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USA 1944
Directed by
Otto Preminger
88 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Dana Andrew plays a no-nonsense, dogged New York police detective Mark McPherson investigating the murder of a young woman, Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), a member of the smart Manhattan social scene. His chief suspects are newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), her wealthy aunt (Judith Anderson) and ladies’ man, Shelby Carpenter (an improbable Vincent Price). Knowing Laura only through a portrait and the wrapt enthusiasm of Lydecker and intrigued by her image one night McPherson is in Laura's apartment, reflecting on the case the door opens, the lights switch on, and in she walks. So who’s dead and who dunnit?

Laura is one of the films that French Cahiers du Cinéma critics originally cited as exemplifying the film noir style. As much as that tag is an extremely broad one the film is a little too sophisticated to properly qualify with an upper-class society setting in which everyone is constantly dining with everyone else and Clifton Webb’s snooty columnist casting aspersions on the great unwashed for all he is worth. In addition Laura Hunt is no femme fatale, Tierney playing her with a straight-forward girl-next-door innocence that despite the shadows cast on it remains untarnished. Andrews’ classically skeptical detective however definitely fits the mold and he has some great lines of hard-boiled dialogue. Thus when asked by Lydecker if he'd ever been in love his reply is "A dame in Washington Heights once got a fox fur out of me".

Whilst the Oscar-nominated script by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt from a novel by Vera Caspary is its foundation, expatriate theatre director Preminger in his first major film directing role no doubt was responsible for the sophistication. Originally hired by 20th Century Fox's studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck, then replaced by Rouben Mamoulian, then re-hired, he delivered a well-crafted film that was a big hit in its day and still remains a much admired film, cinematographer Joseph La Shelle, who won an Oscar for his work, also impressing with his chiaroscuro lighting.




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