Laura has a deservedly great reputation as a classic film noir/murder mystery. The leads all have fine performances, the plot, though somewhat complex, works in a tight pattern, and the tone feels just right.
Gene Tierney is the pivotal character, Laura Hunt. Dana Andrews plays Detective. Lt. Mark McPherson, also featured are Clifton Webb as society columnist Waldo Lydecker, a playboy hanger-on Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and Laura’s aunt, Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson).
Laura starts off dead, or so we think. McPherson is flummoxed by the case, but also strangely, falls in love with the alleged dead woman. Turns out that it’s a Diane Redfern who’s the actual victim, and Laura is ok. So, who has killed Diane, and did the murderer think it was really Laura?
Oddly, Lydecker narrates to begin with. It’s funny how he holds McPherson in contempt as a mere detective. Anyway, Lydeker establishes his credentials with Laura; they were something like platonic lovers. He wants to ‘help’ the investigation.
From Anne, we learn that Laura was engaged to Carpenter; also, it’s obvious that Lydecker is jealous of the guy. It’s great having Price and Webb, two hammy types, fence with each other. Shelby pops in “I’m at your disposal, Lieutenant.” Lydecker can’t help getting in that Laura had reservations about marrying Carpenter. The three guys go back to Laura’s. “Is this the home of a ‘dame’!” complains Lydecker of Mark’s vocabulary. But Mark is impressed with her portrait.
Next stop, a swanky club frequented by Laura. Lydecker flashes back to his first meeting with her. She was a waif trying to chat him up; he was, well, a perfect Clifton Webb snooty character. As a sort of mentor, he insinuates himself into her life. “I’m not kind, I’m vicious” he tells her; but he is good to her, in a patronizing way. “Wherever we went, she stood out” he says, thanks, naturally, to his tutelage.
Anyway, she backs off; she has a guy, her portrait painter. Lydecker attempts to destroy the guy’s credibility “a labor of love”. Ok, now he’s vicious. Then Shelby shows up at a party; she gets him a job at her advertising agency. She’s moved up considerably; Diane’s mentioned as a new model for the company.
Meanwhile, Lydecker has a dossier on Carpenter. Then he lets on that Carpenter is running around with Diane; but Laura barks back that she’s engaged to him anyway. No doubt that Lydecker is more than a bit overbearing. They go over to Anne’s, who’s having dinner with Carpenter.
She tells Lydecker that she’s going to the country for a while to get away. Mark talks to Laura’s maid; she’s a great counterpoint to his terse demeanor. A bottle of unusual whiskey, standing out like a sore thumb, means that someone else had been in her place, as Laura never drank the stuff. Anne, Carpenter, and Lydecker show up together. This get together is revealing to Mark; he’s up to something.
Going through Laura’s stuff, he ends up focusing on her portrait. Lydecker comes back, concerned about his letters to her; he correctly surmises that Mark is becoming obsessed with her “I don’t think that they (psychiatric wards) have ever had a patient who fell in love with a corpse.”
But, shazam! There Laura is, coming home to find Mark there. She had no idea that she was presumed dead. She figures that Diane had been there while she was gone–so Diane must be the dead woman. He’s a bit suspicious of her, as Diane was a potential rival for Carpenter. Plus Shelby must’ve let her in to Laura’s. She knows that Shelby could’ve cared less about Diane, despite Diane’s feelings.
Interestingly, Mark also asks if she was going to marry Carpenter–nope, she wasn’t…which kind of leaves the door open. “Dame’s are always pulling a switch on you” he tells his fellow detective, as they tap into her conversation with Carpenter. At the rendevous spot, Mark surprises Carpenter, who’s fiddling with a shotgun–the possible murder weapon.
Carpenter must’ve known that it was Diane that was killed, the odd bottle of whiskey was his…Anyway, Carpenter admits to meeting with Diane at Laura’s. He said someone came to the door; Diane answered. He heard a shot, found her dead, and split. He didn’t know who the killer was, as he didn’t see the murder. Then he goes on to say what he and Laura had just talked about–basically filling her in on the nasty murder details.
At this point, Laura, Carpenter, and Lydecker are all still suspects. But Mark shows up at Laura’s the next morning, as do Carpenter, then Lydecker (he’s literally floored as he seemingly doesn’t know about Laura). It’s more obvious that Mark has more than a casual interest in Laura–more than a professional interest as well.
Apparently, there’s a sort of back-from-the-dead party for Laura. Even Anne could be a suspect, as she probably wants Carpenter more than Laura does. “I can afford him” Anne tells her. Good point. Mark has the cunning ploy of telling someone on the phone that he’s just about to make an arrest. Then he glares at everyone in the room. He first intimates that Laura is the killer; but Lydecker protests a bit much, histrionically.
Actually, Mark feigns her arrest; partly to get more dope on the others, and also to give them rope to hang themselves with, so to speak. An important aspect of the fake interrogation at the police station is to plumb the depths of her feelings about Carpenter. He drops her off and heads for Lydecker’s. There he focuses on the grandfather clock, which has a hidden compartment (she has the exact duplicate).
Lydecker is at Laura’s, but Mark soon shows. She tells Lydecker off; he pronounces her preference for Mark as their “disgustingly earthy relationship.” Mark’s retort–which also relates to Carpenter–is that she’s “surrounded herself with a remarkable collecion of dopes.” More importantly, Mark finds the missing murder weapon in her clock. He starts adding up the clues, and comes up with Lydecker. Eerily, she’s playing Lydecker’s radio show as he skulks about, retrieving the gun, loading it. She deflects his shot–Mark and the other detectives burst in and nail Lydecker.
Laura couldn’t be better. A complex love story as well as an intriguing film noir. Probably the best aspect of Laura is the clever way that Mark’s interest in her parallels the unfolding of the plot. She’s merely a victim for the first half of the movie, missed, and lovingly remembered; then she emerges, rekindling romances, casting more shadows, and even bringing suspicion on herself.
Mark begins with the obvious problem that everyone, including himself, assumes she’s dead. Then she’s miraculously alive; but she might’ve killed a potential rival, and/or she might well marry someone else. It takes until the very end of the movie before all of Mark’s obstacles are overcome, and, also, before the mystery is cleared up.
Despite a relatively long run time, Laura flows along like a book you don’t want to put down; and you’re sorry when the bookmark’s set aside. One of the best film noirs–not to be missed. Farmermouse made off with that rot-gut whiskey, but he said to give Laura ten trips to the country house. 10/10.