It’s film noir time again. Let’s head back to the classics, shall we?
I really enjoyed parts of Laura. But — in true Carlie fashion — I wanted to rework a lot of it, too. Blasphemy!
Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is falling in love. Unfortunately for him, the woman of his dreams, Laura (Gene Tierney), is not only dead — she’s the murder victim in the case he’s trying to solve.
1. I’m kind of in love with the premise of this movie, or at the very least, I find it incredibly interesting. I mean, there’s the obvious question — can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, someone who you’re only discovering through letters and pictures and character accounts? Can that really be love, or can it only be obsession? Cause either way, I find it kind of fascinating. Potentially squicky and totally weird, sure. But fascinating.
My problem here — and in fact, probably my biggest issue with the entire movie — is that McPherson’s feelings for dead Laura come out of nowhere.
Like, okay. McPherson’s investigating shit for, say, the first half hour, right? (Time is probably not exact. I did not rewatch it to check.) And he’s pretty cool about it, making a few incisive deductions, getting in the appropriate amount of dry quips, etc. He’s basically the opposite of emotional, is what I’m driving at. And then all of a sudden he’s walking around Laura’s empty apartment while the soundtrack goes on fucking overload with the ominous music — which I guess is supposed to indicate McPherson’s frantic emotional state, unless the act of opening and closing closet doors was a very dangerous affair back in 1944 — and Waldo (Clifton Webb), one of Laura’s many suitors, pops up to accuse McPherson of falling in love with the dead girl, an accusation he does not and cannot refute.
And I’m telling you — if I hadn’t been aware of the plot synopsis before I started watching this movie, I would have been completely and utterly flabbergasted by this turn of events because McPherson has done nothing this entire film to suggest that he’s in love with Laura, I mean, not even a little. It would be something if we saw some reaction shots, like when McPherson’s reading Laura’s love letters or her diary or something, but . . . nope. Waldo’s just suddenly like, “You dream about being married to her and taking her to the policemen’s ball and shit,” and McPherson’s, like, “Grrr, how dare you know my secret dreams,” and I’m like, “Okay, holy SHIT, where are the deleted scenes I’m missing?”
2. It doesn’t help that I’m not exactly sure why everybody loves Laura so much.
This is actually a problem I have with a lot of stories: if everyone in the universe is going to have a thing for this character, it would be helpful if I, too, found this character appealing or charismatic or something. Not that Gene Tierney wasn’t a lovely woman because she was — but there are a lot of beautiful women, just like there are a lot of beautiful men, and there has to be something more that inspires this kind of devotion. And for the most part, I just find Laura kind of annoying. I don’t despise her the way I despise other characters in similar everyone-loves-me-scenarios (Bella Swan from Twilight, Shuya Nanahara from Battle Royale, etc.) but I don’t particularly like her, either, and I do think she’s easily the least interesting character in the whole bunch.
3. Waldo’s quite a bit of fun, though.
He’s a total snob and kind of a possessive creep at times, to be honest, but he’s also completely hilarious. Clifton Webb has some of the best lines and sells every one of them. He’s wonderful in the role, and I’m happy to see he got a Best Supporting Actor nod out of it.
4. I also very much like Dana Andrews in this movie — Mark McPherson is a completely enjoyable noir detective, except for that whole unfortunate love story that I don’t buy at all. (Which I can’t blame on the actor. It’s just not there in the script. And I like the script — there’s all kinds of great dialogue — but why, oh why, didn’t anyone bother to write in a scene where we see McPherson falling in love with Laura? It drives me crazy.)
I do kind of wish there was a little something more to this children’s game McPherson’s playing with the whole movie. Not necessarily because there needs to be — I just like backstory, and it’s such a random thing to be carrying around with you everywhere you go. I do love that he uses it to annoy Waldo, though.
5. Let me tell you who else is in this movie: Vincent Price.
To be honest, I’ve seen a lot less Vincent Price movies than you might expect from a B-movie/horror aficionado, but I have a very clear picture of the actor in my mind, and that picture is Sinister Walt Disney, not whoever the hell that guy is above. It was totally strange to watch him here. Not bad, just strange. I kept thinking, Wait, shouldn’t you be in a castle somewhere, twisting your elegant mustache fiendishly? Why do you look someone who should be eating apple pie?
6. Laura was nominated for four Academy Awards and won one for Best Cinematography. I know there’s an occasional shot or two I liked, but for the most part, I should admit that I didn’t notice anything particular special about the cinematography here, not the way I did with The Third Man. (Although that is fairly typical of me. Script and acting is something I focus on right away — cinematography usually takes a couple of viewings to sink in.)
Similarly, Laura is apparently well-known for its score, particularly its theme song, but I can’t say it struck any — heh — chords with me while watching the movie. (Note: the link has SPOILERS, so if you want to avoid those, you might wanna let the video play in the background and not watch the slideshow accompanying the music.) Now that I’m listening to it again . . . yeah, I don’t know if I see the appeal. Not that it’s bad — it doesn’t hurt my soul, the way some overwrought movie music does — but it’s nothing I’d write home about, either.
7. Here’s what I would totally write home about: the fashion in the 1940’s was apparently spectacularly oversized and just wrong.
Just look at these suits. They’re ridiculous! I know fashion changes, I get it, and I will no doubt be horrified by what we’re wearing now in only five years time, but . . . why is every man wearing a suit that is three times too big for them? It’s awful, especially Shelby’s. Shelby’s suit is the absolute worst, sizing wise. Oh, and not to mention the pants Waldo is wearing, my God. You can’t really tell in that picture, not with the jacket on top, but his pants look like gigantic fisherman overalls that just happen to be made out of gray wool and held up by the world’s largest and ugliest suspenders. It makes no sense in my brain.
Now that my fashion analysis is over, let me tell you whodunnit.
Well, first I should probably tell you that Laura isn’t actually dead. Which, ha. Called that shit from almost before the movie started.
Okay, I wasn’t 100% SURE-sure, but I highly suspected. We never see Laura’s body — which isn’t terribly surprising, I suppose, with the time period and all — but we also find out that she was shot in the face, and considering that would make her face unrecognizable . . . yeah, totally not her. And so when Laura waltzed in — well, first I thought it could be a dream because McPherson was sleeping at the time, and apparently he dreams of taking Laura to policemen’s balls, like, what — I just wasn’t terribly shocked. In fact, the only thing that surprised me was that Laura being alive was a midway reveal, not a twist in the final act of the movie.
The woman who was actually killed in Laura’s apartment is Diane. Who is Diane? Well, she’s dating Shelby (Vincent Price). Of course, Shelby is also engaged to Laura, so it’s especially creepy that he takes Diane to Laura’s apartment and has her dress in Laura’s negligee. And then she gets shot in the face for it, so really, Diane has a terribly miserable and tragic life.
Now, the murderer turns out to be none other than our favorite erudite bastard, Waldo, who was trying to kill Laura in one of those ‘if I can’t have you, no one can’ moves. It’s not too hard to figure out the bad guy’s identity for a couple of reasons, although I was initially hoping it’d be someone else, like Ann (Judith Anderson), mostly because Waldo seemed so obvious.
Ann is in love with Shelby, and she has one of my favorite speeches in the whole movie, where she says she knows that Shelby is a terrible person, but she’s a terrible person too, and that’s why they belong together. It’s hard to articulate why this scene works as well for me as it does — generally, women who are obsessed with worthless men do not exactly inspire happiness — but there’s something about how Anderson delivers these lines that makes Ann interesting and strong in her own way. She knows who she is and what she wants, even if what she wants is this kind of scummy guppy guy.
This is, however, the same scene where Ann tells Laura she didn’t kill Diane, and once that possibility is out of the way, it’s pretty much back to Waldo.
Cause here’s the thing. Laura is based on a novel, and apparently the novel comes from three POV’s: Waldo’s, McPherson’s, and Laura’s. However, the only person who has a voiceover in the film is Waldo, way back in the very beginning. If the voiceover had been McPherson’s, I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but since it’s from a suspect’s POV, it immediately singles him out as being way more important than any of the other players. So, yeah. It’s no big surprise when he turns out to be the killer.
It’s too bad, too, because multiple-viewpoint narration could be really interesting to see in a movie. (I’ve encountered it, but rarely, very rarely.) If I were remaking Laura myself, I think I’d do one of the following: add in the other POV’s, cut the voiceover entirely, or switch it up a little so that instead of hearing Waldo’s inner monologue at the beginning of the film as he spies on McPherson, we hear a few of his radio broadcasts interspersed throughout the film.
This last option might work especially well with the end, when Waldo sneaks into Laura’s apartment with the intention of killing her for realsies this time. (How he sneaks in seems kind of like bullshit — like, have we ever been shown this random second door to her apartment, and even if we have, did Waldo actually own a key? I’ll give this a pass for now because it’s totally possible I missed this on the first viewing.)
Anyway, this is when we hear Waldo’s last VO, which turns out to be one of his broadcasts — and the scene is just creepy as shit. I mean, I am seriously impressed with just how ominous it is, especially considering how hard it is for me to get past the fact that McPherson found the murder weapon in Laura’s apartment and then just left it there because . . . I don’t know, he didn’t want to do any heavy lifting? Like, okay, I’m sure crime scene investigating was done differently back in the 1940’s, but I feel strongly that we shouldn’t just leave previously undiscovered murder weapons inside of secret compartments and then order a few lackeys to pick them up the following morning after a cup of joe and a godamn donut.
But, anyway. Waldo sneaks into the apartment and retrieves the weapon. He confronts Laura, but McPherson — who’s just outside the building — realizes something is wrong and manages to kill Waldo just in time. And, well. That’s basically where the movie ends. McPherson and Laura don’t passionately kiss or exchange ‘I love you’s,’ — which is something, I suppose — but I kind of figure that’s where they’re heading.
And while I don’t usually advocate for downer endings . . . I don’t know. I kind of think I might have liked this movie a little more if Waldo had killed Laura, if McPherson had been just a moment too late. It’s not just that I don’t particularly like her, I swear. It’s more . . . you know, that moment where Waldo gets the gun out of the clock is so damn ominous and good . . . I just feel like the last minute rescue and happy ending kind of takes away from it. The ending seems like it would be stronger and more gut-punching if Waldo managed to kill Laura, that she escaped from the first attempt on her life only to get murdered after all.
Only in my remake, McPherson would have only just figured out where the gun was after looking at the identical clock in Waldo’s apartment. He would be racing to confirm this when Waldo sneaks in and kills Laura because honestly. SO DUMB, leaving the gun there. Really. You’re killin’ me, Smalls.
Waldo: “I don’t use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.”
Waldo: “Laura considered me the wisest, the wittiest, the most interesting man she’d ever met. And I was in complete accord with her on that point. She thought me also the kindest, gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world.”
McPherson: “Did you agree with her there, too?”
Waldo: “McPherson, you won’t understand this, but I tried to become the kindest, gentlest, most sympathetic man in the world.”
McPherson: “Have any luck?”
Waldo: “Let me put it this way: I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbors’ children devoured by wolves.”
Laura: “But you write about people with such real understanding and sentiment. That’s what makes your column so good.”
Waldo: “The sentiment comes easy at fifty cents a word.”
Waldo: “Why did they have to photograph her in that horrible position?”
McPherson: “When a dame gets killed, she doesn’t worry about how she looks.”
Waldo: “Have you ever been in love?”
McPherson: “Doll in Washington Heights once got a fox fur out of me.”
Waldo: “In my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any subject quite so worthy of my attention.”
McPherson: “I must say for a charming, intelligent girl, you’ve certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes.”
Waldo: “I’m not kind. I’m vicious. It’s the secret of my charm.”
Ann: “Shelby’s better for me.”
Ann: “Cause I can afford him, and understand him. He’s no good, but he’s what I want. I’m not a nice person, Laura, and neither is he. He knows I know he’s . . . just what he is. He also knows I don’t care. We belong together because we’re both weak and can’t seem to help it. That’s why I know he’s capable of murder; he’s like me.”
Waldo: “You seem to be disregarding something more important than your career: my lunch.”
Waldo: “I know you’ll have to visit everyone on your list of suspects. I’d like to study their reactions.”
McPherson: “You’re on the list yourself, you know.”
Waldo: “Good. To have overlooked me would have been a pointed insult.”
Waldo: “Haven’t you heard of science’s newest triumph, the doorbell?”
McPherson: “You said Harrington was rubbed out with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, the way Laura Hunt was murdered, the night before last.”
Waldo: “Did I?”
McPherson: “Yeah. But he was really killed with a sash weight.”
Waldo: “How ordinary. My version was obviously superior. I never bother with the details, you know.”
McPherson: “I do.”
Neat concept, some decent scenes, and some great dialogue — but McPherson’s insta-love for Laura is a serious issue for me.
There’s nothing hotter than reading a dead woman’s diary. That right there is a love story for the ages. That’s the kind of thing you can look forward to telling your children about. How I met your mother — well, kids, it really all started with this big damn portrait . . .