Laura

Laura. 20th Century Fox 1944.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure if I’ve been aware of this movie before it came up in recommendations or not. I seem to be vaguely aware of “Laura” as a title, but I may just be thinking of the song (which I know because Spike Jones exploded it), that turns out to be the theme from the movie with lyrics added.

Vincent Price appears to have a small role, judging by his billing, but he’s the biggest name I can see. The only other name I even recognize on the shortlist is Clifton Webb.

After watching the movie:

Det. McPherson is assigned to investigate the murder of Laura Hunt, shot dead at her door in the night. In his investigation, he encounters her two chief suitors, sharp-tongued columnist Waldo Lydecker and dispossessed (broke) heir Shelby Carpenter, though hardly any man she befriended could escape falling in love with her. Lydecker tells McPherson about how over the course of his friendship with Laura, he had to pare away several male companions he didn’t find suitable for her, but though his distaste for Carpenter is quite apparent, Laura was going to marry Carpenter not many days later. In pursuit of clues, McPherson questions Laura’s friends and associates, reads her letters and writings, and spends hours in her apartment, and finds that he too is falling under the spell of this dead woman.

All through the movie I was trying to place Carpenter, but I was coming up with references that were much too late to match up. Then I found out that was Vincent Price. No doubt so young he hadn’t yet gotten into his niche. He’s playing a believable romantic interest here, if not a sympathetic one. Not that anybody is sympathetic in this story.

Laura herself makes a compelling introduction, but as the story goes on, I was disappointed to see her get less spectacular as it gets closer to the murder, until at the present day she’s not really as enchanting as the men in her life say at all. Perhaps that comes from how much Lydecker has molded her in his image, only she’s not much like him either, thankfully. Waldo Lydecker is a man I can’t see anyone having any patience for in general, let alone how possessive he is toward her.

The dialogue is often particularly sharp, even among films of the era. Nobody is really sparring exactly, but there are cutting remarks flying all over the place. Lydecker’s lines in particular are savagely clever, as one might expect of a highly regarded writer, though none of the humanity alleged of his work shows in his personality.

I was hoping to see a story about a woman of such a magnetic personality that she had to be written as a full, round character the audience can’t help but be taken with, but that characterization really didn’t last much more than one scene. I did get a well-portrayed odious man with a Pygmalion complex (if that’s a psychological thing), and Vincent Price not being Vincent Price. I’m not sure it would have stood out as much without the acclaim of the theme tune though. It’s not one to be forgotten, but it’s not really much of a classic.

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