“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.

Movie still: Laura

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. 

  • Ron grew up in Southeast Baltimore, spent three and a half years liv­ing in the High Desert in California, and came to Winchester when his VW Beetle broke down here on a cross-coun­try dri­ve to Vermont. He has lived here and worked as a social work­er since 1973. Though he retired in 2013, he remains active as a com­mu­ni­ty vol­un­teer on var­i­ous boards, coali­tions, and com­mit­tees. His pas­sions include the woods and nature, music, books, and clas­sic movies (espe­cial­ly Laurel & Hardy).