A Movie A Day: Quint loves LAURA (1944) When a dame gets killed, she doesn’t worry about how she looks.
Published at: Oct. 1, 2008, 7:09 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we jump from yesterday’s decent, but dull romantic triangle melodrama DAISY KENYON to today’s noir whodunit thriller LAURA via director Otto Preminger and actor Dana Andrews
And it’s a vast, vast improvement over yesterday’s offerings. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I loved the movie.
This is what I’m talking about. Just like in DAISY KENYON there’s a group of men fighting over the love of a single woman, the title character Laura, played by the inhumanly ravishing Gene Tierney. The difference is in this movie she’s been murdered, a shotgun was unloaded into her… both barrels… to the face.
And one of the men who falls in love with her does so after the fact.
Yeah… nice and fucked up, edging in on creepy territory.
I might edge into some spoiler territory here, detailing a plot twist that happens midway through the picture, but it’s one that I can’t discuss this film without bringing up. If you haven’t seen the picture and plan on doing so, it comes with my highest recommendation, but I’d advise going into it not knowing as many of the twists and turns as you can.
There are three men in Laura Hunt’s life. Two of them preceeded the shotgun blast and one is the main detective trying to solve the murder. Let’s start with him.
Dana Andrews plays this guy, Dt. McPherson, who begins as kind of a no nonsense man’s man, referring to girls as “dames” and “dolls,” even our poor victim. It’s a bit sudden and I don’t know if I buy it entirely, but over the first 40 minutes of the movie he falls in love with Laura thanks to some tales he hears from the prime suspects in the case and her stunning portrait, painted by a man supposedly in love with her.
That painter was run off by elder columnist Waldo Lydecker (what a name, huh?) played to the hilt as a sarcastic, educated, jealous old fart by Clifton Webb. You see, Waldo discovered Laura and while they don’t ever really make it explicit he’s kind of her suitor. In flashbacks we see Laura distracted by other men and he does his damndest to shoo them away. The painter, for instance, receives a horrible evisceration in Waldo’s column as being a man of ill repute and a hack painter.
The third man is a charming socialite that she ends up engaged to. It’s actually a little apt that this film bridges us into next month’s all Horror AMAD as this third man is played by noneother than Vincent Price. It’s nice seeing him play up the semi-loser, yet charming side and not the creep.
That’s the core of the film.
What makes this an atypical whodunit is the twist that the murder victim becomes a prime suspect when Laura walks back through her door 3 days after supposedly getting a faceful of buckshot.
So who was killed? Why was she killed? And who did it?
LAURA is the perfect mixture of adult, complex storytelling and popular entertainment. Joseph LaShelle’s cinematography is crisp, high contrast black and white. Otto Preminger’s direction is sublte, but masterful. He hits the sweet spot of being heavily stylized while not taking the viewer out of the story. David Raksin’s music is lovely, haunting and thrilling. The writing by Jay Dratler, Betty Reinhardt and Samuel Hoffenstein (adapting Vera Caspary’s book) is particularly sharp, keeping the story clear without making it simple.
Final Thoughts: LAURA is a pretty incredible picture, the kind of movie that keeps me searching out film of this era. It marks my introduction to the great leading lady, Gene Tierney, and I’m now making it a point to seek out her work. I watched the Biography Special on her (extra feature on the DVD) and it seems she led a rather tragic life, but she really made an impression on me. Vincent Price is also worth a look here, showing a range that most don’t give him credit for. Andrews as well is perfectly suited to play the rather confused Detective. All in all LAURA is one instance of lightning captured in a bottle, every aspect of filmmaking hitting the right notes at the same time.
The titles up for grabs during the randomly picked Horror Movie A Day October:
Wednesday, October 1st – Friday, October 31st: H-MAD! Horror Movie A Day! Check out the list here!
Tomorrow begins the All Horror Month of AMAD! Holy crap! This is going to be a lot of fun. I’ve written down the titles of each of the 50 (and counting) titles in contention on similar sized strips of paper and have put them in a plastic bag. I’ll let the movie gods guide me, adding new horror titles as they arrive. I have a few more on order and am open to any suggestions. Just let me know in the talkbacks below, especially if it’s a particularly fun ‘80s horror flick. I’m a big fan of that era and I don’t know what I’m really missing out on, but know that I love stuff like SLEEPAWAY CAMP, ALONE IN THE DARK (original, good non-Boll version), CHOPPING MALL, NIGHT OF THE DEMONS, CRITTERS, BLOOD DINER, etc. If you have any thoughts, let me know!