Laura online movie review - 'Cherchez la Femme', her name rhymes with 'Aura'...
You can summarize the best movies through a combo of two words, "The Godfather" is about power and succession, "Raging Bull" jealousy and self-destruction and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" greed and paranoia.
Following the same outline, "Laura" is about obsession and fascination. We get an early hint when the film opens, Laura is dead but Waldo Lydecker's eulogy, used as voice-over narration, less describes the woman she was than the effect her passing had on him. And Laura, whose huge painting portrait thrones over a deserted neatly decorated living room, becomes the subject of curiosity, then interest until it finally blooms into fascination.
And the greatest ambassador of this fascination is Waldo Lydecker, a columnist who must have twice Laura's age but is vividly infatuated, not quite with Laura, but an idea of Laura, whom he feels like being the privileged witness. Clifton Webb is simply magnificent in his scene-stealing performance (rightfully earning him an Oscar nomination) and Lydecker is unforgettable as the distinguished gentleman with the quickest wit when it comes to display sarcasm and contempt (every single line he delivers is worth pushing the 'rewind' button). Now, whatever Laura is in reality, the being of Lydecker is the film's greatest asset. I wish I could say the same about Dana Andrews, who plays Detective Mark McPherson, in charge of investigating Laura's murder.
I expressed my shock that Andrews didn't get an Oscar=nomination for his heartbreaking performance in "The Ox-Bow Incident", but while watching his moody and cigarette-packed impersonation of a detective, I had the strange sensation that Andrews tried to pull a Bogart, a few moments that didn't call for underplaying the emotions, gave him away. Thankfully, Andrews is always surrounded by good company, and when it's not Clifton Webb, Judith Anderson and Vincent Price add their personal touch. Together, they play Laura's aunt and fiancé, and both are lovers. The aunt doesn't seem too bothered by Shelby's relationship with Laura, she knows her niece enough to know he's not her type. As for Shelby (Vincent Price), he's the only one convinced about Laura's love.
So, we have a murder and three suspects, and the investigation emphasizes the rivalry between the two men, one that couldn't ring falser with an effete intellectual past his prime and a spineless opportunist only redeemed by his athletic looks. Both are perfect match for each other, but we're supposed to believe that they'd rather walk in Laura's fringes. There must be something about that Laura? Lydecker explains how they met, when approached for an ad, he had one nasty word too many and she literally put him in his place. He had no other choice than swallow his pride, accept the offer, knowing that there was more to gain, a second youth for him and a career for her. This was the start of a Pygmalion relationship based on platonic love.
But Waldo's jealousy wasn't the benign type. This is a man who can only rely on his intellect and networking to appeal to a woman of Laura's caliber. Shelby covers the usual requirements: tall, strong, dull but Laura is too precious to fall in such an intelligence-insulting trap, if she doesn't know, he does. This is the "idea" of Laura that is haunting him. He can't make love with her, but can't let her with men below the level. He destroyed a growing romance with the portrait painter with the power of a venomous critic, like he intended to destroy Shelby, overlooking a new player in the field, McPherson himself, a guy who dares to call women "dames" ? but who'll see more in Laura.
Now, how can you fall in love with a ghost? This is the recurring theme that drives the first part of the investigation, and the leitmotiv is expressed through the 'haunting theme' that became the film's musical signature. McPherson seems to be under the spell of Laura, and gradually obsessed by her, to the point of fetishism of the least expected sort from such a hard-nosed guy. And the film finds the perfect moment to make the ghost resurrect and we finally discover Laura, and she's as startled about her death news as we are about her living. Now, does she hold up to her reputation? Maybe not, but again, is she aware of her attraction? Maybe, she's the only Femme Fatale "despite herself", although there's always a sense of impending doom floating above her inner circle.
The film ventures through the romantic alleys but with enough cautiousness to never distract us, it's like Preminger who directed the film, knew Clifton Webb and Vincent Price were the two unsung pillars and kept them as long as possible. It's indeed very bizarre that the leading couple doesn't form the most exciting pair, not in the year of Bogart and Bacall in "To Have or Have Not" or MacMurray and Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity". But this is a movie about fascination and obsession, and it does a terrific job at showing how fascinated people could be fascinating in their own way, this is why the potential suspects are the most interesting characters. Laura's alleged aura was probably exaggerated, so what? Obsessions can cloud judgment, you know.
So, Laura's entrance is preceded by such an extraordinary aura that whatever we expect, we feel let down but the film works like its own alibi, we expect some typical film-noir movie with the tough detective and the cynical femme fatale, and we get "Laura", a movie that likes its titular character is preceded by its aura and whatever works, works despite itself? and maybe behind our astonishment, there's the embryo of fascination, and through our desire to watch it again, a potential obsession. The critic of the New York Times admitted that Gene Tierney didn't quite measure up to the fascination from her little court of worshiping males yet this seemingly flaw might be the key to understand the film's unique appeal.