Laura (1944) Blu-ray Review: The Sum Is Better than Its Parts

Laura is a murder mystery in which it really doesn’t matter who actually committed the murder. It is a love triangle that generates about as much heat as my refrigerator on the lowest setting. It is a film noir without many of aspects one generally associate with such films. It is a movie in which the titular character is the least interesting of the cast. Yet despite all that it is really a marvelous bit of cinema.

The film begins with narration by Waldo Lydercker (a delightful Clifton Webb) who explains how much he cares for Laura (Gene Tierney) and that she has just been found murdered by a shotgun blast to the face. We then meet Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) who is investigating the murder. He chats with Waldo about his relationship to the girl and for some reason allows Waldo to follow him along on his interviews with various other people. Most of the movie boils down to a series of conversations about the murder, or flashbacks of Laura with those who may have committed the act. Most of the film makes about as much sense as allowing a suspect in on the investigation.

Laura was engaged to Shelby Carpenter (a remarkably unscary Vincent Price) though most seem to think she wasn’t going to go through with the marriage. Thus forms our love triangle between Laura, her fiancee, and Waldo who acts as her elderly mentor and brought her considerable success. Though one wonders what the two men see in her as she’s got about as much charm as an unused mop. Not that the two gents add any fire themselves. Both actors steal the entire movie with their eccentricities though neither attract any chemistry towards Laura, and Waldo seems more likely to have a liaison with Carpenter than with a woman as beautiful as Tierney. Laura acts much like the titular bird in the Maltese Falcon – everybody seems to desire her but we never really see why.

The plot is as convoluted as it is nonsensical. We, along with the detective, first meet Waldo while he’s naked, typing in the tub. He moves the typewriter to conceal his nakedness from the audience but revealing it to the detective whom he then flashes by getting out of the tub making the detective hand him a towel in the process. Later, the detective returns the murder weapon to its hiding place stating that he’ll come back for it in the morning. And as mentioned, he allows Waldo, who is a suspect in the murder, to follow him to other interviews. Oh, and did I mention that the detective winds up falling in love with the dead women whom he has never met? So much of the action doesn’t make any sort of logical sense, and yet when meshed together it creates a sort of magical wonder. It’s like that weird uncle you have who’s a bit touched and a bit creepy and yet so much fun to have around.

Despite so many things that would ruin any other film, I found myself spellbound by Laura. It has no right to be so wonderful and yet there it is, floating across the screen making it onto countless lists of the best mysteries ever made.

The Blu-ray looks fantastic, mostly. It has been diligently cleaned and restored. For the most part, it looks bright and beautiful in its gloriously shot black and white. Now and again, they seem to have gone just a bit overboard with the contrast causing some of the shots to become awash in glaring whites. The sound is what you expect from a 1940s talkie, though the theme song and score sound great.

Extras include a couple of commentary tracks. The first is a patchwork compilation with composer David Rasken and film scholar Jeanine Bassinger that doesn’t add much and mostly consisted of her describing what is going on in the film at the moment. The second commentary by Rudy Behimer is much more interesting as he is a scholar of the period and really parses out the film and gives background about the filmmakers.

There are two separate 40-minute-plus biographies of Tierney and Price. The one on Price is delightful, giving plenty of information on the actor best known for cheesy horror films, but who was also an accomplished theater actor as well as an art collector and scholar. Then there is a short documentary about the film and a theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray comes with two versions: the original and an extended cut with an inserted montage documenting Laura’s climb up the social ladder. For those interested in the original cut the extra a scene is included by itself.

Laura is an odd film that never really should have worked. And yet it does. Wonderfully so.

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Mat Brewster

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