Review by Ed Nguyen
Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson
Director: Otto Preminger
Audio: English monaural 1.0 or stereo 2.0, Spanish 1.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Black & white, full-frame 1.33:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Two commentary tracks, deleted scene, trailer, Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait, Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain
Length: 87 minutes
Release Date: March 15, 2005
shall never forget the weekend Laura died."
movie star Gene Tierney was a rare beauty, born into a prosperous family and
refined in the finishing schools of Switzerland. As a young debutante, Tierney gravitated towards a career in
acting, making her Broadway premiere at the tender age of 19.
A supporting role in the comedy "The Male Animal" earned her
sensational praise as a promising starlet that "blazes with
animation." This allure did
not go unnoticed by the appreciative eye of movie mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who
after attending one performance of "The Male Animal" quickly signed
Tierney to a film contract.
her earliest film appearances, Tierney was cast in supporting roles which
capitalized upon her exotic beauty and almost feline seductiveness.
She was not destined to remain in the shadows of less charismatic actors
for long, though, and a starring role as the title character in Otto Preminger's
highly-regarded Laura (1944) unveiled the full-blossoming of Gene Tierney as a major
movie star. In the luminous, if
brief, career that ensued, Tierney would cement her legacy as one of Hollywood's
most glamorous actresses, appearing in a number of classic films during her
career, such as Heaven Can Wait, Leave
Her to Heaven, The Razor's Edge,
and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
However, she will always be most fondly-remembered as the epitome of
mysterious, unattainable glamour in Laura.
Laura is considered one of the
classics of the Hollywood studio era. Yet,
it is also an unusual film, and its production history is at the very least as
fascinating as the film itself. Laura's
original director was Rouben Mamoulian, the innovative stage director behind
some of the 1930's most influential films, including the first three-color
Technicolor film, Becky Sharp (1935).
Mamoulian purportedly photographed three-quarters of Laura
and prepared the remaining scenes. However,
the production was taken out of his hands and given instead to Otto Preminger to
was originally to have been Laura's
director, but a falling-out with Fox mogul Zanuck led to Preminger's demotion,
as it were, to producer status. Nevertheless,
Zanuck displayed a fickle nature after expressing some disappointment with
Mamoulian's early film rushes, and with some reluctance, Zanuck re-instated
Preminger as the director. To this
day, Preminger remains the "official" director of Laura.
aside, Preminger was a solid director in his own right.
His films regularly featured fluid camerawork, long takes, and superb
screen composition. Preminger had a
knack for assembling excellent casts for his films and preferred an objective
style of filmmaking that provided choices to discerning, intelligent audience
instead of merely leading viewers along a pre-arranged line of thought. Aside from Laura,
some of Preminger's other films include Fallen
Angel, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Anatomy
of a Murder, and River of No Return.
However, Laura provided
Preminger not only with his first major success but also earned him his first
Academy nomination for Best Direction.
would probably have been just as effective a director for Laura, but no doubt his staunch independence, which often led to
regular clashes within the studio hierarchy, played a role in his dismissal.
While Mamoulian, for years afterwards, would hotly contest Preminger's
claim that he had re-shot the entire film following Mamoulian's departure, the
truth about Laura's true pedigree may
never truly be known. It has since
become obscured through the shroud of time, this mystique only further enhancing
the aura of romantic intrigue surrounding the film.
can be described as a prime example of the film noir style.
This genre of film was influenced by the influx of German directors into
America, bringing with them the expressive style of the German cinema.
The blend of this German expressionism with the Hollywood gangster
picture of the 1930's would eventually give rise to the style known as film
noir, with its flashbacks, rainy sequences, and night scenes emphasizing deep
shadows and stylized contrasts of light and dark.
These films were characterized by their dark, pessimistic atmospheres and
frequently cynical or fatalistic tone. They
usually involved the tangled machinations of the criminal underworld and were
populated by flawed and disillusioned heroes as well as meretricious or
dangerous femme fatales.
this context, Laura's perverse themes
and somewhat decadent nature - mixing sexuality, wit, and cruelty within a film
noir setting - lend great energy and vitality to the story.
However, Laura is not just a
film noir. It might be better
classified as a psychological melodrama which derives its tension from the
romantic obsessions and clashes between fatally flawed characters.
the film opens, Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), a beautiful advertising girl, has
just been found murdered in her luxurious Park Avenue apartment.
Killed by a shotgun blast to the face, presumably in a crime of passion,
Laura is identified through her clothing, and an investigation is soon launched
to locate the missing murder weapon as well as the murderer.
detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is assigned to the case and begins to
interrogate Laura's former colleagues. McPherson
receives much helpful advice from one Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), the
sententious newspaper columnist who once sponsored Laura's ascension to power.
Lydecker is aware that Laura had been engaged to Shelby Carpenter
(Vincent Price), a shiftless if handsome gold digger, but had decided to break
off the engagement. For this
reason, Lydecker firmly expresses his firm belief that Shelby, the lover
spurned, has somehow perpetrated Laura's murder in a fit of subsequent rage.
Carpenter is thus portrayed as a duplicitous lover with a shady past, a
character unworthy of Laura's esteem, at least in Lydecker's estimate.
The columnist faults Laura for being somehow weak-minded, tending towards
the lean, strong body as the measure of a man as opposed to preferring a more
worthwhile specimen of human intellect, such as Lydecker himself..
then, there is Laura's aunt, Anne (Judith Anderson), too.
Another victim of Carpenter's charms, Anne recognizes his shortcomings
and character flaws, but she still cannot resist him: "He's no good, but
he's what I want. We belong
together because we're both weak and can't seem to help it."
Perhaps it is her wealth that particularly attracts Carpenter to Anne as
well, although at one point, Anne admits that her infatuation with Carpenter
would not exclude murder, if that were to be a prerequisite for winning his
are introduced to Laura through flashbacks, mostly from Lydecker's
point-of-view. The columnist
describes her in a vibrant and nostalgic light, recalling how a young and
doe-eyed Laura at first acquired his endorsement for her company's product and
then later his companionship. Lydecker's
remarks are at times apologetic and wistfully reminiscent, for he was clearly
devoted to Laura to the end and perhaps even a bit protective of her.
the investigation proceeds, McPherson too gradually becomes emotionally attached
with the spectre of Laura. Her
haunting vestiges, glimmered from his conversations with Lydecker, Carpenter,
and Laura's aunt, begin to occupy his waking thoughts.
A full-sized portrait of Laura in her own apartment captures his
admiration, and McPherson spends a superfluous amount of time in Laura's
apartment, rummaging slowly through her possessions and clothing, searching
absent-mindedly for clues.
film's three central male characters are thus flawed. Waldo Lydecker suffers from insufferable hubris and even
justly admits, "In my case, self-absorption is completely justified.
I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my
attention." Shelby Carpenter,
on the other hand, is exposed as a pathological liar.
Caught red-handed repeatedly throughout the film, he simply shrugs his
flaws aside in a glib manner: "I'm a natural-born suspect just because I'm
not the conventional type." Carpenter
may be weak and hardly ingenuous, but he is adept at emotional manipulation,
regularly endearing the sympathy of women to him.
Detective McPherson is a streetwise tough guy with an earthen quality and
for whom any woman is just a "doll" or a "dame" and for whom
conflicts of interest are as easily solved by a fist to the stomach as by the
word of the law. Yet, McPherson's
hardened outwardly demeanor begins to slowly erode away the more time he spends
among Laura's possessions, reading her love letters or smelling her perfume
bottles. McPherson's obsession with
Laura ultimately surpasses the bounds of his investigation and begins to border
Laura herself may not be the angelic, pure beauty as portrayed by Lydecker or
seen in his remembrances. Since
much of what we initially learn about Laura comes from Lydecker, there is the
distinct possibility that his memories are seen through a rosy haze or that
perhaps they obscure deeper truths. Nevertheless,
Laura Hunter remains one of the film noir genre's quintessential femme fatales.
Although not particularly manipulative or deceitful, Laura still extends
considerable influence "from the grave," affecting the lives of the
spellbound men who formerly knew her well and even an obsessed detective who did
Gene Tierney was undoubtedly the star attraction for Laura, she had a marvelous supporting cast as well.
Clifton Webb was a Broadway song-and-dance man, once contracted to become
MGM's answer to RKO's musical star Fred Astaire.
That plan came to naught, and his against-type casting as the acerbic
Waldo Lydecker would actually be his first sound movie role, one for which he
was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar, too.
Vincent Price, then a period drama actor, offers one of his finer
non-horror performances as the weak yet infuriatingly elusive Carpenter.
Dana Andrews may be best-remembered today as the lovelorn cop McPherson,
although he was quite solid in The Ox-Bow
Incident and The Best Years of Our
Lives. Dame Judith Anderson was
a supremely-gifted stage actress whose intermittent film roles usually
encompassed unsympathetic, sometimes sinister characters.
She was immortalized as the sinister housekeeper in Hitchcock's Rebecca and brings a comparatively classy and refined touch to her
performance in Laura.
by such a fine cast, all the remaining ingredients coalesce in Laura
into that indescribable, nebulous entity that is the essence of true movie
magic. With a crisp and sparkling Oscar-nominated screenplay, a lush
and memorable score, and evocative cinematography, not to mention Preminger's
great direction, Laura has stood the
test of time as one of Hollywood's finest examples of romantic film noir.
The film not only catapulted Gene Tierney to the heights of her career,
but it also signaled the emergence of Otto Preminger and composer David Raksin
as major talents within the film community.
the identity of Laura's killer is almost irrelevant. Laura herself is the very embodiment of the perfect woman,
the unattainable ideal that only truly exists in dreams or memories.
So, even death cannot diminish her immortal beauty.
The film's haunting theme of unrequited, obsessive love even beyond the
grave is perhaps only matched by Hitchcock's Vertigo.
And just like that masterpiece, Laura
is a film for the ages.
TRIVIA: David Selznick protegee
Jennifer Jones was originally to have played Laura Hunter.
Conversely, George Sanders, who was considered for the role of Lydecker,
would later portray the columnist Lydecker in a 1950's television production.
is presented in its original black & white, full-frame format.
The film looks fairly decent, its Oscar-winning cinematography sparkling
in the best fashion of silver screen magic and its Oscar-nominated art direction
vividly capturing with the shadows and nuances of film noir.
Contrast levels are fine, with moderately sharp details.
The picture is generally clear of dust or scratch marks, although the
frame jiggles from time to time. The
video transfer rate averages about 5 Mbps but jumps much higher (to 7-9 Mbps)
for certain scenes.
audio track for Laura is presented in
its original English 1.0 with an alternate stereo track available.
Spanish speakers may opt for the Spanish monaural track, too.
The soundtracks, in general, offer little in the way of audio
pyrotechnics but are nevertheless quite serviceable for the film.
They have also been cleaned of most pops or hisses, although occasional
background noise can be heard from time to time.
composer Alfred Newman was originally given the opportunity to write the film's
score. Instead, he suggested David
Raksin, whose lush, passionate score has since become legendary.
The haunting Laura theme, in particular, epitomizes the film's aura of yearning,
unrequited love. Interestingly,
Preminger and Zanuck had initially considered well-established tunes for the
theme, including Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," George
Gershwin's "Summertime," and Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated
Lady." History has since
proven that Raksin's theme, written over the course of one poignant weekend
after his own wife had left him, was truly the inspired and correct choice.
Laura. Good-bye, my love."
was originally to have been a part of Fox's on-going "Studio Classics"
series but was set aside instead as the first special edition installment in the
new "Fox Film Noir" series. Furthermore,
this is an extended version of the film containing a previously deleted scene.
This very short sequence, involving Laura and Lydecker, can be viewed
either within the context of the film or separately through the "Special
Features" menu. Film historian
Rudy Behlmer provides an optional commentary briefly explaining why the scene
was originally deleted. Brief glimpses of the deleted scene can also be seen in the
vintage theatrical trailer that is included on this disc.
Fortunately, Laura can still be watched without this scene at all for fans who
prefer to experience the film as originally released.
learn more about the history of the film itself, check out either of two
commentary tracks included on this disc. The
first track contains comments by David Raksin, composer of the film's legendary
score, and Jeanine Basinger, a film professor at Wesleyan University.
Basinger provides the bulk of the commentary and describes the careers
and star quality of the film's main actors, composer, and director Otto
Preminger. She also briefly alludes
to Rouben Mamoulian's relationship to the film and mentions rumors of alternate
endings for the film; one such ending suggested that the film was partially a
dream, while another revealed how the killer was caught in a different fashion.
One interesting bit of trivia revealed by Basinger is the whereabouts of
the film's famous "portrait," actually a photograph!
As for Raksin's infrequent comments, they are generally reserved for the
music and its context within the film.
second commentary track offers thoughts and interpretations from Rudy Behlmer.
A scripted but thoroughly absorbing scholarly dissertation, this
commentary traces the evolution of Laura
from the stage play, the novel, and various radio and film adaptations.
Behlmer provides many quotations and plenty of production trivia tidbits.
Fans of the film will particularly enjoy this excellent commentary,
especially those sections describing Preminger's involvement with the film's
production and the contested situation under which he eventually replaced Rouben
Mamoulian as director.
A&E Biography episodes are
included with this release. The
first episode, Gene Tierney: A Shattered
Portrait (44 min.), looks at the poignant life and Hollywood career of the
classic film actress. Shown are
home movies of the actress in her youth, childhood photographs, and numerous
clips from her movie roles. Tierney's
tremendous success on the silver screen is contrasted by personal difficulties
and a late-life struggle with mental illness.
Also, Tierney's most intimate tragedy, the consequences of a German
measles illness upon her newborn child, is examined in this Biography
special. On a lighter note, some
viewers may be surprised to learn that Tierney was once in a relationship with
the young John F. Kennedy Jr. (and could have conceivably become a future First
second Biography episode, Vincent
Price: The Versatile Villain (44 min.), pays homage to the career of the
quintessential horror film icon. Some
viewers may be surprised to learn that Price had a solid career as a romantic
and dramatic leading man prior to the 1960's AIP horror films that made him the
Master of the Macabre. Furthermore,
Price was, for a time, even a
member of Orson Welles's legendary Mercury Theater Company.
Price's film career encompassed over one hundred films, although he was
especially proud of his other interests - he was an avid art collector, an
accomplished stage actor, and author of several books and hundreds of articles.
As this Biography episode notes, Vincent Price was very much a modern-day
these Biography episodes provide
nostalgic summaries of the careers of Gene Tierney and Vincent Price.
While avid fans may not find an extreme wealth of new information here,
for the casual viewer unfamiliar with these two actors, these Biography
episodes are certainly very engrossing and absolutely worth watching.