Nominated for four Oscars and winning one, this is the ultimate noir.
Dark and mysterious, stylishly wicked and enticingly captivating, 1944’s Laura is a glamorous murder mystery and a tangled story of a obsessive love featuring the perfect brew of shadowy black and white photography (Joseph LaShelle, who won the Oscar), gorgeous art direction (Lyle R. Wheeler, Leland Fuller and Thomas Little), brittle quotable dialogue (Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt) and some damn fine performances alongside Otto Preminger’s brisk, but sublime direction and David Raskin’s breathtakingly beautiful monothematic score – no wonder this is remains an enduring classic.
Dana Andrews plays surly Detective Mark McPherson who delves into the murder of Gene Tierney’s enigmatic Laura Hunt, a rising New York advertising executive whom men admire and women envy.
Amongst his suspects are Clifton Webb – who plays the the titular ingenue’s creepily elegant social mentor, Waldo Lydecker, and Vincent Price (in a role he regarded as one of his all-time favourites) as polished Southern playboy Shelby Carpenter, who was planning to marry Laura whilst also being ‘kept’ by her wealthy socialite aunt, Ann Treadwell (a magnificent Judith Anderson).
But just when McPherson thinks he’s on the right track, he gets the shock of his life when Laura returns – not from the dead, but from a weekend break out of the city. Now the real fun begins…
- Laura was released on 11 October 1944 in the US, while the UK had to wait until 15 January 1945 before the film cast its spell on audiences on the other side of the pond.
- Rouben Mamoulian was the film’s original director, but after clashing with producer Otto Preminger, he left the production and none of his footage was used in the final edit.
- Jennifer Jones, Hedy Lamarr and Rosalind Russell were all offered the role of Laura Hunt. Lamarr didn’t like the script and Russell thought the part was too small; while Laird Cregar (who died at age 31 on 9 December 1944) was Mamoulian’s first choice to play Waldo, and George Raft was originally tipped to play McPherson.
- Vera Caspary’s novel (which was serialised in Collier’s magazine between 17 October and 28 November 1942) was separated into five sections in which the five principal characters narrate their own version of events. It was originally planned for the characters of Waldo, Mark and Laura to narrate the film version, but in the end only Waldo’s narration was used.
- Fox chief Darryl F Zanuck hated Preminger’s original ending in which it was revealed that Waldo had imagined the entire story and forced him to provide the ending we see today.
- This was Clifton Webb’s return to the screen since the silent era. It earned him an Oscar nod and launched his comeback.
- Laura’s portrait was in fact a photo by Fox’s in-house photographer Frank Polony that was painted over in oils. It also appeared in other films, including Woman’s World, which starred Clifton Webb. It is now held in the Wesleyan University Cinema Archives along with the Gene Tierney papers.
- Vincent Price recorded a musical number, You’ll Never Know, which was cut from the film. So far I have not been able to trace if this exists in any form today. The song was first introduced in Fox’s 1943 musical Hello, Frisco, Hello, sung by Alice Faye, and won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Faye’s recording pops up in Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 film The Shape of Water.
- Unlike most Hollywood films of the era, Laura only has 35-minutes of music, all composed by David Raskin which make effective use of his haunting theme tune, which has become a jazz standard record by over 400 different artists. The complete score was released on a collectable CD by Kritzerland in 2013.
- Laura has been remade for TV twice: In 1955, starring Dana Wynter, George Sanders and Robert Stack directed by John Brahm called A Portrait for Murder; and in 1968 starring Lee Radziwill (as Lee Bouvier in her only screen credit,) alongside George Sanders, Robert Stack and Farley Granger, directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and written by Truman Capote.
- Laura has had renewed life on DVD (in 2005), Blu-ray (in 2012) and the big screen (at the BFI in London). A UK Blu-ray has also now been released from Eureka! Check out the specs below.
HOME ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE
As part of the Masters of Cinema Series from Eureka! Entertainment, Laura is now available on Blu-ray in the UK, with the following special features.
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray of both the extended and original theatrical versions, with LPCM mono Audio and Optional English SDH subtitles
• Audio commentary of the Theatrical Version by composer David Raksin and film professor Jeanine Basinger (My verdict: Edited from two separate commentaries, this is both entertaining and information, but should only be accessed after viewing the film to avoid any spoilers)
• Audio commentary of the Theatrical Version by film historian Rudy Behlmer (My verdict: well-researched and very informative, but must also be accessed only after viewing the film)
• A Tune for Laura: David Raksin Remembers – an archival interview with the composer (My verdict: again very interesting, but no mention about that supposed cut musical scene featuring Vincent singing)
• The Obsession: Archival featurette on Laura
• The Deleted Scene: While the UK and other territories have always seen the film complete, when it was first released in the US, 20th Century Fox was worried that a two-minute scene of Laura shopping and socialising would offend World War Two soldiers overseas as ‘a depiction of decadent luxury and non-military obsessions happening on the home front.’
• Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Phil Hoad, alongside a selection of rare archival imagery
• Also included are the following radio adaptations…
Lux Radio Theater, Episode 469
5 February, 1945 [59min]
Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Vincent Price
Lux Radio Theater, Episode 866
1 February, 1954 [57min]
Gene Tierney and Victor Mature
Screen Guild Theater
20 August, 1945 [30min]
Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb
30 May, 1948
Virginia Gilmore and John Larkin