“You forced me to give you my word. I never have been and I never will be bound by anything I don't do of my own free will.”
Laura starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews embodies all the characteristics of a Noir film. The film was one of the first four films to be discussed as a “film noir” in 1946. There is murder with sexual motivations, a beautiful femme fatale, dark lighting, and wonderful different camera angles.
The film starts off in a Noir way; the first voice we hear is that of the character Waldo Lydecker. We don’t see him we hear him while the camera pans to a clock. Lydecker says:
“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 with Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker... was the only one who really knew her... and I had just begun to write Laura's story when another of those detectives came to see me. I had him wait. I could watch him through the half-open door. I noted that his attention was fixed upon my clock. There was only one other in existence and that was in Laura's apartment, in the very room where she was murdered.”
This is the beginning of some fantastic foreshadowing. In the next scene Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) asks Lydecker about a column he had wrote:
“Two years ago, in your October column you started out to write a book review
but at the bottom of the column, you switched over to the Harrington murder case. You said Harrington was rubbed out with a shotgun loaded with buckshot the way Laura Hunt was murdered night before last.”
As the scene progresses Lydecker gives some more of himself away. He says that a shotgun was a more interesting murder of a man than by the sash the man was really killed with and that murder was his favorite crime.
Lydecker’s narrative and point of view is the first of the film. We see he was in love with the murdered woman Laura Hunt. He cannot stand to hear Mark call Laura a dame and more than anything or anyone he cannot stand Laura’s fiancé Shelby Carpenter. Lydecker sees Shelby as a male damsel in distress.
As the film progresses Mark begins to fall in love with Laura. Her portrait haunts her as well as the stories he is told by the suspects of how kind and beautiful she was. He wanders around in her apartment one rainy night. Lydecker has just left. The detective does not know what to do with himself. He begins to look around then pours himself a drink and sits on a chair. He falls asleep, we hear the door open. Laura Hunt who everyone believes to be dead is standing above Mark.
No one can believe Laura is alive they are all in shock. But there are two twists and one of the twists is the murderer. Everyone around Laura believes she i murdered the dead girl who is found out to be a model Diane Redfern. She and Laura had gotten into a an argument and Laura being a nice persona and feeling bad loan the model her apartment for the weekend. But Mark knows she could not be she is too smart to tell him about where she has been that he could easily check on. Mark knows who the real murderer is and why. When he leaves Laura’s life becomes at risk.
What a fantastic film it is beautiful in every way from the way it was filmed, to the lighting, and the casting. The story is just great; you really believe that everyone Laura was close to could have “killed” her and that she could have had a hand in the murder as well. What I really like about Laura is the multiple character point of view. Lydecker is the only one who gets the voice over but we can clearly see from which character’s point of view we are watching.
As I mentioned there is much foreshadowing. In many scenes in Laura’s apartment the characters stand in front of the clock. When Mark and Laura walk into the kitchen together the camera lingers a little longer on the clock. With Lydecker there is so much foreshadowing that he is the murderer it is nuts when you go back and watch the film.
My favorite scene in the movie is when Mark takes Laura in for questioning. The cinematography is gorgeous. The whole scene was just beautifully filmed and acted by Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. This is the scene where Mark in a way professes his love for Laura when he asks her if she loves Shelby. He knows from looking into her that she is a good person and that she’s too smart to kill anyone. Gene Tierney looked so pretty in this scene. From this comes my favorite movie stills.
The other scene that was done so perfectly was the scene where Laura comes back. The music had stopped when Mark got a drink and sat in the chair. The silence in this moment just adds so much. You can feel the shock, the surprise, and the tension between Mark and Laura.
Now I have to gush over Gene Tierney in this film. She was so beautiful. I love all her clothing especially in the white dress at the party at Anne’s house, the outfit she wore when she came back, and the dress she had on when Mark interrogated Laura. She did a fabulous job acting, it wasn’t dramatic and over the top. When Lydecker blows her off in the scene where they meet for the first time, her facial expressions were so genuine; she looked like she was really hurt and offended. In no way was she dramatic when Lydecker had the gun to her in the end again her face was genuine, she looked really scared for her life. Gene Tierney was so believable as Laura Hunt, as a young, career driven girl living the dream in New York City. This was one of the many times she would work with both Vincent Price and Dana Andrews. With Vincent Price she made two other movies- Leave Her To Heaven and Dragonwyck, with Dana Andrews- Tobacco Road, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Whirlpool. The only issue I have with the character of Laura would be her choice in men: Lydecker was an older man who finally got his eye candy and when she had other lovers he got really jealous. Shelby was truly a damsel in distress but charming. Mark seemed to be the only real man of the whole film.
The first time I saw this I think I cracked up laughing with Judith Anderson as Anne Treadwell. The only other time I have ever seen her in a movie was Hitchcock’s Rebecca where she played Mrs. Danvers. She played Mrs. Danvers to such perfection it’s truly hard to see her in any other roll.
As you can see Laura is a very typical Noir. There is a murder mystery, quick actions with the camera, a hardened cop, a jealous lover, and a beautiful woman. But here’s a question: can Laura herself be considered a femme fatale? I recently read the book Laura by Vera Caspary which the movie is based on. In the end there is some information about the film and the question was raised if Laura Hunt could be considered a femme fatale. That’s interesting to think about. The author of this section of the books said that Diane Redfern is the femme fatale; she was the one causing trouble for everyone.
The book and the film run along the same lines but with great differences. Mark smokes a pipe instead of playing with his little pocket baseball game to keep him calm. Lydecker is a fat old man. Laura had hit Diane Redfern with a tray and felt so sorry about the whole thing she let Diane stay in her apartment while she was away. Anne’s name in Susan and she was an opera singer. Many of the lines in the book were brought to the film such has Lydecker’s opening monologue. One of the great differences in the book to film is the murder weapon; the book has the weapon a gun in Lydecker’s cane. The film kept the different character points of view which is important to the story. I must say the film is so much better than the book. The film takes the book and makes sense its chaos. It makes the characters a lot better and likeable.
There is a reason why Laura is considered the quintessential Film Noir. It has all the qualities of one. It exposes the sinister side of love and jealousy. Like Citizen Kane and Casablanca before, Laura set the bar for all Noir films to come.