As I was going through the list of film noir I’ve covered for The Best of Film Noir, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t written a post about Laura. This is a great film that flirts with not being film noir, as some key elements are not strongly portrayed. However Laura has been recognized by the Library of Congress as a film worth preservation, and Laura also ranks highly on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 lists (100 Years…100 Thrills, 100 Years of Film Scores and 10 Top 10 for mystery). And many consider it one of the best film noir movies ever made.
The Best of Film Noir – The Beginning
If you follow my blog and my posts on writing, you’ll know that I stress the importance of a great beginning (see Writers Workshop – A Great Beginning And The Godfather). Well, we have an incredible beginning in Laura. The first words we hear are those of Waldo Lydecker, a newspaper columnist who is obsessed with Laura (played by Clifton Webb):
I shall never forget the weekend Laura died.
Wow! What a setup for the rest of the movie. Aren’t you already wondering, who’s Laura? and what happened to her? That’s a great way of hooking in the viewer, and if you watch Laura, I guarantee you’ll be hooked…that’s great writing.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
We may not have a classic noir hero in Laura, but a couple of things put him in the category. Dana Andrews plays New York City police detective Mark McPherson. He’s investigating the death of Laura, a highly successful advertizing executive. First, the classic noir detective is usually a drinker and a dark character – think hard-boiled. McPherson is definitely this. Usually the noir hero becomes obsessed with the femme fatale, and this obsession leads to his downfall. This is almost the case with McPherson as he tries to find Laura’s killer. Although McPherson doesn’t fall like the classic noir hero, he does head down a dark road with his obsession. And he is essentially seduced by a portrait of Laura. How spooky and noir is that?
The Best of Film Noir – The Femme Fatale
Gene Tierney plays the title role and it was her breakout role. Some criticize her performance, saying that she didn’t seem to fit the role. Also, Laura doesn’t fit the traditional femme fatale. Since we know at the beginning of the film that Laura is dead, all of Tierney’s scenes occur in flashback (a classic film noir technique). The femme fatale is usually incredibly beautiful and also incredibly deadly. But Laura seems to lack of this killer instinct. She can and is seductive at times, but it’s not in the usual way of film noir. At times it seems that Laura is the one being played instead of the other way around.
The Best of Film Noir – The Style
What makes Laura film noir is its cinematic style and story. It’s filmed in black-and-white, and the whole feel of the movie is moody, but there’s a sense of style and elegance as well. The script is nothing short of brilliant, and its plot twists will keep you guessing. There are great pieces of dialogue, especially some lines for the best character in the movie, Waldo Lydecker (Laura is worth watching just for Webb’s Oscar-nominated performance). Check out these lines:
I don’t use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.
I cannot stand these morons any longer. If you don’t come with me this instant I shall run amok.
This is a great film to study because it’s story is crafted so well and the dialogue is catchy and memorable.
The Best of Film Noir – The Ending
It’s funny, this post has been difficult to write because there are some wonderful twists in the movie that I don’t want to give away. It’s the type of stuff that I wish I would’ve thought of. If you write something and your readers are thinking the same thing (if they’re writers) or if they think I didn’t see that coming, you know you’ve hit the nail on the head. As many reviewers say, Laura is brilliant, so do yourself a favor: watch and if you’re an author, study this one.
The Best of Film Noir – Laura Trivia
The film was begun by Rouben Mamoulian, but Otto Preminger, who started the project as producer and took over the direction, brought on a new cameraman and scrapped all of Mamoulian’s footage.
Jennifer Jones was the original choice for the title role of Laura, but she turned down the role.
Laura is famous for the haunting Laura Theme. Hedy Lamarr also turned down the role of Laura. When asked why, she said: They sent me the script, not the score.
In the initial long-shot when McPherson and Lydecker are out to dinner, McPherson’s chair is unoccupied (about 15:28). When the camera is at their table, McPherson has materialized.
MacPherson tells Laura at one point that the shotgun retrieved from her country house has been ruled out as the murder weapon (and thus potentially clearing Shelby). Shotguns fire pellets and cannot have ballistics tests like bullets, thus it would be impossible to rule it out as the murder weapon (Renée’s note: you gotta love that one – as an author it’s a reminder to do your research).
Thanks to IMDb for the trivia.
So grab your popcorn and soda and get set for a classic film noir that you’re sure to enjoy.
If you love film noir, you should read This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, a Reader’s Favorite Finalist for mystery.
What a reader says:
Reed Ferguson is the newest cool detective on the bookshelves. Reed is the best kind of detective; he’s one of us. He hasn’t got massive muscles and wields a gun with ease. He takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. He uses good old fashion brains to solve cases. This is a great series that I am sure will garner many fans and hopefully we’ll be reading for years to come.