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Otto Preminger's classic 1944 Crime-Noir/Thriller/Mystery film, Laura is an interesting film with an equally interesting cast of notable actors and actresses.
The stunningly beautiful Gene Tierney (Oscar Nominated for Leave Her To Heaven) plays Laura Hunt, a woman who has recently been murdered by a shotgun blast to the face. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews of The Ox-Bow Incident) has been assigned to find out who killed her and why. The first two people who he's going to go after are her fiance Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price of The Pit And The Pendulum and her ex-boyfriend Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in this film).
As McPherson goes about putting the pieces of the puzzle together, he's soon starting to obsess over the portrait of Laura that hangs over the fireplace in her apartment. He begins to fall for her a little bit, and is soon confronted by her face to face when she wanders into her apartment to find him sitting in her living room after a weekend away - healthy as can be. With Laura alive and well, McPherson has to work over time to figure out who the victim really was, who shot her dead, and most importantly, why they did it.
Preminger, who started off simply producing the film only to step in as director once Rouben Mamoulian was taken off the project, does a great job of slowly but surely building the tension. The more we get to know the two main suspects in the case the more we begin to distrust them. Shelby, at first a happy go lucky playboy and man about town, is actually down on his luck and all image. Waldo, socialite columnist for the local newspaper and a man who possesses an extremely acerbic wit, is actually a possessive and egotistic man who only thinks of himself. Laura is, to coin a phrase, who every woman wants to be and who every man wants to be with. She's gorgeous, smart, and it's easy to see why the three men in the story all obsess over her by the time that the end credits hit the screen. Tierney does a fantastic job portraying enough classical doe eyed beauty to nail the 'looks' part, but handles the character traits her character requires equally well. Price, in a rare and early non-horror role, is great as the young Shelby, his tall frame filling up the room when he enters and instantly drawing attention to himself by doing so. Clifton Webb is perfect as Waldo, and justly earned that Oscar nod even if he didn't win. He's a flamboyant and at times rather cruel man, and Webb quite simply nails the part. Dana Andrews is tough as nails, referring to all the women in his life as 'dolls' or 'dames' and he makes for an interesting contrast aside Waldo's high society snobbery.
This is a crime noir though, and what would a crime noir be without murky shadows and dimly light sets? There's plenty of that here too. When McPherson enters Laura's kitchen the light that shines through the vertical blinds and paints black and white stripes up and down his body and the counter behind him is an instantly recognizable crime noir motif, and the use of shadows and light does a perfectly wonderful job of basking the characters in just enough luminescence to capture all of their striking features.The DVD
Laura is presented in its original fullframe aspect ratio at 1.33.1. The contrast levels look very nice and the clean and detailed transfer does justice to the elegant shadows and detail that the camera captures. While there is some mild print damage here and there primarily in the form of specks and a scratch or two, for the most part the picture does look very nice. Edge enhancement and shimmering are noticeable particularly on the lines in the plaid on a characters jacket but are kept to a minimum for the most part and I didn't detect any compression artifacts laying about in the blacks, which remain deep and solid throughout.Sound:
There are three audio options supplied on this DVD - the original English mono mix, a Spanish dubbed mono mix, and new Dolby Digital 2.0 English stereo mix. The stereo mix really doesn't add a whole lot to the movie and there isn't much channel separation present in the track either. The music sounds a little clearer on this mix, but other than that, there's not much difference between the two English tracks. The original mono mix sounds just fine. There are a couple of scenes where careful ears will notice some mild background hiss but this is only in a few spots, not for the duration of the film. Overall, things are pretty clean and clear sounding. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are available, as is an English closed captioning feature.Extras:
First up is a commentary track featuring Wesleyan University film professor Jeanine Basinger, with intermittent comments supplied by composer David Raksin. There are a lot of great anecdotes about the cast and crew involved in this film, even if the delivery tends to be a little on the dry side. It's quite scholarly, as should be expected, but not so formal that it'll go over anybodies heads. Basinger provides some interesting information on how Preminger came to be the director, as well as some great facts about the cast members. This track also does a good job of explaining some of the history behind the film's memorable score, which Raskin was responsible for.
A second commentary features film historian Rudy Behlmer. This one is just as informative, if not more so, than the first track but again, the delivery is slightly dry. Behlmer does a great job of filling in the blanks on the history of the film as well as some of the casting decisions, and makes some interesting observations about the movie as it plays out. He goes into detail on some of the inspiration behind a couple of specific characters, and gives some great biographical information on the cast and crew involved in making the film.
Behlmer also supplies an optional commentary for the deleted scene that is supplied. This scene, presented here in rougher shape than the feature itself (and with the option to watch it inserted into the film or separately) is basically just under two minutes worth of Laura out on the town. I won't spoil the reasons the producers had for cutting it, as it makes for a truly odd story but it is quite interesting in hindsight.
If that weren't enough, Fox has also licensed two complete episodes from A&E's fantastic Biography series: Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait and Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain.
I didn't know much about Tierney's past going into this film, and her feature proved to be quite interesting as it follows her career from her early days on Broadway through to her sad and troubled later days in the 1950s right up until her death from emphysema in 1991 - ironic considering that film producers encouraged her to smoke in the 40s to lower her voice. At any rate, this is a great look back on one of the most beautiful actresses to come out of Hollywood's 'golden age' and a fitting tribute to the late Ms. Tierney.
Equally interesting is Price's Biography. As a life long Price fan this one didn't contain as much new information for me as Tierney's piece did, but it was still a lot of fun to watch, especially considering it is littered with clips from all sorts of his films, including the Americanized cut of Witchfinder General shown here as The Conqueror Worm. Interviews and rare photographs flesh out Price's history from his early days to his peak in horror films from the 50s to the 70s through to his cooking programs in the 1980s and finally to his death from lung cancer in 1993.
The film's original theatrical trailer is also included, and the DVD features chapter selection and some classy interactive menus.Final Thoughts:
Laura is a solid mystery/noir with a stellar cast and a couple of nicely executed plot twists. The cinematography is very nice and the performances are quite good. Fox has supplied a great selection of extra features for the noir buff and the Vincent Price fan alike, and they truly have kicked off their Film Noir line with style. Highly Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.