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Old 03-05-2009, 03:12 PM
Otto Preminger's Laura

Laura (1944)

"Laura" is a movie that is extraordinary in its own relative simplicity. From a genre that tended to give us some of the most convoluted plotlines with several characters getting mixed up with several more characters, it's interesting to see a film noir/mystery that has a small list of suspects, but where the blame could still be pinned on anyone of them. Does the small list of suspects make it less interesting? Not at all. If anything, it makes it more intriguing to find out "whodunit."

The film starts off by informing us that there has been a murder. Laura (Gene Tierney) has been shot in the face with a shotgun. Det. Lt. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is the cop investigating the case. He begins by interviewing the suspects that includes a columnist, Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), Laura's husband-to-be, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and Laura's aunt, Mrs. Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson). During his investigation, McPherson begins to fall in love with Laura. One night, McPherson is having a look around Laura's apartment. Imagine his surprise when Laura comes walking through the door.

Let's take a few moments to go through our list of suspects. There is Waldo Lydecker, a columnist who can destroy anyone's reputation at the drop of a hat just by writing about them. He takes an interest in Laura after a strange encounter in a restaurant where she tries to get him to endorse a pen. After the incident, they become good friends. He even begins to take over her life, changing her wardrobe, her hair, and even getting her more endorsements. He has an attraction to her that we feel he can't express in any other way but a flash of money.

Waldo is so wrapped up in his own smugness that he can't stand it when other men try to make a move on Laura. He is shown as a pretentious man who always gets when he wants, even when what he wants is a woman. Then Shelby Carpenter comes along, but he finds that he can't get rid of Shelby so easily.

Shelby always seems to have an answer for everything. He answers quickly and precisely, not leaving any room for doubt, or is it just a really well-fashioned alibi? He is the one who has seduced Laura enough to get her to marry him, but as we find out about half way through, he was seeing a model who worked for the advertising company that Laura worked for, because the model loved him. But did he love the model? With his answers, we get the feeling that he could be hiding something, but then again, he is played by Vincent Price, who tends to sound evil even when he means well.

Ann Treadwell, Laura's aunt, has always had a crush on Shelby. She continually tells him that they should be together, but his heart is always with Laura. She always lends Shelby money when he needs it, even though she never gets what she truly wants in return. Her character is never developed much more than that, though she does remain a prime suspect. Did she murder Laura so that she would finally have a chance with Shelby?

Let's not forget about Laura herself, who comes strolling in casually that one night as if nothing has happened. But if Laura is alive, there is still the matter of a dead body found in her apartment. If it wasn't Laura shot that night, then who could it possibly be? A conclusion is quickly reached as Laura's name officially goes on the list of suspects. From her character, we also get the sense that there is something that she is not telling us. To tell her possible motive for the murder at this point would be to reveal too much.

The actors all play their parts well; particularly Clifton Webb and Dana Andrews. The cast as a whole makes this simple plot more convincing than it would seem on paper, mainly because of that feeling that there is a piece of the puzzle missing from everyone that McPherson interviews. This, in turn, leaves us in suspense. Several scenes had the potential to become dull interrogations, but from the beginning of the film, Webb uses a great sense of smugness to set a perfect tone for every character to mislead the case while Andrews's applies an unstoppable determination to his character until he reaches the truth.

The ending does come off as a bit contrived, but it is still a surprise; even more so because one of the major clues has been staring us right in the face, quite literally. The ending is not really that important anyway, at least, not as much as the trip it took to get there. We do find out the identity of the murderer, the weapon used, and the room it took place in. However, the weapon and the room were obvious in the first place. After all, these kinds of films are called "WHOdunits." 3.5/4 stars.
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