Laura movie full length review - Provocative Mystery and Stylish Glamour; Glorious Portrait and Haunting Score
A portrait, a painting, a piece of art have always played a decisive role in addressing our emotions and leading our thoughts to some 'idealized reality.
' A beautiful woman in the painting has been a focus of interest...men admired her, women envied her; yet both have been affected by her glamor, mystery, detail and style. "A passion for the unavailable," as Petrarch once described the name Laura, is precisely what we encounter in this powerful film noir of the 1940s where one of the most beautiful actresses, Gene Tierney, at last decided to "play a painting." But is it only the BEAUTIFUL WOMAN who makes this film one of the most aesthetic and fabulous screen productions? Is the widespread appreciation and applause dedicated only to her?
All the merits of the film appear to focus on PORTRAIT, SCORE and ATMOSPHERE. These three aspects, as certain details, seem to create the harmony of the general conclusion after viewing LAURA. As a film noir (one of its very best manifestations), LAURA emphasizes the portrait of "a woman of mystery and glamor" (Gene Tierney)...an advertising executive whom we get to know with New York police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews). Just for curiosity, the portrait was initially painted by director Rouben Mamoulian's wife (first director of the movie) but...as a matter of fact, what we actually find in the movie is a blowup of Gene Tierney's photograph. The portrait leads us to the specific atmosphere of tension, suspicion, glamor, haunt, mystery and the unpredictable effects of murder investigation...the atmosphere at its best! This atmosphere is enriched by magnificent score, a unique work by David Raksin, a novelty at that time promoted by the composer for Fox studio Alfred Newman. His score supplies us with unforgettable feelings while watching the movie and helps the viewers keep interest and suspicion. It beautifully adapts detective elements, sexual references and a sentiment to the scenes. To enrich the atmosphere, we also need to add the flashbacks that play an important role in the movie and explain a lot in discovering the events as well as lead us to a certain reality and emotions. Also, the moody scenes with stunning cinematography add certain moods and resemblance.
Another significant aspect of LAURA's artistry are, of course, the performances. Although there are practically not many characters in the movie, casting occurred to be pretty challenging. It is important to keep in mind that the author of the novel, Vera Caspary, badly wanted a screen adaptation but had her word in many decisions, including the portrayals of characters. After the long and tedious process of casting (even Marlene Dietrich was willing to play the lead), the results are fabulous. Gene Tierney portrays a sophisticated woman of the high society, no naive woman, no femme fatale but a strong woman who gets balanced among three men our attention is called upon: the newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) whose vicious charm shapes her decisions and who has, indeed, the strongest power in her life; her fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), a gentle man who "would not even kill a fly" and the police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) who suspects no one and everyone at the same time. In between the men comes her wealthy aunt, Ann Treadwell memorably portrayed by the highly respected actress whose career illumined both the stage and cinema, Judith Anderson. However, let me consider the male performances in more details.
Dana Andrews does a brilliant job as the detective making us not only the observers of the investigation but, thanks to the powerful and effective depiction of indefatigable determination, he lets us into his world where women are 'dames' and where suspicions are daily bread. The most unforgettable scene is when he enters Laura's apartment and the emphasis on details, the dream-like tension and his instantaneous movements occur to be the clarity with no words. Clifton Webb, who portrays the most difficult character, in fact, excellently combines the wretchedness with sympathy, doubt with certainty. He is not a villain and he does not look to be one... He is a man of power, a man of talent, a man of self esteem and mannerisms. He even becomes respectable, even in the eyes of the most suspicious viewers until... Vincent Price has his moments in the film, he is vibrant and genuine in the role; a young and inexperienced in man-woman relation? A little but shy? It occurs quite meaningful to state that both Clifton Webb and Vincent Price started their careers from supporting roles and then became legendary. However, there is yet another legendary name in LAURA that makes this film stand out as a historic production...that is the "tireless" (according to Gene Tierney) director Otto Preminger.
Vincent Price memorably stated: "Otto Preminger had an implicit knowledge of pseudo-sophisticated world" and supplied the characters with the 'sense of evil' not making anyone villains. Preminger's great achievement is the fact that he managed to combine a detective story with psychology. His direction makes the film both sophisticated and romantic...I don't doubt that Rouben Mamoulian with his exquisite talents would also have managed that stylish element (he proved that in DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE)...yet, some of his requirements occurred to be of little use for the crew and the author herself.
LAURA is a great atmospheric film noir, a provocative mystery combined with the stylish glamor where the haunting score leads us to the glorious portrait of female charm and mystery. 9/10