“I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. The silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For with Laura’s horrible death, I was alone.”
These are the opening lines of Laura spoken by Clifton Webb as Laura’s friend Waldo Lydecker. It was initially thought of as a B movie but became a Reel Classic.
Laura is a film noir that was released in 1944. It was produced and directed by Otto Preminger. The lovely Gene Tierney stars as Laura, and Dana Andrews is New York City police detective Mark McPherson.
Detective McPherson is called to a very fashionable apartment to investigate the murder of Laura Hunt, a highly successful businesswoman. The body was found on the floor of the apartment, dead from a shotgun blast to the face. The resulting investigation finds him interviewing a number of people very close to Laura, including her good friend (and arrogant gossip columnist) Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). He also meets her fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), who is very attached to (and apparently financially dependent upon) the older and wealthy socialite, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson).
As the investigation intensifies, McPherson finds himself continuously drawn to the victim’s apartment. On the wall is a portrait of Laura. He reads her letters and diary. The more he learns of her, the more he stares at the image of the beautiful woman — the more he finds himself being drawn to her and asking himself, who would want to kill a woman that every man seems to love?
As he continues the investigation and the more he stares at the lovely portrait, he finds himself feeling something for her as well. It’s as if he is coming under her spell. Waldo Lydecker accuses him of falling in love with a corpse, suggesting a trip to a psychiatric ward may be needed. One evening McPherson returns to Laura’s apartment and settles into a chair. He gazes up at the portrait. Then something happens that turns everything he knows about the case upside down.
Initially written by Vera Caspary as a play entitled “Ring Twice For Lora” in 1939, the story was adapted as a novel, “Laura.” It was serialized in Collier’s Magazine in 1942. Otto Preminger worked on the screenplay for the film. The head of the studio, Darryl F. Zanuck, did not like Otto Preminger and had stated that Preminger would never direct a film for that studio. As it happens, he was away, and the interim head, William Goetz, brought in Preminger to begin work on the screenplay.
When Zanuck returned, he was irate. He agreed to allow Preminger to produce but not direct. Another director was eventually found (Rouben Mamoulian) to handle those duties. Mamoulian ignored any input from Preminger, including re-writing the script and not wanting Clifton Webb for the role of Waldo Lydecker. After several weeks and some early filming efforts that did not set well with Zanuck, and after reviewing the work to date, Zanuck said to Preminger, “Monday you can start directing Laura. From scratch.”
Mamoulian was dismissed and Preminger was reluctantly given the job of director. Preminger changed the script and replaced the set designer and cinematographer. Essentially he started over. Reportedly the cast was initially unhappy with Preminger as Mamoulian tried to sabotage the relationship by telling them Preminger was unhappy with their work.
Vincent Price was later quoted as saying, “Once we got used to Otto, we had a pretty easy time.” Price also reportedly stated that Laura was the best film he had ever made.
One of the outstanding features of this film is the soundtrack. The theme song “Laura” was written by David Raskin and became very popular. Lyrics were later added by Johnny Mercer and the song went on to become a jazz standard. It has been recorded by over 400 artists, including Stan Kenton, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, and Frank Sinatra.
Laura was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best supporting actor (Clifton Webb) and best director (Otto Preminger). This film was Webb’s first appearance on screen since 1925. Darryl Zanuck had not wanted Clifton Webb for the role due to his alleged homosexuality, but Preminger prevailed. Webb was fifty-four years old at this time.
Also considered for the role of Laura Hunt were Hedy Lamarr, Rosalind Russell, and Jennifer Jones. George Sanders was considered for the role of Waldo Lydecker. George Raft was initially considered for the role of the detective.
In 1945 “Lux Radio Theater” presented a radio play based on the movie with Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, and Vincent Price playing the same roles. “The Screen Guild Theater” broadcast a thirty-minute adaptation for the radio in 1945 and again in 1950 with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb. CBS TV broadcast a version in 1955 starring Dana Wynter, George Sanders, and Robert Stack. (Note: You may remember Dana Wynter from an earlier Reel Classic—Invasion Of The Body Snatchers). In 1968 ABC TV released a version that featured an adaptation of the story by Truman Capote. That film starred George Sanders, Robert Stack, and Lee Bouvier.
In 1999 Laura was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry and in 2008, The American Film Institute rated it as number four in the top ten greatest mystery movies.
The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) rates Laura at 7.9 out of 10 and Rotten Tomatoes gives it an Audience score of 90 % and a critics score of 100%.
Laura is a thrilling mystery with twists and turns throughout. It is enhanced by a wonderful cast and a haunting melody that is found throughout the film. I highly recommend this Reel Classic.
I have researched the streaming sites to determine where it might be found for free. I did not find any free sites. However, there is a copy of the DVD at the Clark County Public Library.
Below is the trailer for Laura.