Review: Laura (1944)



Otto Preminger
Jay Dratler, Smauel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt (Novel: Vera Caspary)
88 min.
Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson
MPAA Rating

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Source Material

One of the finest aspects of the legendary film noir Laura is its cinematography. The images are crisp, clean and well selected, but the film owes much of its visual flair, plotting and design more to the successful Citizen Kane three years earlier than to anything else. The stories are as different as can be and the originality of the story of Laura is what has made it the enduring classic it is today. The film is about a detective (Dana Andrews) haunted by and investigating the death of a beautiful young woman. He suspects everyone and makes no bones about casting suspicion wherever it leads. He uses trickery, misinformation and old fashioned detective work to examine every aspect of the case in hopes of finding out who killed Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) and why.

The performances are satisfactory, but as stilted and confined as the genre will allow and perhaps its film noir itself, but I didn’t find myself emotionally invested in much of the film. The characters are kept at a distance to be observed and not appreciated. And with the painting of Laura having more looming presence over the film than any single character, it becomes hard to focus on more than just the mystery. And it’s a well oiled, plotted and mechanized case that has inspired many imitators over the years. From the “well, I wasn’t being fully honest, but I will be now” constant in the film to the mid-film twist that spins the case from one investigative shadow to the next.

Tierney is probably the better actress in the film with Judith Anderson a minimal presence in the film and Dorothy Adams a caricature. Andrews is stiff and inexpressive for much of the film, which plays perfectly well into the character and his few emotional outbursts still lack zeal despite fitting well in the scene. When you first see Clifton Webb on screen, you’re immediately turned off by his brashness, selfishness and general ill temper, but once you discover who he is, it makes sense, but doesn’t make him any less frustrating. And that leaves Vincent Price, who became the prince of horror tropes. His persona here is a significant departure from his more familiar (to younger audiences) later work in films like House of Wax. Yet, there are kernels of excellence in his performance. Several times you actually feel for him, but distressingly not often enough.

Film noir’s a genre that after many experiences just doesn’t appeal to me as much as it probably should. I adore murder mysteries and I celebrate the atmospheric feature, yet the lack of sympathy for the characters, lack of depth and unexceptional performances dissuade me from appreciating this type of yarn. While I can appreciate the multitude of genres at play in the film, the tendency towards film noir is my biggest road block to full enjoyment.
Review Written
October 25, 2010

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