Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Laura (1944)

Director: Otto Preminger


This film’s production had almost as many twists in it as its plot. A stirring tale of abnormal love and mistaken identities, the thriller Laura from the beginning was a motion picture doomed to failure. However with the right mix of writing, cinematography, and lesser known actors would rise to be one of the highest praised film of 1944.This early film noir with its troubled history throughout production ultimately lists as one of American cinema’s most beloved mystery movies out of World War II era.

Laura is a film noir story about a detective who begins to fall in love with the woman whose death he is investigating when the case is turned on its ear with unforeseen circumstances. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates the murder of the beautiful, young advertising executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), who was found shot in the face in her apartment. Through McPherson’s investigative interviewing with the likes of popular columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), on whose coattail Laura appears to ride in her professional and social rise, and her fiancĂ© Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), a playboy socialite, he pieces together her story. Slowly his intrigue turns to a perculiar infatuation, if not a love for a woman he has never met. When Laura sudden appears in the middle of his investigation, the two turn their effort to discovering the true victim and her murderer. It is deduced that Lydecker’s tremendous jealousy led to the murder of the mystery woman and continues on as his jealousy turns deadly once more with his vows that if he cannot have Laura, no one can.

A lighter shot film noir, Laura’s mystery thriller story makes for an interesting watch. Filled with twists and a cast filled lesser known film actors, this picture was a surprise hit for 20th Century-Fox, gaining great critical praise. Despite the critical accolades the feature lost out in many awards due to Hollywood politics. In viewing one can infer there being a passion in the production process of this picture despite its relative small size. Ultimately Laura is considered one of the finest mystery pictures in Hollywood history with its classic cinematic appeal and film noir qualities.

The picture was a passion project of producer/director Otto Preminger. As a successful director of the stage Preminger was presented with the story of “Laura” which he attempted to adapt for Broadway, which never came to be. While under a film contract at 20th Century-Fox Preminger once again Preminger was met with the story of Laura, which he looked forward to constructing in get earnest. Preminger was given the authority as producer, but studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, who famously clashed with Preminger, took away the idea of him directing. With Rouben Mamoulian appointed as director at the beginning of production the filmmaker made his authority known as he began to re-write the script and take away the original intent Preminger had for the picture. After seeing rush dailies and disputing the style being portrayed, Preminger was able to convince Zanuck to remove Mamoulian and appoint himself as director.

Weeks into production the movie was already well behind schedule with the massive shack up as Preminger assumed command, which initially worried both cast and crew. Initially the cast believed the change of directors was a direct response to their own acting, producing a disagreeable time on set for a while before cast and crew discovered Preminger’s great passion for the project and no ill will towards the cast. Production cam e together as everything rallied around Preminger and although production would go long, the producer/director got the film he wanted.

Webb with Tierney
The cast includes many lesser known talents of the silver screen at that time. Gene Tierney at twenty three was still a fresh face to audiences, but her performance here would vault her to one of the star actresses in Hollywood, providing her with her best remembered role. Dana Andrews had little experience, his persona general considered more suited for a gangster type of role, but it was his acting delivery that aiding in this picture’s noir qualities. Clifton Webb returns to the silver screen after fourteen years of primarily Broadway work. His casting as Lydecker was a source of struggle with the studio, being the Broadway star was a known homosexual, but his performance garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The light speaking Vincent Price, well before his famed horror feature days, would establish himself in major motion pictures here as the parasitic fiancĂ© in this early role.
Andrews with a young Vincent Price

Composer David Raksin provides a haunting score, inspired by the jazz music Preminger was wishing to have added to the feature. The original score and Laura theme by Raksin proved so powerful and poignant, that even though is was not nominated for an Oscar, would become a popular tune and style of sound in motion pictures for decades. In time Raksin’s work on Laura would be considered one of the finest motion picture.

Upon initial release Laura became an immediate success with critics and audiences alike. In time its longevity would help make the picture one the higher revered American motion pictures in history, especially in the genres of mystery, film noir, and thrillers. This is true considering its election into the National Film Registry in 1999 by the Library of Congress.

Looking back Laura remains a solid classic Hollywood picture with a plot that entertains. Slower than your more contemporary film, Laura may find trouble with younger audiences, but it remains a classic for a classic age in Hollywood, without all the bells and whistles of typical larger features.

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