Saturday, September 18, 2010


I've commented a few times before about the Fox Movie Channel's philosophy of taking a limited number of the studio's movies out of the vault, showing them over and over for a brief period, and then putting them back in the vault for years. The noir classic Laura was pulled out of the vaults at the beginning of August, and has had quite a few showings in August and September. One of those showings is tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Falling in love with an image is worrisome, even if it is as gorgeous as LauraDana Andrews plays police detective Mark McPherson, who is investigating the murder of lovely advertising executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney, whom we see as Laura in flashbacks). The first witness Mark interviews is Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb in the debut of his real movie career), a newspaper columnist whom we could call arrogant, except that that would be a huge understatement. If you thought George Sanders' Addison de Witt in All About Eve was a manipulative, hubristic bastard, Waldo Lydecker might be even worse. You see, he plucked Laura from obscurity as an advertising illustrator and made her the glamorous lady she would become -- and he thinks he should have first dibs on marrying her, to the point that he's willing to use his poison pen to destroy the career of anybody who gets in his way.

And there are a lot of such people, such as the artist who first painted Laura's portrait, which Laura had on the wall of her apartment, and which Det. McPherson is so attracted to. Then, there's Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price). He's a southern trust fund baby who has unfortunately lost his inheritance in a swindle, but can't bring himself to do any real work. So, he mooches off of socialite Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), and although Ann would probably be better for him, he too falls in love with Laura. The investigation proceeds like this until there's a sudden twist about 50 minutes into the movie. This being the Hollywood of the Production Code, however, you know that regardless of any twists the writers were allowed to throw at us, the police are still going to solve the case.

The acting here is quite good, especially in service of the story which is the bigger thing in a murder mystery. Laura isn't expected to be much more than glamorous, but Gene Tierney pulls off glamour well. Dana Andrews excelled at playing characters who had something troubling brewing underneath. He did it as Fred Derry in The Best Years of Our Lives, and would later go on to do it again in Where the Sidewalk Ends (which, like Laura was directed by Otto Preminger). Vincent Price never gets the credit he deserves as an actor, probably because he's better remembered for all those silly horror movies he made starting with the remake House of Wax and beyond for the rest of his career. Here, he's more than passable as a ne'er-do-well who might be a murderer, and certainly has things to hide. (Well, his accent isn't so good, but that's easy enough to ignore.) The real star, however, is Clifton Webb. He had appeared in a few silent movies, but this was his first role in decades, and he's quite frankly brilliant. You can almost see Sanders watching this movie to prepare for All About Eve. Clifton Webb was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but suffered one of the bigger injustices of Oscar history as he lost to the irritating Barry Fitzgerald in the horrid Going My Way. Still, Webb's work in Laura was more than enough to get him noticed, as he was almost constantly active for another 18 years when he finally retired from moviemaking.

Laura has, like many of Fox's noirs, been released to DVD, so you really don't have to worry about when the FMC is going to put the movie back in its vault.

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