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Laura
Directed by Otto Preminger with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Judith Anderson, black and white, 88 minutes, 1944
 

Laura portrait with Clifton and Dana

Clifton Webb, left, and Dana Andrews, right, discuss Laura's portrait in her apartment

By Carter B. Horsley

A sophisticated murder mystery, Laura has the most beautiful and haunting theme song in film history and a fabulous performance by Clifton Webb as the ascerbic and witty newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker.

It begins following the discovery that Laura Hunt, a successful advertising executive, played by Gene Tierney, had been killed by a shotgun blast to her face inside her apartment entrance. New York City homicide detective Mark McPherson, played by Dana Andrews, has gone to Lydecker's antiques-filled apartment and is invited into his bathroom where the columnist is sitting naked in his bathtyping a column.  Webb had appeared in some silent movies and then became a star on Broadway.

Clifton typing in his bathtub

Clifton Webb typing in his bathtub

The movie also featured Judith Anderson, a leading Broadway star, as Laura's rich aunt, Anne Treadwell, and Vincent Price, who would go on to a long career as a star in horror movies, as Shelby Carpenter, a southern playboy.

 "At his excellent website, filmsite.org, Tim Dirks provides the following commentary about Laura as "one of the most stylish, elegant, moody, and witty classic film noirs ever made." "Trailers for the compelling film promised: 'Never has a woman been so beautiful, so exotic, so dangerous to know!' and Gene Tierney (in her signature film role as Laura) delivered with exquisite elegance and sublime, breathtaking beauty the role of the untouchable 'work of art'. [Note: Both Jennifer Jones and Hedy Lamarr had turned down the title role.] A film with the similar theme of a man bewitched with a woman's portrait was Fritz Lang's sad and nightmarish film noir The Woman in the Window (1944).

"The highly-polished film was nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Director (Otto Preminger), Best Cinematography (Joseph LaShelle), Best Supporting Actor (Clifton Webb), Best Art Direction and Best Screenplay, and it received the award for Best Cinematography. The crisply-written screenplay (by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt) was based on the play and novel of the same name by Vera Caspary....

"The opening title and credits play atop the haunting portrait of the eponymous title character as the haunting 'Laura' theme music (the film's famous atmospheric theme tune by David Raksin) plays. [Otto Preminger had originally wanted Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Lady to be the film's theme.] After the black opening screen, society columnist Waldo Lydecker's (55-year-old Clifton Webb in his sound-film debut - his last feature film had been the silent The Heart of a Siren (1925) off-screen voice intones, in a measured way, during the flashback. [The character of Waldo Lydecker was reportedly based upon New Yorker theatre critic, columnist and broadcaster Alexander Woolcott.]....

"Rough-hewn, but handsome gumshoe/police detective Mark McPherson...of the Homicide Bureau examines the interior of Lydecker's apartment until the writer calls to him (from off-camera) to join him in his lavish bathroom:

McPherson: Nice little place you have here, Lydecker.
Lydecker: It's lavish, but I call it home.

"The acerbic critic/writer is naked - reclining in his bath water at one end of his gigantic marble bathtub....Caustically, Lydecker describes the murder of his protege Laura Hunt (on Friday night) and his earlier statement to police on Saturday morning....

"Because murder is his 'favorite crime' and he writes about it regularly, the renowned, droll columnist Lydecker insists on helping McPherson in his assigned investigation, even though he is a suspect:

I know you'll have to visit everyone on your list of suspects. I like to study their reactions.

"And he is egotistically pleased and flattered to be considered one of the murder suspects on the list: 'To have overlooked me would have been a pointed insult.'"

"...The detective pays little attention to Lydecker, and amuses himself with a hand-held pinball puzzle, as he tries to fill the four bases of a baseball diamond with rolling balls. Their conversation continues as Lydecker puts on his coat and places a white carnation in his lapel:

McPherson: Were you in love with Laura Hunt, Mr. Lydecker? Was she in love with you?
Lydecker: Laura considered me the wisest, the wittiest, the most interesting man she'd ever met. And I was in complete accord with her on that point. She thought me also the kindest, the gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world.
McPherson: Did you agree with her there, too?
Lydecker: McPherson, you won't understand this. But I tried to become the kindest, the gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world.
McPherson: Have any luck?
Lydecker: (callously) Let me put it this way. I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbors' children devoured by wolves. Shall we go?

"They first proceed in a taxi to the apartment of one of the other suspects, Laura's upper-crust, spinster aunt named Anne Treadwell..., a middle-aged society woman....

McPherson: Did you approve of Miss Hunt's coming marriage to Mr. Carpenter?
Anne: Why? Shouldn't I approve?
McPherson: I don't know. What is your relationship with Mr. Carpenter?
Anne: What do you mean?
McPherson: What I mean is he's been a frequent guest in your home. Is he an acquaintance, friend? Are you in love with him?
Lydecker: This is beginning to assume fabulous aspects.
Anne: Oh, shut up, Waldo! What are you driving at?
McPherson: The truth, Mrs. Treadwell. Are you in love with him?
Anne: Why no. I'm - I'm very fond of Mr. Carpenter, of course. Everybody is.
Lydecker: I'm not. I'll be hanged if I am....

"...At that moment, the Southern gold-digging, charming playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) enters the apartment, claiming that he has 'hardly slept a wink since it happened.' Lydecker takes note of the disreputable man's answer: 'Is that a sign of guilt or innocence, McPherson?' Since Laura and he were going to be married that week, Shelby claims that he's innocent, but Lydecker (who knows about Shelby's ambivalent relationships and his second love for Diane Redfern, a model in Laura's advertising agnecy) doubts the cagey assertion of Carpenter - referring to him as 'a male beauty in distress.' Laura had planned to go to her country house to decide whether or not to marry Carpenter:

Lydecker: Laura had not definitely made up her mind to marry him. She told me so herself, last Friday when she called up to cancel our dinner engagement. As a matter of fact, she was going to the country to think it over. She was extremely kind, but I was always sure she would never have thrown her life away on a male beauty in distress.
Shelby: (To McPherson) I suppose you've heard losers whine before, especially in your profession, eh?

"...On his first visit to Laura Hunt's apartment, accompanied by both Lydecker and Shelby, McPherson callously re-enacts the murder at the door, basing his information on graphic police photographs of the 'dame':

When a dame gets killed, she doesn't worry about how she looks.

"...Lydecker relates a long montage-style series of flashbacks of his times with Laura, who is about 30 years younger....he recalls, from his point of view, when Laura Hunt...was still a young aspiring career woman five years earlier when she first approached him in the Algonquin Hotel dining room where he was having lunch.
Laura, who works for an advertising firm as a designer...wishes to have him endorse a fountain pen her ad agency is promoting - her career rests upon his signature. But Lydecker arrogantly ridicules and snubs her. He refuses to endorse her ad, and turns her away:

Young woman, either you have been raised in some incredibly rustic community where good manners are unknown or you suffer from the common feminine delusion that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from the rules of civilized conduct, or possibly both.

"Lydecker belongs to the elite class of high-society critics who inhabit the world of venomous wit and high-brow intellect:

I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.....I'll neither consider, endorse, or use the Wallace pen. I hate pens. If your employers wish me to publish that statement in my column, you may tell them that I shall be delighted to oblige.

"Naively innocent and beautiful, Laura calls Lydecker 'selfish' and 'very lonely'....

Lydecker: In my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention.
Laura: But you write about people with such real understanding and sentiment. That's what makes your column so good.
Lydecker: The sentiment comes easy at 50 cents a word.
...

"In the next flashback, Lydecker tracks Laura down to her place of employment - the Bullitt and Co. ad agency. With a self-important flourish, he makes his way, unannounced, to her desk in the Stenographic Department....

I wish to point out that you caught me at my most difficult moment. Ordinarily, I am not without a heart...Shall I produce X-ray pictures to prove it? I wish to apologize...And now, for reasons which are too embarrassing to mention, I'd like to endorse that pen.

"After signing and endorsing her pen ad, Lydecker invites her out to dinner and soon makes her his protegé. He begins to promote her burgeoning career.

Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb

Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb

"During a long montage of their relationship together..., the opportunistic, Svengali-like Waldo becomes her mentor, grooms her and ultimately takes credit for her sophisticated, cultural development and her top-level success....

Her career began with my endorsement of the pen. I secured other endorsements for her, introduced her to important clients. I gave her her start. But it was her own talent and imagination that enabled her to rise to the top of her profession and stay there. She had an eager mind always. She was always quick to seize upon anything that would improve her mind or her appearance. Laura had innate breeding. But she deferred to my judgment and taste. I selected a more attractive hairdress for her. I taught her what clothes were more becoming to her. Through me, she met everyone - the famous and the infamous. Her youth and beauty, her poise and charm of manner captivated them all. She had warmth, vitality. She had authentic magnetism. Wherever we went, she stood out. Men admired her. Women envied her. She became as well-known as Waldo Lydecker's walking stick and his white carnation. On Tuesday and Friday nights, we stayed home, dining quietly, listening to my records. I read my articles to her. The way she listened was more eloquent than speech. These were the best nights.

"...Laura offers Shelby a job at Bullitt and Co., and Lydecker witnesses their handshake on it: (narrated) 'I concealed my annoyance with masterly self-control. But I sensed the situation which would bear watching.' Soon, Shelby and Laura become romantically involved and she is quickly taken by his charm and passion, although he lacks virtue, depth, integrity, and a work ethic. Lydecker naturally detests Shelby. With Svengali-like domination, he tries desperately to convince Laura to drive her suitor off with a 'private investigation' into the amoral man's character and background. When the dossier he has fastidiously prepared isn't convincing enough, Lydecker reveals that her fiance is a philanderer - he is two-timing her by having an affair with a young model (Diane Redfern) at the ad agency and by socializing with her own aunt:

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price

Gene Tierney and Vincent Price

Laura: By stooping so low, you only degrade yourself, Waldo.
Lydecker: Did you know that he almost went to jail for passing rubber checks? That he was suspected of stealing his hostess' jewels when he was a house guest in Virginia?...
Laura: What of it? I know his faults. A man can change, can't he? People are always ready to hold out a hand to slap you down but never to pick you up. All right, I'm helping Shelby. His past is his own affair. I only care about the present.
Lydecker: Speaking of the changed Mr. Carpenter in the present tense, he's now running around with a model from your own office. Her name is Diane Redfern.
Laura: I'm closer to despising you than I thought I ever would be...(after some thought) I'm sorry. I should have told you before. Shelby and I are going to be married, next week.
Lydecker: I believe you presented him with a cigarette case on his last birthday. Rather valuable, isn't it?
Laura: Where did you get it?
Lydecker: From the pawn shop where Diane Redfern took it after he gave it to her.
Laura: I don't believe it. He probably needed money and was too proud to borrow.
Lydecker: Carpenter proud? Perhaps that's why the pawn ticket was in her name.
Laura: Before this goes any further, well, I'll just... (She dials the phone for Shelby at his home.)
Lydecker: He isn't home. He's dining at Anne Treadwell's.
Laura: He can't be. He asked me to dinner.

"...To prove his point, Lydecker marches Laura to Anne's home, where they barge in and discover the two dining together. Shelby rises and smoothly tries to explain with a lame excuse:

Shelby: Hello, darling. I didn't expect to see you tonight.
Lydecker: (snorting) There you are, my dear. In a moment of supreme disaster, he's trite.
Shelby: You've been readin' too many melodramas, Waldo. I was just telling Anne about our getting married.

"Feeling betrayed and spited, Laura returns Carpenter's cigarette case and promptly leaves....

"Coming in from a hard, torrential rain one evening, McPherson finds himself alone in Laura's lavish apartment - his third visit. With the case going nowhere, the detective becomes haunted and obsessed with Laura's beautiful image....

Gene Tierney finds Dana Andrews in her apartment

Gene Tierney shocks Dana Andrews in her apartment

"In an astonishing, sexually-charged scene of his growing infatuation and fixation for her, possessive emotions are also invoked in him - for a woman ('dame') he has never met. She is unattainable, and thus, constitutes no threat to his masculinity. McPherson smokes a cigarette, removes his overcoat and hat, and loosens his tie. Nervous in the outer room where the portrait hangs, he walks to the study, removes his jacket, and takes out Laura's love letters and diary from her desk. Worked up, he smashes his cigarette and roams into her bedroom, where he rummages through her bedroom drawers and lingerie, inhales her perfume, and peers into her mirrored closets. Feeling slightly guilty and perverted, he returns to the living room and pours himself a drink, and then stares at her large-scale portrait - he is transfixed by it and drawn to it. He is visibly excited - and tormented, by the vision of the allegedly-deceased phantom-woman or dream lady - an ideal 'dame.' Waldo stops by after noticing the lights on in Laura's apartment - he objects to McPherson 'prying into Laura's letters,' especially those from him, and he opposes McPherson's growing attraction to his protegé. Once again, McPherson takes out his hand-held pinball baseball game and plays with it, as Lydecker points out that the working-class detective is acting like a "suitor" to a woman outside his class. McPherson has secretly made a bid to buy the bewitching portrait that hangs above the mantle:

Lydecker: Haven't you any sense of privacy?
McPherson: Murder victims have no claim to privacy.
Lydecker: Have detectives who buy portraits of murder victims a claim to privacy?...McPherson, did it ever strike you that you're acting very strangely? It's a wonder you don't come here like a suitor with roses and a box of candy - drugstore candy, of course. Have you ever dreamed of Laura as your wife, by your side at the Policeman's Ball or in the bleachers? Or listening to the heroic story of how you got a silver shinbone from a gun battle with a gangster? (Frustrated with the line of questioning, McPherson shakes his puzzle and rises.) I see you have.
McPherson: Why don't you go home? I'm busy.

"Lydecker once again wants to bargain for his own possessions in Laura's apartment, but McPherson refuses. The cruelly-critical columnist chides the detective before leaving and accuses him of obsessive necrophilia:

You better watch out, McPherson, or you'll end up in a psychiatric ward. I don't think they've ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse.

"...He falls asleep in the living room armchair under the watchful gaze of the portrait, painted by a former suitor....Then, he is uncomfortably shocked when Laura is 'reincarnated' and walks in, awakening him from dozing. She turns on the light and finds him half-sleeping in her armchair next to her portrait. He does a double-take and wipes his eyes, wondering if he is dreaming. She threatens to call the police:

Laura: What are you doing here?
McPherson: You're alive.
Laura: If you don't get out at once, I'm going to call the police.
McPherson: You are Laura Hunt, aren't you? Aren't you?
Laura: I'm going to call the police.
McPherson: I am the police.

"Because she has been at her country house for three days (from Friday evening to Monday night), she is unaware of the news of her own slaying - she didn't read the newspapers and radio broadcasts were unavailable to her (her radio was broken). McPherson shows her the newspaper account of the murder and how everyone presumed she was dead: 'Somebody was murdered in this room. Do you have any idea who it was?' Laura is horrified to realize that she is caught in the middle of a murder case....

"While changing her clothes in her bedroom, Laura finds a dress of Diane Redfern's in her closet and shows it to the detective: 'It wasn't here when I left. She's one of our models. Just about my size.' It dawns on both of them that the murder victim with her head blown off may belong to Diane Redfern.

"Both of them also know of the illicit liaison between Redfern and Shelby: 'I knew that she was in love with him. She told me so herself...at lunch last Friday. I also know that she meant nothing to Shelby. I understand him better than you do.' McPherson, now both elated about her appearance but faithful to his case, presses with questions - because Laura has become a prime suspect in his eyes. He questions her about the use of her apartment while she was away. He wonders whether it was possible that Laura killed Diane Redfern out of jealousy:

McPherson: Did you know or did you suspect that he [Carpenter] was going to bring her here Friday night, Miss Hunt?
Laura: How could I? I don't know that he brought her here, and neither do you. You merely assume it.
McPherson: What other assumption is possible? Do you love this fellow Carpenter so much you risk your own safety to protect him?
Laura: (concerned) My own safety? You suspect me?
McPherson: I suspect nobody and everybody. I'm merely trying to get at the truth.
Laura: I see you have been trying to get at the truth. You've read things I never meant anyone else to look at.
McPherson: Strictly routine. I'm sorry, really.

"...McPherson asks her to tell him the truth about her decision regarding her engagement to Shelby Carpenter, and she obliges: "I decided not to marry him." McPherson leaves with a tiny, relieved (subliminal) smile on his face.

"The medical examiner confirms that the murder victim 'who was bumped off upstairs' was Diane Redfern....

"After Laura meets with Shelby, McPherson tails his prime suspect to Laura's country home. During the confrontation, he catches Shelby with a recently-fired shotgun in his hands....

You took that poor girl in Miss Hunt's apartment. You knew all along it was she who was murdered. Didn't you know Laura Hunt would come back any day and spill the whole thing? Or did you plan to kill her too and hide the body someplace and cover up your first crime?...You took a bottle of Black Pony to her house Friday night...Where's the key to her apartment?

"When pressed, Shelby confesses that he used a duplicate key from Laura's office, and snuck Diane Redfern (who thought she was in love with him) into Laura's flat, presumably to talk to her and break off their affair. When the doorbell rang, Shelby remained in the bedroom and asked Diane to answer the door, preparing her with the excuse that Laura had lent her the apartment for the weekend. Fearing for both himself and Laura following the shotgun blast, and panicked by the death, he fled the scene and remained quiet:

Then there was a moment's silence and then a shot. It was an awful explosion. By the time I reached her, the door was closed. She lay there on the floor....I was too confused, too horrified, incapable of doing anything. The room was dark. I saw only a vague heap lying on the floor. I don't think I fully grasped the situation. I think I called her name, but I'm not sure. I-I remember kneeling on the floor, feeling her heart. My first instinct was to call the police....I was afraid, not only for myself but for Laura. In a panicky sort of way, I felt that I must keep out of this to keep Laura out of it. Oh, I know now how foolish and hopeless it was, but there was only one thing on my mind - the safety of a person whose life was dearer to me than my own. Don't you understand that?

"Shelby claims that he doesn't know who the murderer is, and doesn't admit that he suspects Laura: "I was groping for some way to keep Laura's name out of it. I was heartbroken about Diane and panic-stricken about Laura. I haven't slept a full two hours since this thing happened." Dismayed, McPherson tests Laura's radio and finds it fully functioning: "I hoped it wouldn't," he mutters to himself.

"The next morning, McPherson arrives at Laura's (his fourth visit) with a bag of groceries, intending on sharing breakfast with her. Laura's maid Bessie arrives and is shocked and hysterical when she sees Laura alive (a 'ghost'). Laura calms her down: 'Have you ever heard a ghost ask for eggs?' To explain why she disobeyed him the night before when she phoned Shelby, Laura describes herself as ambitious, assured, confident, and freedom-loving:

I never have been and I never will be bound by anything I don't do with my own free will.

"Shelby arrives with flowers for Laura and their engagement is declared 'on again.' After a visit to his lawyer, Shelby protests that anything he admitted the previous night to the detective was made 'under duress and can't be used' against him - 'besides, none of it was true.' Waldo also arrives and faints dead-away, off-camera, when he first sees the resurrected Laura.

"Lydecker plans a homecoming and invites many of Manhattan's upper crust to celebrate Laura's return, challenging McPherson to use the occasion to solve his case: 

...Anne can hardly conceal her disappointment that Laura is still alive. She desperately proposes marriage to Shelby, but he declines because of his romantic involvement with Laura:

Shelby, why don't you come to your senses? You know it's all over between you and Laura or it soon will be. You haven't lost me. Why don't we get married - now?...You need me. We'll get the best lawyer that money can buy. And when it's all over, we'll go away - anywhere you want - and forget about all this.

"Shelby pushes away Anne's proposition by telling her that 'Laura needs me.' He then advises Laura about the devious motivations of McPherson's tactics to get close to her: 'I see he's taking a new tact...Trying to make you like him, to make you talk.' Indeed, Shelby thinks Laura murdered Diane Redfern with the shotgun at the country home that he had earlier given to her: 

Judith Anderson and Dana Andrews

Judith Anderson and Dana Andrews

"...To drive a further wedge between Shelby and Laura - and bring like-minded Shelby to herself, the lonely and desperate Anne encourages Laura's budding interest in McPherson: 'Are you as interested in McPherson as he is in you?' She admits the weak-charactered affinity she shares with Shelby ('We belong together because we're both weak and can't seem to help it')....

"McPherson suspects Shelby...Oh, I don't think he did it, but he's capable of it....Anybody's better for you than Shelby. Anybody is. Shelby's better for me...'cause I can afford him and understand him. He's no good, but he's what I want. I'm not a nice person, Laura, and neither is he. He knows I know he's just what he is. He also knows that I don't care. We belong together because we're both weak and can't seem to help it. That's why I know he's capable of murder. He's like me.

"Laura turns back suddenly toward Anne - realizing that her aunt could have been the murderer at her door with a shotgun. Anne had thought of killing her favorite niece over her faithless lover, but didn't:

No dear, I didn't, but I thought of it.

"During the party, McPherson promises on the phone (within everyone's earshot) to police headquarters that he will solve Laura's murder: 'Don't worry. I told you I'd bring in the killer today. Yeah, I was just gonna make the arrest when you called. No, I can't tell you now. I'm not alone. You'll see when I come in.' The ploy works - he walks by each of the major suspects, pauses, and then arrests Laura...Bessie and Lydecker step forward to defend her:

Lydecker: Don't worry, darling. Let them accuse you. We'll fight them. I have every weapon. Money, connections, prestige, and my column. Every day, millions will read about you and rally to your defense.
McPherson: You talk as if you wanted to see her tried for murder.
Lydecker: Yes, rather than let you blacken her name with suspicions and rumors. Try to prove her guilty. Get on the witness stand with your poor shreds of evidence. I'll expose your cheap methods you used on her.

"McPherson escorts Laura to a bare room at the police headquarters....

Laura: What difference does it make what I say? You've made up your mind I'm guilty.
McPherson: Are you?
Laura: Don't tell me you have any doubts?...No, I didn't kill Diane Redfern or anyone else.
McPherson: Then why, why did you tell me the radio at your country place was broken.
Laura: Because it was broken.
McPherson: Not when I tried it.
Laura: Just as I was leaving the village, I asked the local handyman to fix it.
McPherson: How did he get in?
Laura: I always leave a key under the flowerpot on the porch.

"His main motivation in having her alone for questioning is to learn whether she is really devoted and in love with another suspect and romantic rival - Shelby Carpenter:

McPherson: The main thing I want to know is why you pulled that switch on me about Carpenter. You told me last night you decided not to marry him.
Laura: Yes, I guess I did.
McPherson: But today, it was on again. Why?
Laura: Well, I-I changed my mind.
McPherson: (exasperated, he moves in front of her face) What are you trying to hide? Don't you realize you're involved in a murder? You've got yourself in a jam that's not gonna be easy to get out of unless you're on the level with me.This is no time for secrets. Now, did you really decide to call it off? Or did you just tell me that because you knew I wanted to hear it. What went on between you and Carpenter when you saw him last night? Did he persuade you to make up? Or did you agree to pretend you had? Was that it?
Laura: Well, we, that is, both of us ---
McPherson: He convinced you that if you broke the engagement now, people would think you believed he was guilty.
Laura: Yes. But now I know it was only because he thought I was.
McPherson: Did you believe he was guilty?
Laura: No, I'm sure he isn't. But he'd gotten himself into an awfully suspicious position. And he's the sort of man that people are always ready to believe the worst about.
McPherson: Are you in love with him?
Laura: I don't see how I ever could have been.

"McPherson doesn't even book or charge Laura - he brought her there only to erase the last of his doubts about her innocence: "I was 99% certain about you. But I had to get rid of that 1% doubt...I'd reached the point where I needed official surroundings." McPherson proceeds to the apartment of another major suspect - Lydecker. Since Lydecker is still at the party, he finds Lydecker's place vacant. When he hears the antique grandfather clock chime, he realizes, from his notes, that it is identical to the one Waldo had given Laura (the one that Lydecker wished to remove from the premises). He crouches down and breaks into its hollow base - it's empty. On a hunch that the space could hold the missing murder weapon, he rushes away.

"After being interrogated, Laura has returned to her own apartment, where an incensed Lydecker, more possessive than ever, is occupied with convincing her to stay away from the possible consummation of a relationship with McPherson....she vows that 'no man is ever going to hurt me again,' Lydecker explains why he desperately wants her for himself....

Lydecker: It still doesn't make sense to me, Laura. He's playing some sort of a game with you.
Laura: I don't think so.
Lydecker: I don't deny that he's infatuated with you in some warped way of his own. But he isn't capable of any normal, warm, human relationship. He's been dealing with criminals too long. When you were unattainable, when he thought you were dead, that's when he wanted you most.
Laura: But he was glad when I came back as if he were waiting for me.
Lydecker: Do you know what he calls women? 'Dames.' 'A dame in Washington Heights got a fox fur out of him.' His very words.
Laura: That doesn't mean anything. He isn't like that.
Lydecker: Laura, you have one tragic weakness. With you, a lean strong body is the measure of a man. And you always get hurt.
Laura: No man is ever going to hurt me again. No one. Not even you.
Lydecker: I? Hurt you? Laura - (he turns her around) look at me. When a man has everything in the world that he wants, except what he wants most, he loses his self-respect. It makes him bitter, Laura. He wants to hurt someone as he's been hurt. You were a long time finding out about Shelby but that's over now. We'll be back together again.

"McPherson enters, unannounced, without ringing the doorbell. He offers his own 'personal opinion' that Laura is innocent. Lydecker is at the height of his possessive jealousy over McPherson (in Laura's presence), and is peeved and embittered by McPherson's masculinity, earthiness, and easy sexuality. When Lydecker attacks McPherson, Laura sides with Mark. Lydecker congratulates them on 'what promises to be a disgustingly earthy relationship':

Lydecker: It's the same obvious pattern, Laura. If McPherson weren't muscular and handsome in a cheap sort of way, you'd see through him in a second.
Laura: Waldo, I mean to be as kind about this as I know how. But I must tell you. You're the one who follows the same obvious pattern. First it was Jacoby, then Shelby, and now I suppose - I don't think we should see each other again.
Lydecker: You're not yourself, darling.
Laura: Yes I am. For the first time in ages, I know what I'm doing.
Lydecker: (snootily) Very well. I hope you'll never regret what promises to be a disgustingly earthy relationship. My congratulations, McPherson. And listen to my broadcast in fifteen minutes. I'm discussing Great Lovers of History.

"Laura brusquely breaks off her long-standing relationship with Lydecker. Waldo apparently leaves the apartment in a huff, but then hesitates outside on the stairway - where his body casts a shadow on the wall. Laura admits how painful it was to turn Lydecker away: 'It was the most difficult thing I ever had to do in my whole life.' Unromantic but realistic, McPherson is still focused on the search for clues: 'All I need is the gun.' He tampers with the base of Laura's grandfather clock, the one identical to Lydecker's, and the door pops open - the evidence to incriminate Lydecker is revealed. The murder weapon is concealed inside the grandfather clock given to Laura by Waldo. McPherson removes the bullets and then describes the murder sequence - positing Waldo as 'Laura's murderer' because he couldn't bear losing her to Shelby (no one else would be worthy of her):

The doorbell rang and Diane Redfern went to the door in your negligee. She opened the door. The room was dark. Waldo saw a girl standing there and he assumed it was you. He figured that if he couldn't have you himself, he was gonna make sure that nobody else did, so he let her have it with both barrels right in the face. She fell here. Waldo heard Shelby running from the next room so he hid in the stairway outside. Shelby was scared so he ran out as fast as he could. Then Waldo came back and placed the gun in that clock.

"Although unwarranted, Laura takes the figurative blame for Diane's murder:

He didn't really kill Diane Redfern. I killed her...I did as sure as if I'd pulled the trigger myself...I'm as guilty as he is. Not for anything I did but for what I didn't do. But I couldn't help myself. I owed him too much.

McPherson can sympathize with everything except her protective feelings for Shelby: 'I can't understand why you've tried so hard to protect Shelby these last few days.' Laura knows from experience the 'murderous' intentions of Waldo toward her male suitors (she speaks loudly enough for him to hear her outside in the hallway): 'I was nearly frantic with fear you'd arrest Shelby. I knew he wasn't guilty. He hasn't enough courage to kill a fly. And Waldo was doing everything he could to incriminate him. It was his way of getting rid of Shelby just as he did Jacoby.'

"When McPherson leaves to arrest Waldo, they share a good-night kiss at the door as he departs: 'Get some sleep. Forget the whole thing like a bad dream.' When Laura is left alone, Waldo sneaks back into her apartment, past the ticking grandfather clock. He is about to murder Laura (for the second time!) because she has fallen in love with McPherson and is not returning his love. Lydecker removes the shotgun from the clock's base, reloads the murder weapon, and becomes startled when he hears his own mellifluous voice on a pre-recorded radio broadcast that Laura plays within her bedroom. Lydecker's sick fantasy is echoed in his own poetic broadcast about how Love lasts beyond death:

And thus, as history has proved, Love is Eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout centuries. Love is stronger than Life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of Death. I close this evening's broadcast with some favorite lines...Brief Life - They are not long, the weeping and the laughter, love and desire and hate. I think they have no portion in us after we pass the gate...They are not long, the days of wine and roses. Out of a misty dream, our path emerges for a while, then closes within a dream.

"In her bedroom as Laura prepares to retire, Lydecker breaks her out of her reverie and shocks her with his appearance. He vows to kill her, rather than leave her to the 'vulgar pawing of a second-rate detective':

Lydecker: That's the way it is, isn't it, Laura?
Radio Announcer: 'You have heard the voice of Waldo Lydecker by electrical transcription.'
Laura: (begging) Waldo, you've taken one life. Isn't that enough?
Lydecker: The best part of myself - that's what you are. Do you think I'm going to leave it to the vulgar pawing of a second-rate detective who thinks you're a dame? Do you think I could bear the thought of him holding you in his arms, kissing you, loving you? (McPherson has returned with the police force and is ringing the doorbell.)
Lydecker: (as he raises the shotgun) There he is now. He'll find us together, Laura as we always have been and we always should be, as we always will be.

"His words strongly imply that he intends a murder/suicide....Laura deflects the aim of the shotgun as it goes off. McPherson breaks down the door just in time to save her and have her run and fall into his arms. Waldo is mortally wounded in an exchange of gunfire with the police. A shotgun blast goes wild and shatters the face of the grandfather clock. As Waldo is dying and utters her name in his final words, she rushes to his side. 

In his review of the movie at filmsgraded.com, Brian Kroller maintains that

"Webb is actually pathetic, something that Andrews sees immediately. His celebrity and arrogance are a guise to conceal his status as a lovesick fool. But the ending doesn't satisfy. Webb isn't the kind of man to plot revenge with a shotgun. He would be the first to endorse the hoary maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword. One can see Webb writing a snarky column about the checkered past of Vincent Price. However, physical violence ought to be beneath him. Thus, the movie would have a better, and more surprising, ending if Judith Anderson had been the killer. The icy villainess from Rebecca would have made a fine cold-blooded murderer. And her motive, to regain Price, made sense."

In his long review at asharperfocus.com, Norman N. Holland noted that "Über-beautiful, buck-toothed Gene Tierney, once one of young JFK’s girlfriends, played Laura,"

Gene Tierney wearing another fashionable hat
Gene Tierney wearing a very fashionable hat

"...I have trouble with this film. The women’s clothes—those hats! those padded shoulders!—seem ugly. How could any woman fall for weak, oily, corrupt Shelby Carpenter? Laura’s haughty aunt Ann (the great classical actress Judith Anderson) talks in the formulas reserved for the rich Other Woman. And she is too old even for Shelby. Often, Shelby’s, Ann’s, and McPherson’s lines seem trite and unconvincing (to me, at any rate). What redeems the dialogue is Lydecker’s wit.

"The over-decorated rooms crowd every image with objects to look at and admire. The completely bare room at the police station makes a stunning contrast. Things, things, things, and the high priest of things is Waldo Lydecker,...a critic and columnist, the toast of New York. He writes about works of art and incidentally people, judging them like a critic. (The four scriptwriters modeled him after the New Yorker columnists and Algonquin wits of the 1940s, in particular, Alexander Woollcott....The first shot of the movie shows us detective McPherson skeptically inspecting the art works in Lydecker’s apartment, including the baroque grandfather clock that will be crucial to the plot. Within the movie Lydecker creates Laura for us in his long recounting of their meeting, their relationship, and her turning to other lovers notably the smarmy golddigger Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). Indeed Laura in this picture is the famous portrait (actually an enlargement of a photograph, painted-over to look like an oil). As Tierney herself said, expressing her doubts about the role, 'Who wants to play a painting?'"

In his review at dvdtalk.com, Glenn Erickson observed:

"Just as George Sanders' Addison DeWitt is a main attraction in All About Eve, Clifton Webb's Waldo Lydecker grabs all the attention with his contemptuous attitude. He's the one with the zinger lines, as when he claims to be a sensitive man because he'd be deeply troubled if his neighbor's children were devoured by wolves. His ardor for Laura notwithstanding, he also seems to be 'coded' as gay, and the film flirts with scenes such as the one where he receives McPherson in a bathtub rigged with a typewriter, and even asks him for a towel. His small talk is dominated by frequent allusions to violent behavior, threatening Shelby and offering to crack the skull of a copyboy who crowds his style.

"Even if he's funny, average audiences are surely meant to dislike Lydecker. He's a pompous egghead and uses his advantages in unfair ways; it's always those snooty city folk like Lydecker and Carpenter who get the classy women like Laura. So we're automatically rooting for the quiet and amused McPherson, who knows just how to rile Lydecker with his silly handheld baseball puzzle. McPherson never loses control under provocation, and as the Alpha male, puts both lotharios in their place. The only exception is when Mark purposely provokes Shelby so as to be able to sucker-punch him. Laura shows a clear preference for two-fisted he-men over intellectual dandies and creampuff gigolos....

"Laura does imply that Mark McPherson is himself a borderline sick personality, and that's what makes this classic a film noir instead of a garden-variety whodunnit. We see Mark becoming more and more despondent about the female murder victim until the film's most famous scene shows him falling apart in worship of her portrait. The wordless sequence works beautifully and would be even better if its intent weren't already telegraphed by Lydecker's insinuation that Mark is turning into a necrophile. McPherson is a prototype for the intensely guilty Scotty Ferguson of Hitchcocks's Vertigo. 

"Yes, Laura shows up alive, throwing McPherson into a regular fit of joy -- there's a slight crook at the edge of his mouth where a smile should be. But we've been watching Andrews' expressive face very closely, and it is more than enough of a reaction. From then on in Mark pursues the real killer (after learning who the real victim is) with a different objective -- he has to win Laura as well. Little smiles flash across his face every time he thinks an obstacle between them has been lifted.

"Laura's remarkable return from the dead is somewhat similar to the later Vertigo, or perhaps an inversion of the story structure of Psycho. The film has lulled us into the finality of her death (unless we've seen the trailer, which shows Laura alive and kicking with her three male suitors) and she suddenly pops up to mark the beginning of the final act.

"Gene Tierney does a fine job in Laura even though the part is rigged to be playable by any pretty face. The living Laura turns out to be every bit as ideal as the phantom charmer described by Waldo Lydecker. Laura is indeed an innocent sweetheart even though she accepted and encouraged Waldo's career-enhancing help in all of those flashbacks. Lydecker claims that Laura's own talent and charm is what got her promotions and success, but one would think a savvy 40s noir would expect us to be at least a little suspicious.

"Preminger's ending is the expositional equal of Hitchcock's North by Northwest, resolving several plot threads in just a couple of shots. It's worth watching more than once."

The American Film Institute provides the following long commentary on the film's production history:

"The film opens with a voice-over narration by Clifton Webb as 'Waldo Lydecker.'"

"...Vera Caspary first wrote her story as a play, Ring Twice for Lora, in 1939, then adapted the play into a novel entitled Laura. The novel was serialized in Collier's (17 Oct--28 Nov 1942), under the title "Ring Twice for Laura." In a 1971 article in SatRev, Caspary recalls that Otto Preminger read the manuscript of the novel and expressed interest in collaborating with her on a revised version of the play, which he would then produce. They did not agree on the dramatization, however, and Caspary reworked the play with George Sklar in 1942. This stage version opened in London in 1945, and on Broadway on 26 Jun 1947. Preminger first worked on the screenplay with Jay Dratler, then brought in the team of poet Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt.

"In his autobiography, Preminger claims that 'Hoffenstein practically created the character of Waldo Lydecker for Clifton Webb.' A modern source suggests that Hoffenstein based the character of the acerbic columnist on critic Alexander Woollcott, a fellow member of the Algonquin Round Table. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, writers Ring Lardner, Jr., Jerome Cady, Robert Spencer Carr, George Bricker and Philip Lewis were at various times hired to do script revisions, but the extent of their contribution to the released film has not been determined. However, according to a modern source, a copy of a script given by Preminger to a friend included Cady's name on the top of pages containing the final portions and original ending of the film.

"In his autobiography, Preminger related how he reestablished his relationship with Twentieth Century-Fox when he convinced studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck to purchase the rights to the novel. Preminger and Zanuck had not spoken since 1937, when Preminger was replaced as the director of the Twentieth Century-Fox film Kidnapped....Their bitter feud damaged Preminger's Hollywood career, and he did not make another film until 1943, when Twentieth Century-Fox executive William Goetz, who was running the studio during Zanuck's military service, allowed him to direct Margin for Error....According to Preminger, Zanuck 'accused Goetz of treachery' when he returned and told Preminger, 'You can produce [Laura] but as long as I am at Fox, you will never direct.' Finding a director proved difficult, however. In a modern interview, Preminger said that both Walter Lang and Lewis Milestone turned down offers to direct Laura, citing a lack of enthusiasm for the script. In her SatRev article, Caspary claims that John Brahm was asked to direct the film but declined. A 24 Feb 1944 HR [Hollywood Reporter] news item named Irving Cummings as director.

"Rouben Mamoulian eventually agreed to direct the film. In his autobiography, Preminger recalled that Mamoulian 'didn't like the script any more than the others who had turned it down but he had no other jobs in sight and needed the money.' Preminger's relationship with Mamoulian was stormy from the start, as the director changed sets and costumes without consulting Preminger, and asked him not to come to the set. Upon viewing the disappointing dailies, Zanuck fired Mamoulian about two weeks into production and made Preminger the director. (Fourteen years later, Preminger would again replace Mamoulian, as director of Samuel Goldwyn's Porgy and Bess.)

"Zanuck and Mamoulian originally wanted Twentieth Century-Fox contract player Laird Cregar for the role of "'Waldo Lydecker,' but Preminger argued that Cregar was too well known as a heavy and would give away the plot. A 3 Aug 1943 LAT news item reported that Eva Gabor would portray 'Laura Hunt,' and that George Sanders, John Sutton and Monty Woolley were under consideration for the part of Waldo. According to Preminger's autobiography, Zanuck originally wanted John Hodiak for the role of detective 'Mark McPherson,' and a 28 Oct 1943 HR news item stated that the studio was negotiating with George Raft for the role.

"Jennifer Jones was cast in the title role, under an agreement with David O. Selznick that called for her to make one picture a year for Twentieth Century-Fox. When Jones failed to report for work on 24 Apr 1944, Twentieth Century-Fox threatened legal action. In a statement published in HR on 3 May 1944, Daniel T. O'Shea, executive director of Selznick Studio, claimed that Twentieth Century-Fox had refused to submit a copy of the script for approval. O'Shea asserted that his studio's contract with Twentieth Century-Fox stipulated that Jones's film assignments be 'consistent with her standing" as a recent Academy Award winner for The Song of Bernadette...His statement continued, 'Eventually [Twentieth Century-Fox studio executive Joseph M.] Schenck conceded to both Mr. Selznick and myself that the role in Laura was not worthy of Miss Jones' position, and that his studio had not seriously intended that she do it." Twentieth Century-Fox filed suit against Jones, however, and a 14 May 1944 NYT article observed that 'for the first time a specific monetary value has been placed on an Academy 'Oscar.' The studio is suing the actress for $613,600, and according to the complaint $500,000 of this represents a loss to the company because the picture is deprived of the services of Miss Jones, 'an Academy Award winner.' The suit was later settled, and Jones went on to make Cluny Brown for Twentieth Century-Fox in 1946.

"Photographs were shot in the Algonquin Hotel of the table at which Alexander Woollcott had habitually dined, as well as of the headwaiter who served him. These photographs were used to build a replica of the hotel's dining room on the studio lot, for the scene in which 'Laura first encounters 'Waldo.' Artist Azadia Newman, Mamoulian's wife, was commissioned to paint the portrait of Laura with which the detective becomes entranced, but it was not used in the final film. In his autobiography, Preminger wrote, 'When I scrapped Mamoulian's sets, the portrait of Laura went with them.' According to Preminger, "'ortraits rarely photograph well, so I devised a compromise. We had a photograph of Gene Tierney enlarged and smeared with oil paint to soften the outlines. It looked like a painting but was unmistakably Gene Tierney.'

"Modern interviews with Preminger, Tierney and composer David Raksin reveal that George Gershwin's "Summertime," from the opera Porgy and Bess, and Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" were Preminger's early choices for the film's theme song. A modern source adds that Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was also considered. Raksin wrote the theme music for Laura, which has since been recorded many times, frequently with lyrics added later by Johnny Mercer. According to modern sources, Raksin took the assignment after both Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann declined to compose the score. An 8 May 1944 HR news item reports that Vincent Price was to sing "You'll Never Know" in a party scene, but the song was not included in the released film.

Laura received an Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Black and White) and was nominated in the following catagories: Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Clifton Webb) and Best Art Direction (Black and White). In both its review and a feature article, NYT referred to Laura as Broadway star Webb's film debut, but he had appeared in several films in the 1920s. A 19 Jun 1990 HR news item reports that two minutes of footage that had been cut from the film were restored when Laura was released on laser disc. In the deleted footage, which was part of the viewed print, Waldo described how he selected Laura's clothing and hairstyle, making her an extension of himself. The news item explains that Twentieth Century-Fox 'was worried that declaration would offend World War II soldiers overseas with its depiction of decadent luxury and non-military obsessions happening on the home front.'

"Laura was broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on 5 Feb 1945, with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price reprising their screen roles and Otto Kruger replacing Webb, and on 1 Feb 1954, with Tierney, Victor Mature, Joe Kearns and Carleton Young. Laura was adapted twice for television. On 19 Oct 1955, it was broadcast on The 20th Century-Fox Hour on CBS-TV, starring Dana Wynter, George Sanders and Robert Stack. The one-hour telecast was later released in England as a feature film. On 24 Jan 1968, David Susskind produced Laura as an ABC Color Special. The program featured a new adaptation by Truman Capote and starred Sanders, Stack and Lee Bouvier."

Laura is chock full of hi-jinks and surprises and is a delight.  Gene Tierney was no Greta Garbo or Elizabeth Taylor but Preminger gave her oomph!   And a memorable score that is rather disappointed in this film but adds to Tierney's lustre in the countless fine later haunting renditions.

This film is ranked 83rd in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films.


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