The Hunt is on for Laura's Killer
Maybe I was having an off day but when I watched "Laura" I wasn't as impressed as I had expected or maybe hoped to be. There is no denying that Otto Preminger has created a good movie, taking a murder mystery and turning it into something more with a clever twist. And there is no denying that as well as getting you trying to work out who the murderer was he also makes you question as to whether you are watching something real or a dream. But there is something about "Laura" which seems slightly wrong and maybe it is the split in styles which occur when the twist arrives making it a movie of two halves.
Following the discovery of a woman called Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney - Leave her to Heaven) dead on her apartment floor, Det. McPherson (Dana Andrews) is called into investigate. Interviewing Laura's closest friends such as journalist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb - Three Coins in the Fountain) and her boyfriend Shelby (Vincent Price - Edward Scissorhands) he starts to create this image of Laura and her friendships. But he can't discover who would want to kill her as she seems so popular and friendly. Matters are made complicated as through his enquiries he starts to fall for the mental image of Laura which he creates, helped by the stunning portrait of her hanging in her apartment.
One of the most impressive things about "Laura" is that Otto Preminger has created a movie which plays like a murder mystery but then turns into something more. For the first half it plays like your stereotypical whodunit as Det. McPherson carries out his investigations, questioning those closest to the victim. And as such this first half gives us the character histories through a series of flashbacks. We witness how journalist Waldo Lydecker came to be so close to the young Laura, acting as her mentor but also becoming possessive and jealous of any other man that Laura kept company with. And we also meet Shelby who immediately we realise is not only completely different to Waldo but also is a money grabbing cad. Both of these histories interlink as it becomes apparent that Waldo and Shelby dislike each other enough to try and point blame at each other.
All of which makes this first half very much a traditional murder mystery as we get to understand these characters, their relationships and a few others who have a part to play. But at the same time we watch as Det. McPherson begins to fall for the dead woman, or at least the dead woman he imagines she is from his enquiries. That may sound a bit strange; a man falling for a dead woman but it adds an unexpected layer which is crucial to the second half.
Now that second half starts with a major twist, a huge twist which you don't see coming for a minute and it turns "Laura" into more than just a murder mystery. But at the same time as making "Laura" into something more it also changes things especially the characters and that of Det. McPherson who turns from a tired, cynical figure into a hero like figure, or at least sort of.
The thing is that this second half is introduced to make us question whether it is a dream and as such the change in McPherson's character works, becoming the man he wants to be. But the issue arises as to whether you decide this second half is a dream or not because if you decide it isn't then the change in McPherson's character and those of Shelby and Waldo end up feeling wrong as do the ease of things slipping into place for McPherson to solve the crime. And that is my problem because I cannot decide about this second half and so am left half thinking it's stunning and half thinking it's wrong.
Despite this issue there is no denying that the performances in "Laura" are spot on especially that of Laura played by Gene Tierney. In those flashback scenes Tierney really creates this character of someone who is almost a social climber, using and needing Waldo to guide her path but never thinking of him as any more. And despite being almost this user of people there is something very loveable about Laura, making us take her into our hearts.
The men in the movie don't do badly either and whilst the shift in their characters still leaves me split as to how I feel all the performances are good. Vincent Price and Clifton Webb both manage to give their characters an almost humorous feel about them yet it never spoils things makes them entertaining in a quirky manner, well watching Clifton Webb getting out of a bath where McPherson has been questioning him certainly has some comedy about it. And talking of McPherson, Dana Andrews plays him perfectly as this cynical detective but gets across how through his enquiries it becomes personal to him to discover the truth.
What this all boils down to is that "Laura" is a very good movie which can become great depending on your feelings towards the second half. What is for sure is that Otto Preminger delivers a fun, clever murder mystery which turns into something more so whilst we question who the murderer could be we also question as to what we are watching, is it real or is it a dream. And making it work are 4 very good performances from Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, Clifton Webb and Dana Andrews.