Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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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. 

 

You may want to add a spoiler warning in your comment, since a lot of people commenting here haven't seen the full film yet.

 

Other than that, I think McPherson truly does love her. At first it might be lust, because of that painting, but he only really starts to become obsessed with the case after he starts learning what Laura was like in life. He did have an idea of who she was as a person, he had a better idea than anyone in the film. He read her diary(sounds creepy, but at the time it was in the course of his job and with no malice), correspondences, heard from her friends and loved ones what she was like. It was only after getting a fuller picture of her that he started to fall in love.

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*Spoiler alert

 

It could be surmised that Nino Frank's contention that Laura is a "charming character study of furnishings and faces?" is based on not just the stylistic element of the film and the pacing but also the mood and tone of the film established as the camera investigates in a leisurely fashion the set, and the characters are revealed in steady motion. There's a languid feel to the coverage and the pacing as the scene unfolds. No one's in a hurry here, but all the while the music is unsettling. Something is amiss in the beautiful luxurious home.

Preminger's introduction of the character of Waldo Lydecker in this scene is interesting and offers up an ever-changing perspective for viewer loyalty. We start with Lydecker supplying an almost soothing voice over, and thus identify with him, however his love of power (relishing making the detective wait) does little to endear us to him. Our loyalties begin to shift. The eloquence in the language and the plush surrounds suggests wealth and privilege, then this slams up against the revelation of his outright eccentricity, when he is revealed to be in the bath and a stickler for details. 

The opening of Laura may be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style as it utilizes a few classic elements to set the scene: Voice over. A tale of a woman, murdered. The ticking clock - components that build slowly. A contradictory tone - music and setting - unnerves and lets the audience know something isn't quite right. A smoking, gumshoe investigates - the eternal, damaged noir protagonist. Clues planted early (and we are told about the clock), The strange nature of the interview with Lydecker in the bath, revelation of the detective's background and toughness of character through Lydecker's memory of McPherson's brutal run-in with criminals. We now know the detective has a life and has faced hardships. The 'lingo' is in place, and the contradiction of the Lydecker's outright lie, "I never bother with details, you know" affects whether we trust him, as thus far everything we have seen about this man is that he's a stickler for details.

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The initial introduction to the character of Lydecker spoke volumes. It's obvious he feels quite superior to others and feels the need to fill his home with objects to prove it. He keeps fastidious notes, yet the detective is able to pick up on the fact that Lydecker takes liberties with the way he reports things in order to make them more interesting. So, we see that Lydecker will not be the most honest person in the course of the investigation though he tries to present himself to the detective as someone who has absolutely nothing to hide (hence the whole nudity show). We also pick up on the fact that Lydecker is a creation of his own---what he portrays to others is definitely not the person he really is. He can't simply be himself.

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With that first line, “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” the film immediately grabs our attention.  Like M, that line is spoken against a dark screen and would have been great at setting the mood in a dark movie theater.  The camera slowly pans over all the expensive objects on display, giving us an indication that to Leydecker, Laura was one of the prize items in this collection.  I am intrigued by the lingering shot of the masks on the wall.  There is a huge amount of symbolism there, and it’s especially fitting for a murder mystery.  The shot of Leydecker writing in the bath reminds me of David’s Marat too, and I wonder if that is foreshadowing anything.  It also sets up Leydecker’s character too.  He is cultured, egotistical, very comfortable with his own nudity in front of another man (which, like others have said, could code him as gay, or possibly bisexual), and he is extremely skilled as turning a phrase.  It’s that last one that I’ve been thinking about the most.  Leydecker says that he is the most misquoted man in America, and yet, it is his words that help set the scene for us.  There is a very good possibility that our narrator is unreliable, and it will be that much more difficult to find out the truth.

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The opening narrative immediately drew me in to the story! It has the same atmosphere of foreboding as so many of the other noire movies we've been talking about but the effect is accomplished through the mystery of the narrator rather than shadows and lighting. Wonderful!

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By introducing Lydecker naked, it suggests that he has nothing to hide. However, as we can see in the masks that Detective McPherson studies in the outer room, in addition to the lavishness of the house, Lydecker hides behind a facade.

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I have always been struck by the opening of LAURA since my first viewing in the early '70s on a warm June day. Lydecker's voiceover narration as Preminger's camera languidly moves through the apartment combines to create the feel of a stuffy summer Sunday afternoon in which Lydecker is perfectly justified to feel as if he's the last person in New York, since many city dwellers have fled to the country or the beaches to escape the oppressiveness of the heat, leaving him to be alone with his thoughts. It establishes a mood that places us in the upper class world in which he and the other characters, aside from Mark MacPherson and his fellow officers, exist. Our viewing of Lydecker in his marbled tub speaks to an unconventional, snobbish and purely individual attitude reflected in his columns and criticism, prompting his sensitivity about being "the most misquoted man in America." The script seems to make a reference, in Lydecker's interest in true crime (colored by his inattention to detail or accuracy), that the basis for his character was Alexander Woollcott, the noted critic and Broadway bon vivant of the 1920s and '30s who began his journalistic career as a crime reporter (the more direct inspiration was Sheridan Whiteside in the play THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, a role Woollcott occasionally played in his latter years). That may have accounted for Fox's original casting of portly Laird Cregar as Lydecker before LAURA was reassigned to Preminger (Cregar was closer to the Lydecker described in Vera Caspary's 1943 source novel). The opening is critical to the development of Hollywood noir by setting a tone, giving us a clue as to the main plot (the investigation into Laura Hunt's supposed death) and establishing the contentious relationship between the acidulous Waldo (Clifton Webb) and rough-hewn MacPherson, roles that became a part of the noir scene. To Dana Andrews' credit as an actor, he suggests the legful of lead he suffered in winning "the siege of Babylon, New York" with slow movements as he inspects the Lydecker abode and later hands the pundit a towel. The mood created by Preminger continues beyond the opening to the restaurant meal Waldo and MacPherson share which seems to find Waldo in one of his less irritable moods as he talks about Laura -- the flashbacks themselves perfectly serving the burgeoning noirish atmosphere.

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The opening dialog comes across as someone reading a book or writing a book as we find out after a minute or so. The luxury of the home with lots of of light, this seems so different from other Film Noir films. He is not shy of showing McPherson his naked body...is Lydecker gay. The clock seems important or is it the passage of time. Lydecker writes everything down and uses the excuse the he is the most misquoted in the country. But moments later he says, "I never bother about details." This seems strange.

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"Laura" captured me from the first time I saw it as a teenager. Brilliant use of panning the apartment so the viewer can tell what type of person Lydeker is from his belongings. He is neat, rich, pretentious, and odd.  How many men would meet a detective while sitting in his bathtub? The viewer immediately gets the feeling Lydeker likes everything to be a certain way and would get agitated if something was out of place.The next step is to wonder if that plays a part in Laura's death because why else would the director have showed all of this. Seeing McPherson as the regular guy who smirks at everything lets the viewer realize there will be two classes of people involved in this case. He can definitely hold his own against someone of Lydeker's ilk and it is apparent that McPerson will not be intimidated by Lydeker. Lydeker tries to put McPherson in his place from the beginning when he asks him for the washcloth and a robe. He acts like he is impressed by him, yet he treats him like a servant. The masks on the wall, Lydeker's voiceover, the fact that he wrote down his testimony all lead to wondering if he is hiding something. Add to that the importance of the clock and the fact that the only other one belongs to Laura and it becomes clear that Lydeker and the clock will play an important part in the story. Lydeker appears as a pompous jerk from the start while McPherson is very relatable.

 

This film is a very important contribution to the film noir style. It starts with a voiceover discussing a death that has already occurred, no faces are seen at first, objects represent people, shadow and light play off each other, the two male opposites play off each other, they talk about a mysterious woman whom the audience has not yet seen, etc. This film oozes beauty and class throughout the entire story.

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So many rich and insightful posts on LAURA! This board is an unadulterated pleasure!

 

Reading the excerpt from Nino Frank's essay quoted in today's Daily Dose email, I think Nino Frank recognized that LAURA marked a departure from the procedural detective stories of the past to a film in which the psychological makeup of the three leading characters makes the mystery what it is. Preminger's films are known for probing deeply into their characters' minds. 

 

In the scene, the "perverse writer's" opening words promise a story that's deeply personal, that meant a lot to him. Composer David Raksin's beautiful music, the first strains of his "Laura" theme, underscore that impression. We hear Lydecker's godlike disembodied voice as the camera shows us an immaculate, perfectly arranged upper-crust apartment. Lydecker is creator and ruler of this rarefied domain. "It's lavish. But I call it home." :-)

 

His narration and the camera introduce McPherson simultaneously. At first the detective seems like an out-of-place intruder. He should not touch the priceless objects nor should he rattle at Lydecker's priceless stories. But he does when he corrects one of them ("He was really killed with a sash weight".) Do the fragile crystal treasures hint at the fragility of Lydecker's creation under scrutiny?

 

I think Lydecker is a wordsmith and artist who in his radio and newspaper columns molds true-crime news into quasi-literary works. He molds and forms the facts, just as he molds and forms Laura Hunt the person. In the bathtub, Preminger introduces him as a member of the intellectual elite who feels entitled to his creative freedom and who needn't bother with convention or niceties when receiving a person of lower status in his domain. Plus, of course, the tub scene allows the delicious psychological jousting between these two so-opposite characters to commence. I noticed that the fast sideways pan from McPherson to Lydecker marked an abrupt end to the opening's slow, languid camera movements.

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So many spoilers in this very long thread! I am trying to skip past them all. I haven't seen the film

I like that the furnishings in the room tell me I'm dealing with someone who collects, but is a tad odd, before I even see him.

I like the introduction of the two men - we immediately see them as opponents, even though we have no reason to be suspicious of Lydecker until the dinner with Laura is mentioned (and even then I realize I am only suspicious because I've watched so many crime movies and television shows that anyone who saw the dead person is some sort of suspect). Their faces didn't tell me much, though, other than 'eccentric' (Lydecker) and  'unphazed' (McPherson)

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With that first line, “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” the film immediately grabs our attention.  Like M, that line is spoken against a dark screen and would have been great at setting the mood in a dark movie theater.  The camera slowly pans over all the expensive objects on display, giving us an indication that to Leydecker, Laura was one of the prize items in this collection.  I am intrigued by the lingering shot of the masks on the wall.  There is a huge amount of symbolism there, and it’s especially fitting for a murder mystery.  The shot of Leydecker writing in the bath reminds me of David’s Marat too, and I wonder if that is foreshadowing anything.  It also sets up Leydecker’s character too.  He is cultured, egotistical, very comfortable with his own nudity in front of another man (which, like others have said, could code him as gay, or possibly bisexual), and he is extremely skilled as turning a phrase.  It’s that last one that I’ve been thinking about the most.  Leydecker says that he is the most misquoted man in America, and yet, it is his words that help set the scene for us.  There is a very good possibility that our narrator is unreliable, and it will be that much more difficult to find out the truth.

 

So true! The fact that the first things we see are Waldo's prized, clearly expensive and elegant acquisitions as he intones, "I shall never forget the weekend Laura died," tells us a lot about him as a person:  that he is an aesthete who prizes the material and appearances and that his most important feature is his way with words. This sets him up in contrast with the Detective McPherson, who is a more stereotypically masculine detective (all through Waldo's words about his deeds as well). This isn't even getting into the contrast presented by a more stoic and dressed up Detective McPherson with the naked and verbose Waldo in the tub. 

 

*spoilers*

 

Something I'd like to explore, as I have seen the film, is how others take Waldo's (ultimately murderous) obsession with Laura squares with how powerfully Waldo codes as gay. I never bought him as being really that romantically/sexually interested in Laura, but I don't think it's just aesthetic either. I suppose it might have to do with the Svengali nature of his relationship to her? That he essentially turned this naive girl into a powerful, glamorous woman (or so he thinks?).

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Laura begins with a voice over announcement of the title character's death. "I will never forget the weekend Laura died". The viewer is immediately drawn to the story. We can only hope that it will be told in flashback, clue by clue. Pure Noir!! Preminger allows us to see the museum-like collection of untouchable pieces Lydecker owns. He hints that Laura might have been one of those pieces. "only I knew the real Laura" This is done to inform us of Waldo's irascible character and his need to impress as well as control others. Waldo agrees to be interviewed while still in his marble bath tub. McPherson appears to be a hard boiled detective but quickly lets Lydecker and viewers know that he is quite ingenious and challenging on all counts. Interesting noir formula!! On of my favorite movies. Sonia Fuentes

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The opening's emphasis on "furnishings and faces" sets the tone of lavish social climbing in New York that frames the story. It foreshadows many aspects of the later plot (so hard to discuss without giving spoilers), since some of those objects will come back into the story. By lingering over the objects, it gives a sense of "realism" that fits with film noir -- hard-edged and dangerous, like the glass and jewels in the shining cases. The love of objects parallels the way that Laura is objectified-- in this first scene as the focus of the murder mystery, but later as she comes to life through the discovery of Her facts, her image, etc.  That sense of realism is echoed in the matter-of-fact way that the narrator tells his story, setting the scene with details about the weather. Both Lydecker and the detective are hard-edged, interested in facts, and truths. But both characters are obsessive, about Laura and other things. That sense of the love of detail, the tying up of loose ends, of getting quoted correctly is one of the driving forces of this, and maybe any criminal drama, in that the main characters usually just can't let anything go, but must continue niggling until they get to the bottom of things, even if that takes them into dark places. 

 

The image of Waldo Lydecker in the bathtub makes me think of the French revolutionary Marat, killed in his tub and so depicted by the French painter David. Perhaps I'm supposed to think of the luxurious self-indulgence of lavish bathrooms in Manhattan apartments, but it suggests that Lydecker is a potential martyr, and someone who could get fatally carried away with his own causes. 

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I have seen this movie before but it's been a while. This is one of the best opening secens I've seen in a movie. It grabs you from the first opening line "I will never forget the weekend Laura died".  As Waldo's says this line the screen is blank, but as soon as he finishes, the set comes into the picture. You haven't seen Waldo yet, but just by looking at his apartment you can tell he is someone who likes to show off and has nothing to hide. It's interesting too how the camera slowly pans around the apartment has Waldo is narating but as soon as he stops and starts talking to the decetive, it seems to flip back and forth between the two charicters. 

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Loved this opening shot, one of Preminger's trademark long takes.

In 1 1/2 minutes, the camera goes from the crystal objects in the display case, around the room, and back to the same objects again.

The other thing I liked is that you think, for most of the first minute, that the room is all you'll see in the opening scene, but then the camera lands on McPherson at just the second Lydecker says, sardonically, "Another of those detectives came to see me."

I've had this movie on DVD for some years, and will have to watch it again now!

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If "Film Noir" is a cinematic style I believe his film is the embodiment.  Clifton Webb sets the tone for the entire film in these first few minutes.  His voice-over is great.  Once you have seen the film in it's entirety you realize how much important information was given in the first 4 minutes.  Lydecker's a collecter of beautiful things including Laura.  Dana Andrews is brilliant as well.  The strong silent type who doesn't show his hand until it's necessary.  Has always been a favorite film of mine. 

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well, my first attempt came across as clear as mud. What I meant was the voice-over was matched perfectly for the music, it set the tome for the movie. Dana Andrews, played a great role to that of Waldo. From the camera panning through his living room you could tell that Waldo had taste for the finer things in life, which may have included Laura. However, as the detective, Dana was having no part of Waldo foolish behaviors.  

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What an opening!  “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died.  A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass.”  Poetry.  The storyteller is a writer. 

 

My first thought as the camera pans across Lydecter’s rooms is how beautiful all these things would look in COLOR.

 

This is a great beginning; and like the beginnings of “La Bete Humaine” and “The Letter,” it revels much and promises more and one is already receptive.   :wub: 

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I have always been struck by the opening of LAURA since my first viewing in the early '70s on a warm June day. Lydecker's voiceover narration as Preminger's camera languidly moves through the apartment combines to create the feel of a stuffy summer Sunday afternoon in which Lydecker is perfectly justified to feel as if he's the last person in New York, since many city dwellers have fled to the country or the beaches to escape the oppressiveness of the heat, leaving him to be alone with his thoughts. It establishes a mood that places us in the upper class world in which he and the other characters, aside from Mark MacPherson and his fellow officers, exist. Our viewing of Lydecker in his marbled tub speaks to an unconventional, snobbish and purely individual attitude reflected in his columns and criticism, prompting his sensitivity about being "the most misquoted man in America." The script seems to make a reference, in Lydecker's interest in true crime (colored by his inattention to detail or accuracy), that the basis for his character was Alexander Woollcott, the noted critic and Broadway bon vivant of the 1920s and '30s who began his journalistic career as a crime reporter (the more direct inspiration was Sheridan Whiteside in the play THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, a role Woollcott occasionally played in his latter years). That may have accounted for Fox's original casting of portly Laird Cregar as Lydecker before LAURA was reassigned to Preminger (Cregar was closer to the Lydecker described in Vera Caspary's 1943 source novel). The opening is critical to the development of Hollywood noir by setting a tone, giving us a clue as to the main plot (the investigation into Laura Hunt's supposed death) and establishing the contentious relationship between the acidulous Waldo (Clifton Webb) and rough-hewn MacPherson, roles that became a part of the noir scene. To Dana Andrews' credit as an actor, he suggests the legful of lead he suffered in winning "the siege of Babylon, New York" with slow movements as he inspects the Lydecker abode and later hands the pundit a towel. The mood created by Preminger continues beyond the opening to the restaurant meal Waldo and MacPherson share which seems to find Waldo in one of his less irritable moods as he talks about Laura -- the flashbacks themselves perfectly serving the burgeoning noirish atmosphere.

Thanks for the Woolcott connection.  Woolcott was also (if one assumes that Waldo is)  gay.  Sheridan Whiteside was based on him.  Him playing himself on stage creates for me strange mirror images.  A man playing himself - who is to himself a stranger. Persona upon persona.

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  • What examples do you see that fit with Nino Frank's contention that Laura is a "charming character study of furnishings and faces?"

 

I believe that there are several examples that support Nino Frank’s contention about the film Laura.

 

To me, I believe that by “charming character study” he means that each of the characters in the film reveal their true selves through their dialogue and actions.

 

For example, Lydecker’s arrogant and domineering attitude is revealed through his dialogue, introduction of detective McPherson, and the trappings of his luxury apartment.

 

We (the audience) can tell that he believes that he’s always the smartest and wealthiest person in the room.

 

From the opening of the film, you kind of get the sense that Lydecker’s arrogance is the tragic flaw in his character.

 

With detective McPherson, we (the audience) kind of pick up on the fact that he’s a veteran officer of the law who doesn’t believe what Lydecker is saying or that there is more to him than meets the eye.

 

We (the audience) also kind of get the sense that McPherson is like a “fish out of water” because he’s never really had to deal with such an affluent set of people before. This is noted by how he looks around Lydecker’s apartment.

 

Although Laura is already dead by the start of the film, we can still get a sense of her character when Lydecker states that Laura and him were the only two people who owned a particular model of clock.

 

It makes us (the audience) wonder if Laura’s character was also similar to Lydecker’s.

 

In regard to “the study of furnishings and faces” part of the comment, I believe that this makes reference to the things that I stated above and I also believe that it represents a metaphorical value as well.

 

Meaning that each one of the story’s characters also wears a kind of “social mask” in the beginning of the film like the masks that McPherson looks at on the wall of Lydecker’s apartment.

 

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

 

That Preminger intended for the audience to notice all of Lydecker’s character flaws and that he’s so arrogant that the story can only be told through his point of view.

 

In other words, he’s the Protagonist of the story even though he might not be the Hero (or detective character) and that the story will only make sense through Lydecker’s telling of it.

 

  • In what ways can the opening of Laura be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

I believe that the opening of Laura can be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style because of two reasons.

 

First, it seems like this film’s story focuses more on the underlying character flaws of each individual character in the story and that typical assumptions based on appearances can be misleading.

 

The film kind of forces the audience to pay attention to the dialogue and actions of each character while looking for the subtext in each scene.

 

Secondly, the choice in the narrator for the story isn’t usually the person or character that the audience would expect (i.e. the detective of the story) for the film noir style.

 

In addition to this, I believe that this is a good example of the fact that the “Hero” and the “Protagonist” of every story aren’t always the same person or character.

 

I believe that it highlights the fact that these two archetypes (the Hero and the Protagonist) can be two different people (or characters) depending on the story that is being told.

 

To me, I believe that from the opening of the film, Lydecker is the story’s protagonist while McPherson is meant to be the archetypal “Hero” character of the story.

 

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I am really enjoying reading the comments and they have expanded my understanding; thank you all! My comment is about Detective McPherson:

 

The introduction of Det. McPherson wandering around the living area of this apartment, analyzing objects most suited to a museum - under Lydecker's hidden gaze - at first makes him appear only curious, and possibly intelligent. As the scene progresses, one's respect for McPherson grows. Like someone schooled in martial arts, he allows his suspect to reveal himself. In just a few minutes, he knows that Lydecker has a superior opinion of himself, is crafty, self-protective, and has a need to be in control. The detective chooses to accept the role of man servant with bemusement instead of indignation. He reveals little about himself, and one allows for the possibility that he may become a superior adversary to Lydecker, who may become his enemy. 

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One large shift from the films of the 30’s to the 40’s is the depiction of class. In the 30’s, those hardest hit by the depression aspired to be wealthy, but in the 40’s the working class had contempt for the excesses of the rich. Here we see the clearly smug, self-centered, materialistic Waldo Lydecker trading barbs with the straight-talking veteran detective, Mark McPherson. The detective isn’t impressed, but the two are worthy adversaries. Lydecker has the upper hand in terms of intellect, connections and wealth, McPherson has earnest street smarts and authority on his side. Contrast is one of the most essential elements of noir and watching an evenly matched battle between contrasting elements is one of noir’s best qualities. This is particularly true of noir’s hallmark witty repartee. Of course another characteristic of noir “dialogue” is the musing voice-over, which is also used to great effect here. In fact, the dialogue is so specific and clever in the opening moments of “Laura” that the downloading of massive exposition is made painless.

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From: Chai Vaidya

Sub:   My impressions on Film Laura.

 

Otto Preminger was a great Director. I have seen most of his movies. I have a copy of Laura in my Film Noir DVDs collection, and I have seen it few times.

Laura is one of the best movies with romantic storylines. Cliftom Webb’s opening line “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died” draws the audiance in the story before they see his face. Another memorable line is “It was the hottest Sunday in my recolletion”. Clifton webb’s acting as Waldo Lydecker is excellent. This Film was an itruduction as a detective for Dana Andrews, and he did a very good job. But Gene Tierrrney as Laura Hnt was the main character in the film, and she carries the whole film. Young Vincent Price as Shelby Carpenter did excellent job.

Laura is a great Film Noir loaded with elegant dialogues. I liked it because of it’s interesting plot, sudden twist and an exciting ending. This is a typical Preminger style film.

 

 

 

 

 

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Laura is my all-time favorite movie. The mood and its connection to the characters Preminger created is incomparable. I love the initial scene as it draws the viewer into Waldo's eccentricity as the story opens (bathtub scene, request for a towel from Mark, apartment laden with the fineries) and further draws particular attention to a key clue in solving the mystery. Aside from Gene Tierneys beauty, her chemistry with the leading actors is captivating. And that amazing score-can't wait to watch it again.

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