin and hit it big with the theme from this movie, Laura, which won him an Oscar. I actually don’t think it’s that great, I realized listening to it this time, the umpty-unth time I’ve seen this film. I wouldn’t take that assertion too seriously, though. I might change my mind next time I see it. It is very much of its time, however, as is the whole movie.
Now, film noir, as the French styled it, is one of the most ridiculous, affected, almost stagey genres of film. Laconic tough guys quicker to shoot than to talk, and when they do talk, it’s acerbic bursts of cynicism, and only a beautiful dame can win them over—and she’s probably a murderer, so she’s gonna hafta do time and…
So great, and so influential that we’ve gotten to see it done badly for more decades than it was ever done well. And Laura is one of the greats.
Dana Andrews plays a hardboiled detective (of course, though he’s an actual cop here) called in to investigate murdered “It” girl (the heart-breakingly beautiful Gene Tierney) only discover everyone has a motive. The priggish Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) who “made” Laura but was permanently friend-zoned, dubious fiancée Shelby (Vincent Price, in a dull-as-dishwater role) with a shady past, dowager Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) who wants Shelby for her own…and…well, her maid Bessie (Dorothy Adams) loved her.
Actually, they all love her. Because of course they do, she’s Gene Tierney.
SPOILERS FOLLOW, but it’s been 75 years, so come on!
The big idea here, though, is that the tough-talking, no-nonsense, pain-in-the-ass detective McPherson falls in love with her. And she’s dead.
Or so he thinks. I mean, he thinks she’s dead. He knows he’s in love with her.
I always remember the reveal of this part as being more dramatic than it is. McPherson falls asleep and Laura walks in, and I think he’s going to groggily look out into the shadows and see a form, only to have it resolve as Laura. But no, she just walks in.
In classic noir form, Laura and Mark fall in love—or, I dunno, just sort of agree that they’re in love. McPherson’s dialog is amazing. “I suspect nobody and everybody.” And “When a dame gets killed she doesn’t worry how she looks.” And: “Shut up.”
The gimmick, if we look at it, doesn’t really make sense in the details. Waldo knocks on the door, a woman roughly matching Laura’s appearance opens the door, and Waldo blows her face off with a shotgun. Then he stashes the gun in the clock. But he also runs away right away because Shelby’s in there. I mean, that has to be the way it worked out but…that means he carried the shotgun there, so why not just bring it back. I mean, it wasn’t quick to open up the clock’s secret compartment. He can’t have hid it there originally, or he’d have to get into the foyer to get it before accidentally shooting Laura. I guess that’s remotely possible?
Wait, the Flower is telling me that Waldo stepped in to the apartment after the murder, heard Shelby, hid in the kitchen, then when Shelby ran out, he hid the gun. Which I guess sorta makes sense, especially if you know Shelby is the sort of worm who would flee the scene of a murder. In his fiancée’s apartment. Where he had taken another girl. And she was wearing his fiancée’s clothes.
I dunno. The Big Sleep doesn’t make sense either but it’s also great.
The Boy and The Flower both liked it. The Boy said he didn’t think it was as good a movie, technically, as Double Indemnity (the next film on our noir double-feature), but that it was a fun, fast film. The Flower didn’t think it gained much for being on the big screen—except for Gene Tierney, who evoked a little gasp from her when she first appears in Waldo’s flashback.
Obviously you should see it. Again.