Sunday, 18 January 2015
Movie Review: Laura (1944)
A classic film noir, Laura is a murder whodunnit filled with style, suspects, infatuation, and characters ready to deeply and truly betray each other.
Womanizing playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) was Laura's fiancé, and indeed she had just agreed to marry him, despite Waldo's dire warnings, before she was killed. Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) was Laura's icy aunt, and she was carrying on her own relationship with Shelby. And Bessie Clary (Dorothy Adams) was Laura's loyal house servant. Now fully immersed in Laura's world, Mark finds himself falling in love with the image of the murder victim, as her haunting portrait looms large over him at her apartment.
Directed by Otto Preminger, Laura is a succulent mystery, a small film that comes together in just the right proportions to form a sparkling package. This is an investigation driven by complex emotions, entangled by love, lust and greed, a minefield of relationships that quickly entraps the detective.
About halfway through, Laura introduces the major plot twist, knocking the mystery on its head and steering the investigation in a new direction, with new evidence and a shocking new suspect suddenly entering the fray. The screenplay, by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt (adapting the Vera Caspary novel) builds up to that moment, introducing the characters in Laura's world, and then does not miss a beat as all previous assumptions are reset and Mark has to grapple with new realities.
Mark is sucked into this world and gradually Laura starts to consume him. His investigation becomes about more than just finding a murderer; it is personal, as he succumbs to Laura's mysterious beauty while she dominates him from the high vantage point of her portrait. And Laura's character is a lingering enigma. A woman confident enough to hang a large self-portrait in her own apartment, and yet harbouring fundamental human weaknesses: she is incapable of pushing back against Waldo's domination, and unable to resist the dangerous charms of Shelby.
The mostly B+ cast members deliver functional performances, with Gene Tierney mesmeric in her most famous role. Laura benefits from the absence of star names, allowing Preminger to focus on the story and shift attention among the characters as required to follow the knotted threads of suspicion and doubt. And at the centre of the puzzle is Laura herself, a victim who nevertheless casts a spell with a cryptic sense of presence.
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