Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #5: Soaking in Noir (The Opening Scene of Laura)

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Laura's "charming character study of furnishings and faces" was Waldo Lydecker's decadent living room brightly lit full of very expensive antiques such as the Grandfathered Clock & decorative masks and furnishings such as the marble bath tub (tastefully displayed and arranged) and Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), himself as a charming 'face' and definitely a character.

 

How did Waldo Lydecker naked in a marble bath tub get pass the Hollywood Code?  It must have also been shocking in its day to see.  Waldo Lydecker's sexuality is questionable and his greeting a police officer (Dana Andrews) naked in a bath tub implies this.  Besides this, Preminger probably is probably emphasizing Waldo Lydecker's is no ordinary man and knows more than he is telling (or showing in this case).

 

Importantly, shadows and darkness are not needed to indicate the Film Noir style.  As for emphasis in cynical attitudes and sexual motivations, Laura's opening certainly fits this Film Noir definition.  Dana Andrews, policeman's reaction (the raised eyebrow and smirk/snare) to Waldo Lydecker's coming out of the bath tub au natural is pretty cynical.  Also, the policeman tosses instead of handing the requested items such as a wash cloth and bath robe which either indicates he does not want to 'dirty' his hands on him or, to keep his distance from him; yet, the policeman is not afraid to get physically close to Waldo Lydecker, as the policeman walks up to him as he is finishing his dress.

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The opening of 'Laura' is fascinating. Usually, the narrator seems to be given the upper hand (he/she knows it all, and observes very clearly), but in this opening, the detective actually outwits him in some parts of their conversation. It immediately establishes an invisible competition between the two. Also, the use of narrative to introduce the detective character makes him more mysterious, because he is seen from the view of another unreliable character.   

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What do you think about how Preminger introduces the character of Waldo Lydecker in this scene?

 

I believe this to be the most intriguing question about the opening of Laura. How does Preminger indicate that the character of Lydecker is a homosexual in the era of the Hays Code. The Hays Code refers to homosexuality under the umbrella term of, "Impure Love".

 

So Preminger is clever enough to use Clifton Webb an openly gay actor in Hollywood, which most people are aware of. The viewer is given a tour of Lydecker's apartment which indicates through its furnishings a delicate and effeminate sensibility. Lydecker invites the detective McPherson into his bathroom where he discusses the details of the case while he is naked in the tub. Finally when Lydecker stands-up nude and asks Detective McPherson to hand him his robe McPherson (Dana Andrews) looks him up and down and clearly smirks. This indicates that McPherson has reached the conclusion that Lydecker is probably a homosexual, possibly impotent, and clearly incapable of satisfying a woman of Laura's caliber.

 

It's a clever way of Preminger having discourse with the audience about homosexuality and what constitutes it without violating the dictates of the Hays Code.

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The fact that the detective falls in love with a dead woman's picture has and always will be strange to me. I know fellows who fall in love with pictures of say Jennifer Lopez, ect.. but the woman is alive and there is always a chance of meeting her.  But he is investigating her murder. Waldo notices it too and makes fun of the detective for it.

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Glyndaa wrote:  "LOL, I'm interested in your opinion of whether Lydecker might have been gay.  I thought about it for a second and it immediately occurred to me that he was too self absorbed to be gay or straight for that matter......who was Lydecker really in love with? Quite obviously himself.....I believe he "groomed" Laura's character in an attempt to create someone who was actually worthy of his attentions.  This person would have to worship him no doubt....but we digress.....an interesting statement.  This viewpoint has never occurrred to me.....also, I have to say that it was certainly not obvious to me that Lydecker could have been the killer when the movie began although he was certainly under suspicion.  Why?  to me, he seemed very removed from the situation as he was narrative voice, perhaps this is film trickery by Preminger.  He certainly did have a flair for the dramatic!!!  any thoughts???"

 

Facts: 

 

1. The original script clearly stated that Lydecker was a gay male.

2. Lydecker was played by openly gay actor Clifton Webb. 

3.  Laura is not a "sexual" object for Lydecker, she represents  a "trophy' of his creation..  an arm piece like his other "precious things".  

4.  Other film historians such as Vito Risso of the documentary "Celluloid Closet" and others also back up this.  

5. Yes of course Lydecker is self absorbed (his sexuality esp in that day in age would have had to been repressed to some end).  

 

As for the all the clues I mentioned in my previous posts that Lydecker is the killer.  The obvious clues:

 

1. Lydecker is the narrator and we are pulled into his perspective from the beginning. Through the movie we see time and time his obsessive nature ..  "I showed Laura, how to act, I made her what she, I told her how to dress etc" 

2. The pan and lingering of the clock in Lydecker's as well as Laura Hunt's apt.  From the beginning we know that the clock will have an impact on the store.. also the metaphor that time is ticking away and we need to figure it out.

3. Lydecker's constant threat and put down of the other two main male characters. .  Lydecker feels threatened sexually by McPhearson and Vincent Price's character..  he uses banter like "Laura could never fall for a pretty boy in distress." 

4. The obvious freedom and sexual manipulation..  Lydecker seeing McPhearson in his bathroom..  and McPhearson's smirk when he throws Lydecker the robe.  These are a few . 

 

And yes..  the narration by Lydecker is suppose to confuse the audience that he is the suspect.  Obviously directors want to create suspense by audience members not being sure of the killer.   This is what makes Laura so great.    

 

Ironically McPhearson is just as sexually oppressed as Lydecker..  He is obsessed with the "idea of Laura" but has trouble opening up to her.  

 

All 3 male characters struggle with their personal vulnerabilities. 

 

Lydecker:  struggles with his repressed homosexuality, and uses his intellectual knowledge, his financial success and his banter to "one up" the other characters.  However ironically he is not as elegant as he claims..  his taste becomes over done... theatrical gaudy.. almost reminiscent of Liberace's home decorating..  

 

McPhearson, has been injured (we learn of his shooting injury)..  he is therefore not the perfect male virile..  he has been hurt in love as well which we learn..  He represses in carnal desire urges, he becomes shadowed by Lydecker and even pulled into his world..  manipulated

 

Shelby Carpenter:  vulnerable playboy .. immature gigolo that uses women for their money, prestige

 

An important theme, is that of all the main male characters are weak, broken...   disillusioned, cynical..  a typical theme of film noir.. 

 

The movie Laura is one of the most brilliant noirs of all time.. because it is indeed ambiguous, speculative, and highly psychological.  

The best art is subjective..  and therefore each viewer will find something different to focus on depending on background, and understanding.  

 

Thanks. 

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By opening the movie in this manner Preminger showed Waldo Lydecker's arrogance in no uncertain terms. The fact that he was impressed by the detective was an unexpected surprise and leads me to believe that Lydecker will credit him with more intelligence than he does the earlier policemen. If nothing it tells me that a challenge has begun.

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The fact that the detective falls in love with a dead woman's picture has and always will be strange to me. I know fellows who fall in love with pictures of say Jennifer Lopez, ect.. but the woman is alive and there is always a chance of meeting her.  But he is investigating her murder. Waldo notices it too and makes fun of the detective for it.

 

It doesn't really seem that odd to me. I mean, people still have crushes on Marilyn Monroe, a lot of people here talk about how sexy Bogart was, or, in this film, how attractive Gene Tierney was. I think it makes more sense for him to fall in love with Laura than it does for someone to fall in love with any random celebrity.

In this film he's investigating her, not just the events of her life, but her secret thoughts, as well. He's reading her diary, spending extra hours in her apartment perusing her belongings. His entire focus is on her, at first because of his job, but later because of his infatuation. Lydecker says he knew Laura better than anyone, but that's clearly not true, because he didn't understand her and simply wanted to own her. Shelby maybe knew her better, but was also too much of a lovable cad to really invest fully in her. The one character we see in the film who comes to know Laura the best is McPherson.

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The fact that the detective falls in love with a dead woman's picture has and always will be strange to me. I know fellows who fall in love with pictures of say Jennifer Lopez, ect.. but the woman is alive and there is always a chance of meeting her.  But he is investigating her murder. Waldo notices it too and makes fun of the detective for it.

 

I think it's because Laura's dead that McPherson allows himself to fall in love. He knows from her friends and surroundings that she was intelligent, creative, dynamic, caring, and beautiful, all qualities that would have drawn him to her in life. But being already dead Laura is safe. She'll never be able to deceive or disappoint him, never be common or cruel or false. I don't think McPherson had good luck with "dames" in the past. I always hope at the end of the movie that he was so far gone on Laura that he can get past his idealized vision of her and fall in love with the real woman.

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In the opening monologue Waldo Lydecker says he's the only one who really knew Laura. If this odd character, who obviously sees himself as above the ordinary conventions of life, is the only one who really knew Laura, the audience has to ask itself - what kind of strange women was this? It's only later, as part of the furnishings and faces that Frank references, we see the mesmerizing portrait of Laura, presented as an immortal image of desire.

I think Preminger introduces Lydecker in the tub to convey Waldo's idiosincratic nature, he's a man who feels free to flout conventions. But, the scene also seems to be imply that he has nothing to hide...literally, making us less likely to see him as a suspect. The detective's dismissive smirk at Waldo's nude body also makes us wonder what the relationship really was between Laura and Waldo. Something that's never totally resolved in the movie.

And I agree that this opening scene shows that film noir doesn't have to rely on darkness and shadows to introduce a subversive element into the standard "detective" story.

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It’s worth pointing out that we’re introduced to Waldo as the first person narrator of the story.  We know that we’re going to get the story, or at least part of the story, from the point of view of a rather eccentric character.  So many of the great Films Noir have this first person perspective in common, often with voice over narration.  In Double Indemnity, we get to experience the story from the viewpoint of Walter Neff.  We get to go all the way, right down the line.  

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The Glenster wrote: What do you think about how Preminger introduces the character of Waldo Lydecker in this scene?

 

I believe this to be the most intriguing question about the opening of Laura. How does Preminger indicate that the character of Lydecker is a homosexual in the era of the Hays Code. The Hays Code refers to homosexuality under the umbrella term of, "Impure Love".

 

So Preminger is clever enough to use Clifton Webb an openly gay actor in Hollywood, which most people are aware of. The viewer is given a tour of Lydecker's apartment which indicates through its furnishings a delicate and effeminate sensibility. Lydecker invites the detective McPherson into his bathroom where he discusses the details of the case while he is naked in the tub. Finally when Lydecker stands-up nude and asks Detective McPherson to hand him his robe McPherson (Dana Andrews) looks him up and down and clearly smirks. This indicates that McPherson has reached the conclusion that Lydecker is probably a homosexual, possibly impotent, and clearly incapable of satisfying a woman of Laura's caliber.

 

It's a clever way of Preminger having discourse with the audience about homosexuality and what constitutes it without violating the dictates of the Hays Code

 

Great observation!  Yes I find it great and ironic how Preminger gets all the gay subtext with an openly gay actor Clifton Webb..  pass the censors during the height of the Hays Code.  There are only a few other noirs that did this so brilliantly..  one that comes to mind is Cairo in Maltese Falcon..  and we get code words like "he is wearing gardenia" .. or more amazing is notice the camera angle of Cairo with his cane..  almost looking like ****. 

 

The idea that Lydecker might be impotent is also indeed a good observation.  For those interested in more commentary on this..  definitely watch the extended commentary's on the movie The Celluloid Closet.. which discuss the history of Laura and hiring of Clifton and the gay subtext in more detail. 

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I have never seen "Laura" from the beginning to end but that is one of the most famous openings of a movie. Now that I am in the class, I will definitely have the popcorn ready on Friday night. The lighting and setting sets the mood and draws me in. I often wondered why the writer of this movie would start with us knowing that Laura was dead. As I gain more and more experience with film noir terminology, I will be able to make more contributions to the storyboard. I guess it reminds of noir in that all of them having a certain look with lighting, the mood of scenes, and inevitable tragedy of one or more of the major characters. I look forward to gaining extensive knowledge on film noir.

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Great Observations!  Yet, what I see in McPherson seems to go beyond that kinda like Vertigo. Or even thr film Twenty plus two. (Janssen was really obsessing on that case).

Or for modern day, the people who become so obsessed with a movie star they stalk them. McPherson was bordering on that level to me.

It doesn't really seem that odd to me. I mean, people still have crushes on Marilyn Monroe, a lot of people here talk about how sexy Bogart was, or, in this film, how attractive Gene Tierney was. I think it makes more sense for him to fall in love with Laura than it does for someone to fall in love with any random celebrity.

In this film he's investigating her, not just the events of her life, but her secret thoughts, as well. He's reading her diary, spending extra hours in her apartment perusing her belongings. His entire focus is on her, at first because of his job, but later because of his infatuation. Lydecker says he knew Laura better than anyone, but that's clearly not true, because he didn't understand her and simply wanted to own her. Shelby maybe knew her better, but was also too much of a lovable cad to really invest fully in her. The one character we see in the film who comes to know Laura the best is McPherson.

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When we enter Waldo`s apartment, we see his beautiful furnishings.Waldo is a man of wealth and very fastidious. As Detective Mark McPherson enters the apartment Waldo calls out to him. Waldo shows how vain and arrogant he is by soaking in the bathtub.He tells the detective that only he knew the real Laura.

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The introduction of Waldo Lydecker in the opening scene of Laura is brilliant.  What better way to use a noir style narrative (voice over) than to have one of your characters, who just happens to be a professional writer, lead us into the story.  By beginning with Lydecker's stylish prose we learn the story of Laura, a murder victim who was only "truly known" by the narrator.  Once the VO ends and we see an established shot of Lydecker and the detective exchanging words we quickly understand that Clifton Webb's character is not only an exaggerated, snooty type but despises inferior people which in his case is anyone and everyone except him.  Though he did express some regard to McPherson for being a hero in an earlier homicide/gangster case and likened him to "the detective with the silver shin bone" but most likely only because the incident provided Lydecker with material for his radio show and column. Supported by the fact he continued his bath in front of the detective, because he had nothing to hide!  I believe Nino Frank recognized the way Otto Preminger handled this opening scene using traditional techniques (narrative) yet put in the hands or rather the voice of one of the suspects, giving the audience enough character profile and plot before switching back to standard dialog exchanges.  We have just enough information from this one scene to know basically what's going on but still enough questions and plot holes we don't know, so we are glued to the screen to follow the story's outcome.

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Let me preface this by saying that I haven't yet seen more than just the opening to Laura.

 

"A charming character study of furniture and faces."

 

The fact that an "empty" room is the first thing you see when the picture comes up puts heavy significance on the room and the items in the room.  Statues, cases of glass-work, a prominent shot of the clock, cases of china, a wall of masks, and all the lavish furnishings seem to suggest that this as-yet-unseen person, Waldo Lydecker, is a rich man of leisure with the opportunity to travel and a taste for nice things. From his voiceover and the shots of his home, Lydecker seems proud and that his collection is important, of value: the rarity of the clock, not liking that the detective touches one of the objects in the cabinet.  It leads me to ask: How and why does Lydecker place so much importance on his objects?

 

A character study implies that the meaning is derived from a person/object and how they change. Though not having seen Laura, but gathering that there is a portrait of her, in that portrait object and face are combined.  It will be interesting to see how the objects and attitudes toward them, specifically the portrait, change over the course of the film.

 

"The Introduction of Waldo Lydecker"

 

The voice over paints Lydecker as wistful and forlorn, but also knowing and withholding, perhaps a bit manipulative.  His slow and deliberate manner of speech proves him to also be a bit of a showman.  As the viewer follows the detective into the bathroom, seeing Lydecker in the bath is a surprise.  But it puts Lydecker in the position of power and focus because he has the upper hand with the element of surprise.  He is at his ease, allowing the detective to see him, meet him, in his most natural and relaxed state.  It also paints him as a bit eccentric, especially with the typewriter and written pages that he has to hand upon the detectives arrival.  

 

 

I am very much looking forward to seeing Laura in its entirety this Friday.

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What a great introduction to Waldo Lydecker! As some others have pointed out, his arrogance is immediately on display (along with everything else). He's well informed and doesn't quite care what others might think of him.

 

Regarding Nino Frank's comment about Laura as a "charming character study of furnishings and faces," I interpret that to mean the film has an established sense of place and character. We see both off the bat--from Lydecker's lush and extravagant home and fixtures (including his rare clock and "priceless" bric-a-brac) to Lydecker, himself, a brash individual with a sharp mind. Both draw the viewer in and promise an intriguing character study.

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Lydecker speaks like a true newspaper columnist in the opening quote: "I shall never forget the weekend Laura died" and we're off to quite a start.

 

You see his lavish apartment with priceless objects that the detective carefully looks over, and know he is snooping when the detective picks up an artifact.  He is indeed quite vain and pompous and not at all self-conscious when he allows the detective to question him in his bath!

 

The character study definitely has to do with the way we see Lydecker's apartment, how the detective examines every little thing about Laura, and especially her portrait. And with such beauty as Gene Tierney's how could he NOT fall in love with her?

 

I never particularly like Lydecker, and how he became Laura's Svengali, molding her into a proper lady and forcing her to conform (being a nonconformist myself). I do love anything 1940's, especially the fashions, hairdos, and films. And I have made attempts to look like Tierney in Laura, so there are times when you DO conform.

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What do you think about how Preminger introduces the character of Waldo Lydecker in this scene?

 

I didn't know what to make of this scene until I read the comment made by The Glenster. The Glenster points out that this was how a homosexual could be presented without running afoul of the Production Code during the Hays era.

 

I keep forgetting about the Production Code, and how film makers continually had to make clever attempts to get around it.

 

The opening scene with Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) inviting the detective to approach him while he sits in his bath tub was shocking to me. For one thing, the bath tub appeared to be out of place - in a regular room, not a bathroom - so I did not expect to see it there, and for another thing, why would Waldo receive the detective there and reveal his nudity to him? Humphrey Bogart would never do that sort of thing, right? But it all makes sense if you want to inform the audience that a man is a homosexual without actually stating it, and if you add to the ambiguity by establishing that the man was in love with a female named Laura (take that, Hays censors, ha ha). 

 

This is only the second time I have seen an image of a man writing while in a bath tub. The other example is Jean Louis David's painting "The Death of Marat," which shows the French Revolutionary leader after he has been murdered while writing in his bath tub. But that was an entirely different situation. 

 

I have not seen "Laura" yet, but the opening clip has gotten me interested in it. Lydecker seems quite acerbically witty. Also, I am curious about the significance of the clock in Lydecker's suite (only Laura had the other one like it). What does that mean?  - T. Shawcross

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Great Observations!  Yet, what I see in McPherson seems to go beyond that kinda like Vertigo. Or even thr film Twenty plus two. (Janssen was really obsessing on that case).

Or for modern day, the people who become so obsessed with a movie star they stalk them. McPherson was bordering on that level to me.

 

I haven't seen Twenty Plus Two, but have now added it to the list. Cheers!

 

I don't quite view McPherson as stalkery or blinded by his love for Laura. He may not even realize he's falling in love until... well... I won't spoil it for people who haven't seen the film, but let's just say I think his feelings come as a surprise to him. He does take this more personally, seems to find himself drawn to the case more than others. But he seems to feel some kinship with Laura, and possibly the fact that she was murdered before he had a chance to meet her adds to that bittersweet feeling.

 

I'm going to spoil the end of this movie, so if anyone reading these boards wants to go into the movie fresh(which I really, really recommend), stop reading after this line.

 

 

I believe McPherson is being levelheaded about this because when Laura shows up, he doesn't run and embrace her, or immediately fall for her. He distrusts her a bit, checks out her story. He at least recognizes that he doesn't know the woman enough to trust her completely, at least not when a murder is involved. I guess it can come off as a little creepy, but it never threw up any red flags for me. 

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This is such a crucial and important opening scene. The first time I saw this film, I knew from the very start it was going to be one of my favorites. When we are first introduced to Waldo Lydecker , the camera pans around the radiant and beautifully furnished living room. I love the sort of contrast it sets as he, the narrator, tells the unsettling story of Laura and where she died. 

 

This beginning scene gives the viewer a lot of classic film noir elements which make up this beautiful introduction. The face-less voice that grimly begins to tell the story of past events, with the signature line of " I shall never forget the weekend Laura died."  There's a 200% chance the viewer will be in full attention and completely hooked as soon as they hear it. This movie definitely set the bar for film noir in the mid 40s. It's all so wonderfully done. 

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This is such a crucial and important opening scene. The first time I saw this film, I knew from the very start it was going to be one of my favorites. When we are first introduced to Waldo Lydecker , the camera pans around the radiant and beautifully furnished living room. I love the sort of contrast it sets as he, the narrator, tells the unsettling story of Laura and where she died. 

 

This beginning scene gives the viewer a lot of classic film noir elements which make up this beautiful introduction. The face-less voice that grimly begins to tell the story of past events, with the signature line of " I shall never forget the weekend Laura died."  There's a 200% chance the viewer will be in full attention and completely hooked as soon as they hear it. This movie definitely set the bar for film noir in the mid 40s. It's all so wonderfully done. 

I totally agree with you about this scene crucial and important. Having seen the movie before, I know that Preminger gives us a lot of information and foreshadowing about what's to come. It leads us to asking questions which come in to play as the film continues. Why does this man remember the weekend Laura died? What makes it stick out to him so much? Why are we hearing about these clocks? Why does he snootily refer to Dana Andrews' character as "another one of those detectives?" And why is he so intent on watching the detective? And that's just within the first minute and a half!

 

As we learn more about Laura's apartment, Waldo and his relationship with Laura, as well as being introduced to Dana Andrews' character, it's so smart how all of these factors combine as the film goes on to quite possibly one of my favorite climaxes and ending in a film. Laura is probably one of my favorite films falling under the "film noir" umbrella. The story is impeccably told with just the right amount of twists, and the acting is phenomenal. Vincent Price is also fun in the film, and Gene Tierney -- my goodness, how underrated is she?  

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I have seen Laura from the beginning a few times.  I just enjoy the film's.  I don't think about them, what they mean until it's over and I ponder the film.  It seems to me that not one of these men really want Laura in the right way.  They all want her for countless selfish reasons, but not to truly love her.  And that is what she leaves town for a few days to reflect on.  Waldo only wants her foe a trophy, a piece of eye candy.  Kind of like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.  Shelby doesn't love Laura either.  He only wants to use her, or rather he only wants money and maybe popularity to.  And Macphearson is in lust at first.  He sees her portrait over the fire place and begins to imagine what this dead woman would be like.  He paints a perfect woman for himself in his own mind, just on that portrait.  Because he had no real knowledge of Laura, Macphearson has to imagine her to find out who did it and why.  He seems to be just as shocked to see Laura as Lydecker had been.  I think he fights letting her in because he is naturally suspicious.  In order for a detective to have love he will have to let go of all his suspicions and just have faith.  Not an easy thing to do when you're supposed to have the answers.

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I found that narrative was monotone, what caught my attention was the music, it really set the tone for me.  I thought that Waldo provided a straight man, yet was a possible homosexual,  to the detectives observations.  I have yet to see the movie but I am looking forward to it.  Based upon the details in the opening narrative, i'm assuming that the small details will make the movie as well.

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It’s worth pointing out that we’re introduced to Waldo as the first person narrator of the story.  We know that we’re going to get the story, or at least part of the story, from the point of view of a rather eccentric character.  So many of the great Films Noir have this first person perspective in common, often with voice over narration.  In Double Indemnity, we get to experience the story from the viewpoint of Walter Neff.  We get to go all the way, right down the line.  

Yes, reminds me of Sunset Boulevard, another great opening with the use of voice over narration.

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