HGA

Laura (1944)


Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb
Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb


'Laura' is a classic and classy film noir, a highly entertaining murder mystery with a witty script and first class cast. The whole is expertly directed by Otto Preminger at his creative best. The movie was adapted from the successful novel of the same name by American author Vera Caspary. The novel, written in 1941, had previously been serialised in 1942 in Collier's Magazine as 'Ring Twice for Laura'.

When the movie was released in October, 1944, it was an instant hit with the public and the critics liked it too. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Director for Otto Preminger and Best Supporting Actor for Clifton Webb, and it received the Oscar for Best Cinematography for Joseph LaShelle. The American Film Institute ranked the movie at number 4 in its list of the Top 10 Greatest Film Mysteries of All Time and in 1999 it was selected for preservation in the list of notable films in the Library of Congress.

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Plot

The script is witty and the storyline well crafted. It is unusual for a 'whodunnit' in that the eponymous heroine, Laura, played by Gene Tierney, is killed before the start of the action of the movie, and we build up a picture of her by flashback and by the investigations of laconic Detective Mark McPherson, played by Dana Andrews, who finds himself falling in love with the dead girl.

The plot contains many twists and turns, some supplied by Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker, a snobbish and shrewish newspaper columnist, who is also in love with Laura. There are numerous suspects including Laura's fiancé, Shelby Carpenter, played by Vincent Price and her treacherous wealthy aunt, Anne Treadwell, played beautifully by Judith Anderson, who is hopelessly in love with Shelby.

As befits a murder mystery there is a very satisfying twist in the tale at the end.

Production

Director
Twentieth Century-Fox studio production chief, Darryl F. Zanuck, was persuaded by Otto Preminger to purchase the film rights to the novel. Zanuck, however, did not want Preminger as director, only producer, due to a long-running feud between the two men after Preminger had been fired from directing 'Kidnapped' in 1937.

Both Walter Lang and Lewis Milestone turned down offers to direct 'Laura' as they did not like the script. Rouben Mamoulian was eventually recruited but he and Preminger rowed constantly over changes which Mamoulian made without consultation. After two weeks Zanuck fired Mamoulian and made Preminger the director. He seized the opportunity with both hands, discarding everything Mamoulian had done including the costumes and sets. The success of the movie set Preminger up as one of Hollywood's top directors.

Casting
Both Zanuck and Mamoulian had originally intended that the pivotal role of Waldo Lydecker should be played by popular actor, Laird Cregar and George Sanders, John Sutton and Monty Woolley were also considered. Preminger wanted Clifton Webb, a respected stage actor, and filmed him on stage in Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit'. After viewing the film, Darryl Zanuck agreed that he would be the ideal Waldo Lydecker.

Before Dana Andrews was chosen for the detective, John Hodiak and George Raft were also in the frame. Jennifer Jones was actually cast in the title role and was sued by the studio when she did not report for work on April 24, 1944. The suit was later settled out of court.

Shooting began in April, 1944 and lasted for ten weeks.

Music
'Laura''s musical score, composed by David Raksin, has become justly famous and is instantly recognisable. In 1945 Fox asked songwriter Johnny Mercer to compose lyrics to go with the theme. The resulting song became an instant standard, recorded by countless top artists over the years.

The portrait of Laura which McPherson and other cast members constantly refer to, was actually a photograph of Gene Tierney as a starlet, enlarged and with brush strokes added for realism.

Main Cast

Gene Tierney ... Laura Hunt
Dana Andrews ... Det. Lt. Mark McPherson
Clifton Webb ... Waldo Lydecker
Vincent Price ... Shelby Carpenter
Judith Anderson ... Ann Treadwell
Grant Mitchell ... Lancaster Corey (scenes deleted)
Dorothy Adams ... Bessie Clary, Laura's Maid (uncredited)
James Flavin ... McAvity
Clyde Fillmore ... Bullitt
Ralph Dunn ... Fred Callahan
Kathleen Howard ... Louise
Lee Tung Foo ... Servant
Buster Miles ... Office Boy
Frank La Rue ... Hairdresser
The cast is talented and experienced, led by the beautiful Gene Tierney as Laura and Dana Andrews as the detective Mark McPherson, both excelling in their roles. Clifton Webb was an inspired choice as the sophisticated, bitingly witty, yet also loathsome, Waldo Lydecker and he received his Oscar nomination on merit. Judith Anderson as Laura's vain and silly aunt Ann Treadwell, and a young Vincent Price, pre-horror movies, as Laura's playboy fiancé, Shelby Carpenter, are both excellent in important supporting roles.

Summary

Otto Preminger was a brilliant director with a reputation for turning good novels into top notch movies, as with 'The Man with the Golden Arm' in 1955 and 'Advise and Consent' in 1962 and he had the good sense to let a good story have its way without too much interference. 'Laura' is just such a film - an intelligent mystery story full of suspense and beautifully acted. The beautiful background music by David Raskin adds to the effect and to the enjoyment.

Credits

Director ... Otto Preminger
Producer ... Otto Preminger
Screenplay ... Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt
Story ... Based on the nove "Laura" by Vera Caspary
Cinematography ... Joseph LaShelle
Music ... David Raksin
Distribution company ... 20th Century Fox
Format ... B & W
Initial Release ... 11 October, 1944
Running Time ... 88 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Cinematography, Black and White ... Joseph LaShelle
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actor ... Clifton Webb
Best Director ... Otto Preminger
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White ... Lyle R. Wheeler, Leland Fuller, Thomas Little
Best Writing, Screenplay ... Jay Dratler. Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt