johnlink ranks LAURA (1944)

My nightly movie night in a tent in Maine continues. When I packed up my Jeep to head up, I threw together a box of movies which contained a mix of films I’d been meaning to watch again (like my recent BACK TO THE FUTURE run) and films I had never seen. LAURA is a noir which has been on my shelf for probably close to a decade, but I had never put it on before.


I watched LAURA (1944) on 8.25.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

The film LAURA is considered canonical in the film noir genre, yet it is also a unique entry. Where the typical femme fatale is a baddie at heart, the titular character here (played elegantly by Gene Tierney) is a good girl by all accounts. The black-and-white shadows are there, but not as obviously as in the previous MALTESE FALCON.

And MALTESE FALCON is a film which LAURA considers at it goes along. Where FALCON had Bogart’s Sam Spade, LAURA’s counterpart is the Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews). McPherson never gets excited, never gets really angry. He does, unlike Spade perhaps, fall in love with a dead girl.

And if you have not seen LAURA, that is something you may not know: Laura’s murder is being investigated from the outset of the movie. The film begins with a voice over (not unlike other noir films). But, rather than getting the voice of our protagonist Detective, we hear the voice of jealous love interest Waldo (Clifton Webb). Waldo is a famous columnist who tags along with the Detective as they try and hunt for suspects. The main guy they go after is Laura’s sometimes fiance Shelby (Vincent Price).

The film is told partly through flashbacks. We learn quickly that all of the males in Laura’s life fell in love with, which soon includes by the Detective undeterred by a little thing like her being dead. Add in the fact that some women are jealous of this attention, and this is a movie with several good suspects. The twist which occurs halfway through the film is not unexpected, but it is effective in changing the trajectory of the movie.

The acting in this is quite good. Price really does nail the untrustworthy sleazebag role well. Webb provides an air of sophistication, yet always feels dangerous. Tierney smolders as Laura, smoothly walking the line between fatale and heroine. Andrews grounds the film. A stronger actor may have given the role more weight, but Andrews is never anything but solid. He is easy to pull for.

The script is fairly good. It contains your typical pulpy dialogue and a smattering of memorable lines. The story is a fine way to get these characters interacting, even if it seems they lie even when there is no need to. The underlying role of sex, violence, and deceptiveness is a classic example of how a 40s film managed to be about sex without ever implicitly mentioning it. Every jealous thing Waldo did for Laura, as he himself tells it to the Detective, is clearly about trying to get laid and becoming nasty when Laura gets laid by someone else. It’s really that simple.

While this may not be my go-to example for the noir you need to see, this is a solid film and is well regarded for a reason.



FINAL SCORE: 7 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on August 26, 2014.

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