Wednesday, January 25, 2006


"I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her."

If one analyzes Otto Preminger's 1944 film "Laura" element by element, the film simply should not work. As a noir-film, it is not quite dark enough. As a detective story, it features some improbable ideas. Why would a detective agree to let a murder suspect tag along for the investigation? How come this cop is not once seen inside a police station? Yet there it is is, ranked 234 in the Top 250 on IMDB. Somehow, the film just works.

The film's storyline is not as (famously) convoluted as The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon, but is still gripping.

Laura Hunt, played by Overbite Goddess Gene Tierney, is shot dead. Killed at close range by someone who shot her in the face.

Lieutenant Mark McPherson is on the trail of the murderer. The suspects include a prominent newspaper/radio personality, an unfaitful boyfriend and Laura's aunt.

Watching the film, it seemed to me that there was something more to the screenplay (or in the screenwriter's mind) than what appeared on the screen. How (or why) the detective falls in love with the dead Laura Hunt is never quite clear.Never mind, there is a wonderful scene involving that romantic angle, but I can't write more without giving away a key plot-point.

What holds the film together is a key question that surfaces thrice (and beautifully masks and reveals character motivations): "do you, or did you love him (or her)?" Jealousy, insecurity and manipulation all appear side by side with love and fidelity, and that's the fun, isn't it ;)

One of the pleasures of noir movies is keeping track of the setups - true and false, the twists and the surprises, and the well-executed payoff at the end. "Laura" succeeds on all those fronts. The climax is indeed very good. What it lacks is Bogie delivering the goods as the detective. That would have probably pushed "Laura" closer to # 107 or # 54 on the Top 250.

(Fans of Inspector Morse - and I am one - have to thank "Laura" for the "the- orchestra-switched-the-program" clue.)


Jabberwock said...

You really think it would have been a better film with Bogart playing the detective? Doubt it. A lot of the film's effectiveness derives from the enigma of Gene Tierney's character, and Dana Andrews is the perfect bland male lead; just the right foil. Bogie in the same role would have ended up dominating the film, which would probably have been counter-productive.

km said...

Jabberwock, what can I say, as a Bogie fanboy, the Rule in my Universe is that any film can be vastly improved by casting Bogie :)

I totally agree with you on the blandness of Dana Andrews being the right foil. Just that one of the genre's promises is trashy repartee and pretty boy wasn't up to it. Though the line "once a doll in Washington got a fox fur coat out of me" was an instant pulp classic. said...

Mark interrogated Laura at a police station. Who can forget that lamp illuminating Gene's face? One less improbable detail to worry about.