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Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price; dir: Otto Preminger
The thing with Laura is not so much its qualities as a movie, which are already well documented, but its categorisation as a noir. Its greatest pleasure is the catty, Wildean wit of Clifton Webbs Waldo Lydecker, lacerating the mediocrity he sees everywhere. Its other great impact is the central plot twist which is so Gothic in nature that its co-habitation with Waldos arch bitchiness makes Laura seem more a romantic Victorian ghost story than anything else.
It certainly couldnt qualify as police procedural, given how bizarrely Dana Andrews detective goes about his job. In his investigations initial stages he allows the prime suspect, explicitly identified as such, to join him in a tag team grilling the witnesses. Then in the films second half Danas Mark McPherson applies forensic techniques to investigate the health of his romance rather than the identity of the killer. The often overly igneous Andrews acts quite well in Laura, albeit subtly, so you have to be quick to catch the slight upward tick of happiness he displays when the eponymous heroine conforms to his desires. Gene Tierney here is the embodiment of a limpid pool shes so liquid you feel every ripple and shimmer on her glossy surface. Vincent Price by contrast is ridiculous, especially flailing away at a Kentucky accent he forgets more often than not.
Much of Laura, especially its second half, is overly soapy but this hardly disqualifies it from being a Victorian ghost romance. Nor does Danas detective resorting to Agatha Christie-style drawing room mystery techniques, as he does at the heroines welcome back party.
With the scripts erudition (at least in Lydeckers case) and its characters ease in their upscale apartments of trinket-filled prosperity shot in overly bright lighting, Laura has long been the noir for people who dont like film noir. For this we can probably blame the French. In 1946 French critic Nino Frank, considered (along with Jean-Pierre Chartier) to be Frances postwar discoverer of film noir, discussed seven new Hollywood films: Citizen Kane, How Green Was My Valley, The Maltese Falcon and The Little Foxes (all 1941) plus Laura, Murder My Sweet and Double Indemnity (all 1944). While Frank saw Laura as less a harbinger of a new genre than a movie "renewing the formula" of classic mysteries like Sherlock Holmes, what seems to have endured here is noir by association. Given Lauras qualities, and the central role played by an imposing oil painting, the following years George Sanders vehicle The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1945) seems a closer analogue than anything with Raymond Chandlers DNA. But Laura, it needs to be said, is still a better film regardless of where it sits.
- Roger Westcombe