Film reviews

Laura (1944) – Blu-Ray Review

Star names such as Gene Tierney or Dana Andrews may have faded these days from the minds of all but the most ardent cinephiles as decades and generations pass, but there is little doubt that Laura—which has just received a brand new re-release via Eureka Entertainment—remains as seminal and genre defining an American picture now as it became in 1944. Otto Preminger’s movie is film noir, encapsulating much of what makes that sub-genre so beguiling.

Framed initially as a murder mystery, the titular Laura—played by the effortlessly glamorous Tierney—has been found murdered, a young advertising executive surrounded by Manhattan high society. On the case is Mark McPherson (Andrews, carved out of whiskey and granite), a NYPD detective attempting to put two and two together with the help of waspish, elite columnist Waldo Lydecker (an Oscar-nominated, scene-stealing Clifton Webb) in a tale which inevitably twists, turns and ultimately becomes an entirely different case altogether, once Laura’s fate is revealed.

In many ways this makes Preminger’s picture a film of two halves. The first 45 minutes or so are pure Raymond Chandler, as McPherson lugubriously ebbs and flows amidst a sea of potential suspects (including a young, pre-horror icon Vincent Price as a fairly hapless male socialite), with Preminger maintaining the enigma of the case from his perspective. The last half is far more of a romantic drama, twisting Laura’s story (as we see more from Tierney) into a tale of dark obsession. In any other picture such a right-hand turn would mark the film’s downfall but Preminger’s tight direction absolutely sells it.

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Admittedly, Laura would probably make a better stage play than a piece of cinema; Jay Drafler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt and (an uncredited) Ring Lardner Jr’s script  (based on the novel of the same name by Vera Caspary) is peppered with superb, cutting and witty dialogue which comes at you thick and fast, but he has to work hard to keep the piece visually interesting. Thankfully the performances make the most of his work; Andrews the anchor, Tierney the heart, with Price slippery, the great Judith Anderson pitiful, and Webb utterly viperish as the standout turn. You’re left wanting more from these characters as the narrative unfurls to a swift but satisfying conclusion.

As ever with the re-release of a long-cherished picture, it’s the extras which determine plenty and Eureka have gone to town on this one. Two audio commentaries (including one featuring late composer David Raksin), two radio broadcasts from 1945 and 1954 (both starring Tierney), archival featurettes, deleted scenes and a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Phil Hoad. A great deal of love has been put into giving Laura quite a sumptuous Blu-Ray release.

The quintessential film noir, Laura is one to discover (or rediscover) and there may never have been a better time.

Laura is now available from Eureka Entertainment.

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