Laura – IMDb 250/250
Beginning my reviews of the IMDb top 250 was the classic, American film noir Laura from 1944. A mystery crime-drama, Laura deals with the complexities of love and obsession within the setting of a classic whodunit mystery, with the death of a titular character taking place before the story unfolds.
Firstly it has to be pointed out that my experience watching films released before 1960 is very limited; so limited in fact that before watching this film I think the count was at a colossal 0. I’ve always been put off by older, black and white films. Based on the excerpts I’ve seen, the acting regularly seems to be over the top and rather wooden (why is it when the man and women kiss, the man inevitably grabs the lucky lady’s arms and pulls her in?) the plot tends to be a little boring, and in all honesty a bit of a chore to sit through.
So when I saw Laura was first on my list, I must admit I expected it was going to be waste of £5; I was very much mistaken.
For me the film did what a good mystery drama needs to do; create suspense, build intrigue, and (obviously) an air of mystery. I wanted to know who committed the murder of Laura and why? Throughout the film this intrigue never dwindles.
Some of the dialogue in the film was fantastic, particularly from Clifton Webb playing the eccentric newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker, whilst horror legend Vincent Price as Shelby Carpenter was equally impressive. Lines like “I can afford a blemish on my character, not on my clothes”, stuck with me, and made me wish I could apply the same kind of wit to my own writing. (Still trying evidently)
Webb and Price were the real stars of the film, with Webb unsurprisingly receiving an Oscar nomination for his role. Waldo Lydecker is pompous, selfish and arrogant, but also an incredibly interesting individual; something Webb perfectly captures, dominating and controlling any scene he’s in, like Waldo himself wishes to do with the people around him.
The real shame is that Laura herself was supposed to be enchanting, enigmatic; possessing a charisma that could make men fall in love with her in an instant. Detective Mark McPherson who is investigating the murder of Laura, becomes obsessed with her from seeing only her portrait and reading her diary, whilst Waldo himself is completely enamoured with her.
But when we finally do meet Laura Hunt, Gene Tierney just does not provide this kind of intrigue, which makes the obsessive aura that she supposedly radiates fall rather flat. Seeing as this is the overarching theme of the film, it does rather disappoint. Instead Waldo is the character I tended to be more intrigued by.
Meanwhile Dana Andrews’ performance as the detective gets progressively worse as the film develops. Initially he appears as a maverick, cool-as-a-cucumber detective (and we all know how cool cucumber’s tend to be) but it’s not long before he devolves into a stereotype of his earlier self. His character fails to grow, except for a rather puzzling obsession with Laura, which is never adequately explored as we are never privy to her diary.
I also found the film rather slow paced, exacerbated by the slightly odd score, the sole purpose of which seems to be to provide incongruous moments of anti-climactic tension. Though in the interest of fairness, these views are likely formed due to watching so many modern films, which are often big budget, have epic soundtracks and visceral action sequences.
Overall though, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Laura and feel my current (and essentially unjustifiable) aversion to all black and white films has now been dissipated by this highly enjoyable film – I would certainly say it has stood the test of the time. For anyone like me who actively avoids older films, I’d recommend Laura as your first foray into the world of classic cinema.
My Rating: 6/10