Laura

Released:  1944

Cast:  Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson

Oscar Wins:  Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Joseph LaShelle)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Supporting Actor (Clifton Webb), Best Director (Otto Preminger), Best Writing, Screenplay (Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt), Best Art Direction –Interior Decoration, Black-and-White (Lyle R. Wheeler, Leland Fuller, Thomas Little)

SUMMARY:  Advertising executive and socialite Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) has just been found murdered in the doorway of her apartment, and detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) has been assigned to the case.  Very quickly into his investigation, McPherson meets Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), a very popular newspaper columnist who had been very close to Laura.  As Lydecker tells McPherson, Laura had been an unsophisticated nobody before she met him:  under his instruction, she became well-dressed, well-spoken, and well-known.  Lydecker also asks McPherson if he may accompany him on his rounds of questioning.  Together, the two men visit the home of Laura’s rich aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), where they also find Laura’s fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price).  Lydecker has strong suspicions that Carpenter and Treadwell have been having an affair, and that Treadwell has been supporting Carpenter’s lavish lifestyle (since he has no job).  In contrast, Laura’s housekeeper Bessie Clary is extremely loyal, and refuses to hear anything bad about Laura.  She is not fond of most of the people in Laura’s life, but eventually warms to McPherson.  In an attempt to understand Laura, McPherson begins reading her correspondence and essentially living in her apartment:  he seems to have become obsessed with a dead woman.  Lydecker accuses him of falling in love with Laura, which causes tension between the two men:  in several previous cases, Lydecker had purposely driven off Laura’s romantic interests.

One night, McPherson is in Laura’s apartment when he falls asleep.  He is awoken by Laura herself walking through the door, causing a lot of shock for both people.  Laura is completely unaware of her supposed death; when she looks around her apartment, she finds a dress belonging to a model that worked for her (and that Shelby Carpenter was rumored to be involved with).  McPherson realizes that it must have been Redfern that was murdered in the apartment:  because of the cause of death (shotgun blast to the face), the identity had been mistaken.  Furthermore, he realizes that Carpenter must have been the one to bring Redfern into the apartment, since he had a key and knew Laura would be in the country (proving that he had been lying to McPherson).  In an attempt to flush out some information, a party is held in Laura’s honor.  During the party, McPherson arrests a stunned Laura for murdering Diane Redfern.  However, he is relatively sure she is innocent, and quickly releases her.  He then goes to Lydecker’s apartment, where he notices a clock identical to one in Laura’s apartment (which Lydecker had already claimed as his).  When he begins to examine the clock, McPherson discovers a secret compartment, but there is nothing in it.  McPherson then goes back to Laura’s apartment, where he finds both Laura and Lydecker.  Seeing the growing attraction between Laura and McPherson, Lydecker becomes rude and insulting, so much so that Laura asks him to leave.  Once he has gone, McPherson looks at Laura’s clock and discovers the shotgun murder weapon in the secret compartment.  He and Laura both realize that Lydecker was the man responsible for shooting Diane Redfern (thinking that it was Laura).  McPherson leaves to find Lydecker, locking Laura in the apartment as he goes.  Unfortunately, Lydecker has already managed to sneak back in, and now tries to kill Laura in a jealous rage.  Before he can do so, Lydecker is shot by a police sergeant, who after consulting McPherson realized that Lydecker had never left the building.  Lydecker dies in the same spot Diane Redern did.

MY TAKE:  This is another really famous film noir, and for good reason;  until close to the end of the film, you don’t know who is responsible for the crime, since virtually everybody has a motive.  This is the second time I’ve seen this movie, and even I didn’t know who committed the crime.  I actually thought it was Shelby Carpenter, probably because he’s played by Vincent Price, who is also famous for being the scary voice in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.  He seemed to be the most suspicious to me, since he was engaged to Laura but involved with both Ann Treadwell and Diane Redfern.  He actually took Redfern to Laura’s apartment, which was both suspicious and stupid.  Also, right after he learns that Laura has returned to the city, Carpenter drives out to the house in the country and tries to get rid of a shotgun that’s displayed there.  This turns out to be nothing, but at that time in the film, it looks really incriminating.  I think that the reason this is such a good film noir is because the crime is simple, and there are a limited number of suspects.  Of course, there’s a bit of a shock about halfway through the movie, because you learn that the supposed victim is actually alive.  Still, this only introduces one new suspect (Laura herself), and the crime remains the same.  Laura may not have been the victim, but she certainly was intended to be:  the only thing that is a little confusing is why Shelby Carpenter would take Diane Redfern to Laura’s apartment.  It’s essential to the plot, but like I said, it’s just colossally stupid on Carpenter’s part.

RATING:  Great mystery – keeps you guessing to the end.

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