Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Laura (1944)

Here's a few different ways to have fun watching this great American film noir from 1944.

Count how many times Dana Andrews lights up a smoke.

Keep track of the snippets of the film's theme that pop up during its 88-minute running time.

Jot down whenever a scene happens at night, in the rain, or in the shadows. This is film noir, after all.

Or, make a checkmark every time a character delivers a zinger of a line in director Otto Preminger's classic tale shot in gorgeous black and white.

Let's give credit where it's largely due.

Laura, based on a novel by Vera Caspary, was penned by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhart and Ring Lardner, Jr. This team has done a fine job with this crime film.

Several participated in other major Hollywood films.

Dratler penned Call Northside 777 with James Stewart.

Hoffenstein was a contributing writer on The Wizard of Oz.

Lardner helped craft M*A*S*H, the film, and many episodes of the long-running television series.

Laura is a great showcase for Clifton Webb, who deservedly received an Oscar nomination for his role as Waldo Lydecker. It's Lydecker who falls for Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) after initially snubbing her in a great restaurant scene. Webb gets the lion's share of great lines and he delivers an incredible performance.

Lydecker is a well-known radio columnist loaded with cash and connections. He doesn't take kindly to his young love when she starts to make time with Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). Carpenter is making time with another woman and appears to have disturbed
Laura is murdered, but who's responsible?

Andrews (The Ox-Bow Incident) is solid as Det. Lieut. Mark McPherson, a no-nonsense homicide investigator who appears to be falling in with a deceased Laura.

Price is so well-known for his long resume of horror film that it's a pleasure to see him a dramatic role -- and doing a fine job too. "I'm a natural born suspect," Carpenter notes shortly after Laura's death. He had long relied on his family's estate to survive, but Laura recently gave him a job at her firm. Lydecker is quick to point out to Laura how Carpenter is not being faithful to her.

Laura is a benchmark in Tierney's career. It's one of the biggest roles in Andrews' career as well. He appeared in The Ox-Bow Incident a year before. Judith Anderson, who appears as Carpenter's love interest Ann Treadwell, appeared in Star Trek III 40 years later.

Great dialogue, strong production values, fantastic characters and a good whodunit make Laura well worth watching.

The version I watched included two A&E documentaries on Tierney and Price, a deleted scene, an extended version and commentary.

Here's a last little bit of trivia for you. Grant Mitchell (Arsenic and Old Lace and The Grapes of Wrath) had his scenes cut from the film.

Rating: 9/10

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