Blind Spot Series: Laura (1944)

laura-title

When advertising executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) is murdered shortly before her wedding day, police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) must figure out who’s responsible. Among the suspects are her fiance, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), a man with a shady past and possibly a shady present as well; her aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), whose house Carpenter frequents; and columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), who acted as a sort of Pygmalion to Laura and was fiercely possessive. He had no shortage of potential rivals. “Wherever we went, she stood out,” he tells McPherson. “Men admired her. Women envied her.” As McPherson delves into her life, interviewing the people who knew her and sifting through the items in her apartment, even he, despite his cynicism, finds himself falling for her.

Laura, directed by Otto Preminger, is considered one of the quintessential examples of film noir, but I have to admit that I was a bit underwhelmed by it. High expectations may be to blame, or maybe it was the fact that I’d seen other movies — later movies, generally — with similar themes and plot elements, so it didn’t seem as fresh as it must have upon its release in 1944. It’s a solid, well-made, entertaining film, one that I enjoyed watching; it just felt too much like noir by the numbers, at least much of the time, to live up to the hype.

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If anything distinguished Laura from run-of-the-mill film noir for me, it was the character of Waldo Lydecker. At first, he reminded me of All About Eve‘s theatre critic Addison DeWitt: snobby, vain, witty, contemptuous. (“I don’t use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom,” he says to Laura in a flashback.) But unlike Addison, who never seems in danger of losing control, Lydecker has an Achilles’ heel in the form of Laura herself. According to him, she considered him a paragon of both cleverness and kindness, and he tried to be the man she thought he was. When McPherson asks if he had any luck in this endeavor, he replies, “Let me put it this way: I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbors’ children devoured by wolves.” Still, it’s evident that Laura was capable of drawing out his tenderer feelings, otherwise carefully concealed under a shell of misanthropy. Unfortunately for her, it’s also evident that he wanted to control her, to keep her all for himself as his perfect woman — picking out her hairstyles and clothing, sabotaging her romances with other men.

Like the movie that bears her name, Laura, when she’s shown onscreen, doesn’t really live up to the hype, most of which comes from Lydecker. In retrospect, there’s a certain logic to this: He’s built her up into an impossible ideal in his mind. Whether or not this was intentional is another question, but it’s something I’ll have to consider if I watch Laura again someday. Now that I have some idea of what to expect, I might be pleasantly surprised by what it has to offer.

This post is part of the 2017 Blind Spot Series, hosted by The Matinee. My full list can be found here.

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9 thoughts on “Blind Spot Series: Laura (1944)

  1. I can’t fully remember what my initial thoughts were when I first watched this film, but it gave me a rather ethereal impression. Plus, the song is so hauntingly beautiful and one of my favorites. I also like the notion of Lydecker building up Laura as an impossible ideal and having it juxtaposed when we actually see her onscreen. It would be interesting to read more of your thoughts on this after a second viewing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s always nice to hear other people’s perspectives, especially when you have trouble grasping the appeal of a particular film. Maybe I’ll post about this one again if I rewatch it at some point; I know my opinions have changed before on second viewings.

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  2. I’m sorry it underwhelmed you, but that is a really good point about how Laura *isn’t* the ideal Waldo built her up as. Laura is much more innocent than in the novel, but book Laura isn’t a femme fatale either.

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  3. I completely agree. I watched Laura for the first time last year and, like you, I was underwhelmed. In my case I think it was too much hype, and I will watch it again with hopes of having a greater appreciation. Having said that, though, I loved the cast, especially Clifton Webb.

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  4. Pingback: Blindsided by THE PLAYER | The Matinee | Cinematic Passion & Perspective

  5. I watched this sssooo long ago when I was a young kid before I saw many of the other films it inspired so coming to it fresh as it were it knocked me out and I’ve loved it ever since. But I can imagine coming to it later after seeing many noirs it wouldn’t be quite the same.

    Clifton Webb’s is surely the showpiece portrait in the film but he’s surrounded by many great performers. This was actually the first place I saw Vincent Price so unlike most people I had to adjust to his horror movie persona rather than the other way around. He’s quite handsome and smooth in this but also rather slick and as Judith Anderson-who does alot with her small role-weak.

    Not even Gene Tierney, amazingly beautiful as she was, could measure up to the build up Lydecker gives Laura but her glacial stillness does denote an otherness which makes it understandable why Waldo and Mark are so drawn to her. And the always underappreciated Dana Andrews signals all the conflict Mark has roiling beneath the surface without ever letting it mar his grounding of the film.

    Hope you get a chance to give it another look, knowing what to expect without the hype might make it possible for you to find more in it as you follow its rhythms .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I especially like your insights on the performances. (That’s funny about Vincent Price, too. I’ve seen him in a few other non-horror roles, but it still feels a bit odd when he’s not playing a typical Vincent Price character.) Like I said, it’s always nice to hear other perspectives when the appeal of a film eludes you, and I’m sure I’ll have a different experience with it next time around.

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