Saturday, October 11, 2014

'Laura' Was Baffling, Even for Film Noir

"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."

Waldo (Clifton Webb)
Opening line

"Film noir is known for its convoluted plots and arbitrary twists," wrote movie critic Roger Ebert more than 10 years ago, "but even in a genre that gave us The Maltese Falcon, this takes some kind of prize."

That's for sure. Not only is "Laura" a whodunnit, it's a whogotit as well. As in who got killed? For that matter, did anyone get killed?

From the beginning, viewers were told that Laura (Gene Tierney), a young advertising executive, had been murdered. A streetwise detective (Dana Andrews) investigated.

As the detective went deeper and deeper into the case, he began to fall in love with the beguiling Laura, a woman he had never met but had seen frequently in a portrait.

Then, just when Andrews (and the audience) thought the case was wrapped up, who should walk in but Laura herself, very much alive?

There were several interesting characters in the story — a rather prissy newspaper columnist (Clifton Webb), Laura's leech of a boyfriend (Vincent Price), her affluent aunt who was also interested in the boyfriend and her housekeeper.

When Laura was believed to be dead, any one of them would have been a worthy suspect.

But it turned out that she wasn't the victim after all, which changed the whole emphasis of the investigation.

I won't tell you how the investigation turned out — or who the victim turned out to be.

I will say that I thought it was an excellent film noir, the kind that would really keep you guessing — but I probably would have tried to find a different leading lady. Tierney was pretty, yes, but she came across as a bit young for the role of an advertising executive (she was not yet 24 when "Laura" premiered). She seemed better suited for the role of a schoolgirl.

Maybe the movie's producers tried to get someone else to play the part. Maybe Tierney wasn't their first choice. Not that she didn't give it her best shot. I just thought that someone else would have been more effective. She was a veteran of nearly a dozen movies by that time, but she just didn't have the look for it. She needed to look like someone who was old enough to be teaching a college class, not leading cheers on Saturday afternoons.

Anyway, that would have been my recommendation. Someone with a little more gravitas.

"Laura" was nominated for five Oscars and won one (Joseph LaShelle for Best Black and White Cinematography).