Welcome to today’s show, Laura (1944), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to iTunes and give me a review.
This is a very unusual film that is classified a film noir. The story follows a detective as he falls in love with a murdered woman. Director Otto Preminger added some odd homoerotic tension and many key noir elements are missing.
Let’s jump right in with the actors.
Dana Andrews was cast in the role of Det. Lt. Mark McPherson who falls in love with a dead woman. Andrews was first covered in Episode 4 – In Harm’s Way (1965).
Vincent Price played the role of Shelby Carpenter, a southern huckster that was engaged to the murdered woman. Price was first covered in Episode 45 – The Last Man on Earth (1964).
Gene Tierney played the role of top advertising executive Laura Hunt. Tierney was born in New York in 1920. Tierney had a wealthy family which resulted in her having a first-rate education, including a finishing school in Switzerland.
Tierney returned to the USA and was performing on Broadway by 1938. Her very first role consisted of carrying a bucket of water on stage prompting a critic to state “Miss Tierney is, without a doubt, the most beautiful water carrier I have ever seen!” In 1940, Darryl F. Zanuck saw Tierney in a play and she signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox.
Tierney’s first released film was the Return of Frank James (1940) followed by the release of Hudson’s Bay (1941). The next year she starred in The Shanghai Gesture (1941), Sundown (1941), Tobacco Road (1941) and Belle Starr (1941). Next, she was in the comedy Rings on Her Fingers (1942). Directed by Otto Preminger, Laura (1944) is largely considered to be one of Tierney’s best films. Tierney received an Oscar nomination for Leave Her to Heaven (1945). In one of my favorite films, The Razor’s Edge (1946) she played the spoiled rich girl Isabel Bradley to a tee. Clifton Webb co-starred with her in this film as well. Tierney was wonderful in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).
Big roles such as Night and the City (1950), The Mating Season (1951), Close to My Heart (1951), Plymouth Adventure (1952), Personal Affair (1953) and The Left Hand of God (1955) continued for Tierney through the mid-1950s. A failed marriage, a disabled child, and some disastrous love affairs lead to depression and a hiatus from films. Tierney returned for Advise & Consent (1962) and was as great as ever. However, the demand was gone. Her last feature film was The Pleasure Seekers (1964). Tierney died in 1991 shortly before her 71st birthday.
Clifton Webb played the role of Waldo Lydecker, mentor to Laura and snotty columnist and radio host. Born in 1899, Webb was trained as a youth to act and dance. He left school at 13 to study music and painting. At the age of 19, he was a professional ballroom dancer. By his mid-20s he was on Broadway, the London stage, and silent movies. It took Webb a while to be in talkies because he refused to audition. His first sound film was Laura (1944). He appeared again with Gene Tierney in The Razor’s Edge (1946). Webb’s portrayal of Elliot Templeton was masterful. However, like in Laura (1944), he may have been playing a character that was close to type.
Staying close to type he was in a series of Mr. Belvedere movies. A couple of his more interesting roles include Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) with Myrna Loy and Mister Scoutmaster (1953).
Webb lived with his mother until she died at the age of 91. He died 6 years later in 1966 at the age of 76.
Judith Anderson played socialite and sugar momma Ann Treadwell. Dame Judith Anderson. Anderson was born in Australia in 1897. She started acting there before moving to New York in 1918. She did well in America and was a top Broadway actress from the 1930s through the 1950s.
This movie begins showing the portrait of Laura (Gene Tierney) hung over the fireplace as the credits roll. When the credits end the voice of Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) reading well-written prose about the death of Laura. He says he was the only one who knew her and he was just about to write her story when a New York City police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is shown waiting in the living room of the upscale apartment. The detective looks at a large clock and the narrating voice says there is only one other and it’s in Laura’s apartment.
Waldo calls McPherson into the bathroom, where he is lounging in the tub while he types on his typewriter. Waldo moves the typewriter and exposes himself to McPherson. When Waldo stands up McPherson gives him a much-debated look. We won’t find the answer here. Waldo is impressed when he finds out the McPherson is a hero and captured a killer.
McPherson asks about a column Waldo wrote and said a person was murdered by a shotgun blast of buckshot, the same manner Laura was killed. When McPherson gets ready to leave, Waldo wants to tags along. Waldo says murder is his favorite crime. McPherson asked if he was in love with Laura. Waldo doesn’t really answer.
The pair travels to the very nice apartment and met Laura’s very rich socialite aunt Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson). Eventually, McPherson asks Ann how she feels about Laura’s fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). He then asks if Ann is in love with Carpenter. Ann has been giving Carpenter money and spending a lot of social time with him. Waldo makes wisecracks the entire time.
Shelby comes in makes excuses for being at Ann’s apartment. Waldo says Laura was not definite about marrying Shelby. Waldo, Shelby, and McPherson go to Laura’s apartment to get a key for Laura’s cabin. McPherson breaks Shelby’s alibi and finds out that he planted a key to the cabin in Laura’s drawer. Shelby and Waldo almost get into a fight.
That night Waldo and McPherson eat out at an Italian restaurant and Waldo takes the tale back five years to his first meeting with the naïve young Laura. He sternly rebuffs her. Later he finds Laura at her office and apologizes. He then starts mentoring her and help her meet the right people to make her a star in the advertising field. Waldo picked her hairstyle and the clothes she wore. They eat out every night except Tuesdays and Fridays when they cooked at home. After a time Laura began canceling her regular visits. Waldo stalked her house and found out the man she was seeing was Jacoby the artist that drew the portrait. Waldo destroyed him in his columns and every other man she became interested in.
One night at a party she met Shelby who is from Kentucky. His redneck charm wins over Laura. Shelby admits he has no money and she gives him a job at the advertising agency. One of the models that Shelby uses is Diane Redfern. As Laura and Shelby become closer Waldo becomes more jealous. Waldo has Shelby investigated and tries to turn Laura against him. Waldo tells Laura that Shelby is also seeing Diane Redfern. Waldo finally shows Laura a cigarette case that she had given Shelby that was later pawned by Diane Redfern. When he breaks her down, Waldo says he is doing all of this for her.
Waldo and Laura go to the apartment of Ann and find Shelby dining with Ann. Laura slaps the cigarette case down and storms out. Waldo says on Friday of the murder Laura has lunch with Diane Redfern. Laura called Waldo and says she is going to the country to sort things out.
Back on the current timeline, McPherson begins hanging around Laura’s house, reading her letters, diary, and drinking her booze. McPherson calls the liquor supplier and asks if she ever bought Black Pony Scotch. The housekeeper Bessie Clary (Dorothy Adams) comes in for her interview and gives McPherson the business for messing with Laura’s stuff. Bessie says Laura was a real fine lady. He asks her about the Black Pony. She says she found the full bottle on Saturday before the police came and the bottle had not been there when Bessie left on Friday. Bessie also washed the glasses.
Around this time Shelby, Waldo, and Ann show up and he offers them a drink of the Scotch. Shelby refuses the drink saying he is not a day drinker. Ann and Waldo begin to talk about the estate and Waldo tries to reclaim a vase, the matching clock, and a fire screen. McPherson won’t let Waldo take anything and he sends the three away.
That night McPherson goes back to Laura’s apartment. He continues to rifle through her stuff, stare at her picture, and search her bedroom. Waldo shows up and starts giving McPherson grief for invading Laura’s stuff. Waldo also reveals that McPherson has put in a bid for the portrait of Laura. Waldo says McPherson may have fallen in love with a corpse.
McPherson falls asleep under the portrait of Laura. The door opens and in walks a very much alive Laura who demands to know why the man is in her home. He tells her about the murdered girl in her apartment. When Laura changes out of her wet clothes, she finds one of Diane Redfern’s dresses in her closet. McPherson interrogates Laura about her whereabouts and alibis. McPherson finds out that Shelby has a key to her apartment. He also says the murdered woman was wearing Laura’s nightgown and slippers. McPherson orders her not to leave the house or call anyone.
As soon as McPherson is out Laura calls Shelby. They meet and then split up. McPherson follows Shelby and the other officer follows MacPherson. Shelby goes to Laura’s cabin and takes the shotgun off the mantle. McPherson catches him in the act. McPherson tells Shelby that he was in trouble because he knew who the murdered woman was. He says he took Laura’s key from the office and took Diane to the house. He says after three hours the doorbell rang and he asks Diane to answer the door. He heard the shot and then ran to Diane and never saw the shooter. Shelby was not sure if Laura did it and he was only trying to keep Laura’s name clean. McPherson also finds out the Laura lied about her radio at the cabin not working.
In the morning McPherson comes to see Laura with a big of breakfast to cook. Bessie comes in and freaks out when she see Laura. They then decide that Bessie should cook for them. Shelby shows up and is happy to see Laura. McPherson starts in on Shelby when Waldo arrives at the door. When he sees Laura he is visibly shocked and then faints. McPherson decides not to arrest anyone and Waldo plans a party for Laura.
At the party, Ann starts giving Shelby grief and tries to get him back. Shelby is riding high as he thinks Laura needs him. Oddly, McPherson is at the party. Shelby reveals that he went to the cabin to get the shotgun/murder weapon to protect Laura. Laura goes to the bedroom and talks with Ann. Ann says Shelby is right for her and McPherson is right for Laura. McPherson gets a call and announces he will bring the killer in that day.
McPherson arrests Laura for the murder. Waldo says he will use his column and his other resources to defend Laura. Shelby is dumbly indignant. McPherson says he wished Shelby had opened the door and gotten shot. Shelby grabs McPherson who returns a punch to Shelby’s midsection sending him to the ground where Ann is ready to pick him up.
McPherson asks Laura about the radio and she says she hired a handyman when she left the country. But McPherson is more concerned with Shelby and Laura’s engagement being back on again. Under interrogation, Laura says she does not love Shelby. He lets her go saying that she was never arrested and that he just needed to be sure about her.
McPherson goes to Waldo’s apartment and breaks in. He looks at Waldo’s clock and finds out it has a hidden compartment. Back at Laura’s home, Waldo is working on smearing McPherson’s reputation. Waldo says he and Laura will be back together soon.
McPherson goes back to Laura’s apartment. Laura sends Waldo away and he says he will be discussing great lovers on his show in 15 minutes. McPherson goes to the clock and finds the murder weapon in the secret compartment. McPherson tells Laura that Waldo was the killer and hid the gun after Shelby fled the apartment.
Waldo is hiding in the hallway of the apartment the same way he did the night he murdered Diane. When McPherson leaves to arrest Waldo, Waldo comes back to the apartment to kill Laura saying that if he can’t have her no one will.
At the stoop, McPherson finds out from the police sergeant that Waldo never left the building. The police bust in as Waldo attempts to shoot Laura. One of the police sergeants guns Waldo down. Waldo’s last words are Goodby, Laura. Goodbye, my love.
This very strange film noir lacked many of the classic elements such as harsh lighting. The hero was a cop and not a private eye. The lead female was not a femme fatale. Most of the scenes lacked movement and usually, it showed two or more people standing in a room talking. There were heavy homoerotic themes in the movie. But somehow it can still be recognized at fitting into the film noir category.
Mrs. Classic Movie Reviews usually watches all of the movies with me. While I was reading New York Times reviews from 1944 and more recent Roger Ebert reviews she casually stood up at the end and said, “You know that movie is just a remake of Phantom of the Opera. Damn!
World-Famous Short Summary – Don’t judge McPherson for falling in love with a picture. You’ve fallen in love with a character from a movie.
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Beware the moors