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


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"A study of furnishings and faces"' indeed! The sweeping shots of the apartment juxtaposed with Joel McRea trying to take it all in and make some kind of sense of it. It is both opulent and decadent, like Lydecker. I wonder what to make of that quick jump shot to when McRea walks into the bathroom and then you see Clifton Webb. Establish a face to the voice. It's like Lydecker can't be bothered by such mundane things as a murder investigation.

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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 kek5772 for all the added background info - I really love this kind of detail on films. 

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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: 

Of course he is a poet, a writer with that opening narration. How did I miss that?

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T308mmd, on 08 Jun 2015 - 5:49 PM, said:

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Laura is not an innocent. As the movie progresses you find out she's had quite a few men (not usually what you hear in a movie at that time) Waldo specifically says " ...and there were others.", after he tells McPherson about himself, Shelby and the painter/artist. And the fact that Lydecker is so much older than Laura seems to show her ambition. She's having an an affair with an effete, overbearing man at least 30 years older than her. For what it's worth I have always thought he loved her, obsessively, but did love her. McPherson, too.
 

 

 

I never really considered Laura a gold digger. She was definitely an independent and ambitious woman who happened to find someone who took an interest in her and improved her, but he wanted more from her than what she was ever willing to give him. I keep thinking of the song "Don't You Want Me" by Human League. That song could describe Lydecker and Laura's relationship to a T. 

 

Anyhow, the fact that she may have had others shouldn't be a reason to dismiss her character. In fact, I admire her more for it.

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The audience knows from the beginning this isn't going to be " A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" kind of movie. These will be well educated and wealthy people. Lydecker narrating in the beginning is perfect, though he has that well bred , snobbish voice, it is perfect.. While looking at all of his priceless possessions the viewer gets caught up and wonders what kind of person was Laura. At least that is what I found myself thinking the first time I saw the movie.

 

Lydecker being in the bathtub, instead of a suit or smoking jacket was different, it caused his character to interact more with the Detective on a personal level than they would have otherwise. Lydecker in his own way was trying to place himself above suspicion.

 

The Dectective doesn't say much during that clip, he just has that cynical look that he maintained throughout the movie so no one knows exactly what he's thinking or feeling really.

 

Placing Lydecker and the Dectective as the first two characters seen make the audience choose sides right away. The handsome detective and the rich snob. The audience aligns themselves with the brave detective that has a leg full of lead. Seamless the way bits of information about each of their personalities was given right off the bat,

 

The first sentence of Lydeckers narrative captures ones attention, and one has to know more about Laura and how she died. Everyone remembers where they were , the kind of day it was when some one they really cared about died. The audience can relate to that one sentence and wants to know more. See more , hear more.

The casting was perfect the intro brilliant. Love this movie

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As the camera lovingly, preciously pans across Waldo's apartment we see all of the beautiful things he has collected and from the way he's talking about his relationship with Laura we see that he had "collected" her too.  I don't want to spoil it for anyone but there is an important clue we're made aware of almost immediately in the opening shot.

 

As for Waldo receiving McPherson while he's taking a bath...It's a really unique way of greeting ones "guests."  If you notice, when he realizes who McPherson is he stands up and Dana Andrews looks at him naked and smirks.  Waldo also wants the upper hand and he orders Andrews around. Get me that wash cloth, give me my robe and treats him like a servant.

 

Webb's opening monologue is amazing and thinking about it just now the only other film I can think of off hand that might be comparable in its opening is  Hitchcock's "Rebecca".when Joan Fontaine says, "Last night I went to Manderley again..." 

 

I can't wait to rewatch this again on Friday!

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Clifton Webb gives such a great performance in this film. The open with him in the bath, a modern day Marat. A social critic who is above social conventions and a voyeur. He sizes up the Dana Andrew character as beneath his intellect and someone Webb will be able to manipulate.

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Frank's categorization of 'furnishing and faces' is part of this opening scene by the decor of Lydecker's home; very ornate with curios on display assumed to be antique and/or valuable, based on his response to the detective's handling on one of the items.  There is also Lydecker's narration touting the clock as one of only two known to exist.  This is a place (and man) of opulence, indicative of wealth and taste, but also perhaps an indicator of class distinction and snobbery.  

This scenery is contrasted to the detective, shown standing with hands in pockets of his baggy suit, cigarette dangling from his lips, and hat tilted back on his head (worn despite being indoors).  Lydecker's voice over categorizes him as 'another of those detectives' with more than a hint of distain in his voice (another indicator of class difference). 

As the detective is summoned into bathroom, Lydecker is in the elaborate tub reading, which symbolically highlights the detective as being 'a fish out of water' in this place.  But he is not uncomfortable, more bemused by this display of exaggerated wealth.  He heightens his misplacement by sitting backwards int he chair; perhaps intentionally contradict this order as his way of snubbing his nose at this show.  He is cool and unimpressed by the place or Lydecker.  While Lydecker plays the snob to a hilt, commanding the detective to hand him a washcloth when not even familiar with the detective's name, like a servant.  And confident enough to exit the bath tub naked without embarrassment.  

The main contributions to film noir include Lydecker specifically opening the film by telling the audience that the title character is dead, and using a flashback voiceover to indicate as such.  This and the first character seen is a detective.  It has immediately locked in that this film is going to be an investigation to root out the details of a mysterious plot.  The obvious class distinction is also a common noir trope, to add antagonism (and competition between these two characters).  

 

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This opening scene pulls you in with a hundred questions in your head asking and observing and listening to the dialogue. The faces on the walls made me think of Beauty and the Beast silent movie if only the faces could talk. The exchange between Webb and Andrew was definitely a test for each one of them who could come up on top with more information. Great opening... I wanted to keep watching

 

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For people like me it's always better (in movies and books) when the director or author shows rather than tells. That's why I've never been a huge fan of having to follow what a narrator says.  I'd rather just see the characters interact.

 

And I'm definitely not a fan of gimmicks, like the narrator at the beginning of "Laura," Waldo Lydecker, suddenly interacting in real time with the detective. I noticed that the music stopped when the narration ended, a not-too-subtle signal that we now were in the present. It made you wonder whether there would be a Mel Brooks-eque orchestra in the bathroom with the writer.

 

However, once the characters began to interact, the tension between the writer and detective began to unfold, and my interest in the movie definitely took hold. 

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The mise en scene of the masks, shown to the viewer while the camera pans right symbolize something or someone is hiding or covering up; is balanced when the camera pans left to show Waldo's nudity synbolizing in the viewers mind openess, nothing to hide correct. It's a great opening that leads us to belive WL is covering something up, but then disarms us of that suspicion.

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I hate to admit it, but I've never seen "Laura" before, and I'm looking forward to watching it as part of the TCM Summer of Darkness course.  Since I know nothing about this film, I was taken by the opulence of the surroundings (especially for an early 40s film that wasn't a period drama), and that marvelous bathtub, which could pretty much work in a modern home today.  My first instinct was that the tub reminded me of the painting "Death of Marat," so I wonder if I'm wildly off-base, or if Otto Preminger was referencing it for some reason.  Again, without knowing anything else about the film, it's evident that the clock is important -- McPherson takes his time looking at it, and Lydecker says in his voiceover that Laura is the only other person who had one like it.  I expect it will play a bigger part in the film.  Also, it's clear McPherson is going to be a "hard-boiled" detective, one of the key characters in a noir film.  The contrast between him and Lydecker is not only made visually, but aurally -- Lydecker is a major chatterbox, and McPherson is laconic at best.  Looks like it's going to be a wonderful ride with this film (and it was great to hear the strains of its famous title song toward the end of the clip).

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As the camera lovingly, preciously pans across Waldo's apartment we see all of the beautiful things he has collected and from the way he's talking about his relationship with Laura we see that he had "collected" her too.  I don't want to spoil it for anyone but there is an important clue we're made aware of almost immediately in the opening shot.

 

As for Waldo receiving McPherson while he's taking a bath...It's a really unique way of greeting ones "guests."  If you notice, when he realizes who McPherson is he stands up and Dana Andrews looks at him naked and smirks.  Waldo also wants the upper hand and he orders Andrews around. Get me that wash cloth, give me my robe and treats him like a servant.

 

Webb's opening monologue is amazing and thinking about it just now the only other film I can think of off hand that might be comparable in its opening is  Hitchcock's "Rebecca".when Joan Fontaine says, "Last night I went to Manderley again..." 

 

I can't wait to rewatch this again on Friday!

 

I've seen "Laura" many times (it's one of my absolute favorites), but never connected the opening scene of all of Waldo's possessions with the idea of Laura being one of them. With that in mind, the "Don't touch that, it's priceless" line reflects Waldo's attitude toward Laura herself. It all seems so obvious now.

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The opening line of Laura is an instant attention-grabber. Then we follow the detective as he takes mental notes of the furnishings. There is a distinct personality contrast between Lydecker and the detective. The detective is trying to gather facts and Lydecker has a smug, superior, know-it-all attitude that is reflected in his manner/speech. The viewer's curiosity is peaked with wanting to know how all of this will piece together. The contribution to film noir, I think, is the use of spoken information rather than the use of scenery or the unknown to captivate the audience.

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A year ago, I read the novel Laura.. The three main characters in film were so well defined and played, I heard their voices in my head as I read. Having watched the movie serval times before, I was surprised the clock was pointed at the start of the film. Now, I stands out like a catch me if you can hint.

 

I've read the novel as well. I was surprised that Waldo was fat bordering on obese (as I recall) in the book. That just seemed wrong for someone so meticulous as Waldo. Webb was perfection.

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Waldo Lydecker is one slippery character.

 

"Another of those detectives came to see me" highlights not only his disdain for the investigators working on Laura's case, but also that Lydecker has suffered through their tedious line of questioning before. For a writer/wordsmith/Laura-expert/dandy such as himself, sparring with some predictable gumshoe is sport -- something of an intellectual exercise.

 

The viewer senses that Lydecker derives a perverse enjoyment from manipulating (yet another) detective type arriving to question him. Telling McPherson to enter the bathroom while he is having a bath is his way of asserting his authority over the law. His only cover up is his typewriter and writing portfolio. Of course he already has a statement prepared for the detective, who is sizing him up in equal measure. Lydecker and McPherson are multidimensional characters whom Preminger establishes as worthy adversaries/character foils in this opening sequence.

 

Who is playing along and getting played remains to be seen, although Preminger's characterizations seem to have established the antagonist and the protagonist.

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The masks displayed on Lydecker's wall are important both for character development and for symbolism. They not only emphasize his eccentricity as a collector of fine, rare things (including, ahem, Laura), but also symbolize the mask worn by Lydecker himself, not to mention many of the other characters. All is not what it seems, with significant characters deliberately misleading others in the intricate dance of deception that has come to mark film noir. Interestingly, one of the masks is markedly monstrous, though who the monster will be in this story is yet to unfold.

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The opening line of this movie is one of the most memorable in film. As in literature, it's usually the first sentence or paragraph that immediatley draws you in to the story.

 

Waldo Lydecker in the tub at the start of the story is interesting. This character is ascerbic, pompous and self-gratifying. To portray him in a tub might make him seem vulnerable....that he is unprotected.  Quite honestly, I think Lydecker is proud enough to be there, in the tub, talking to a detective. It doesn't bother him at all. I am not sure anyone could have pulled this character off as well as Clifton Webb does.

 

The shots of his apartment's interior are wonderful. And did give a clue to the affluent life he leads. Further into the film, when both men arrive at Laura's apartment, Lydecker asks McPherson, "Is this the apartment of a dame?". Her furnishings and her painting above the fire place reflect a woman who has taste and money. So interior shots can make a big contribution to a character's persona.

 

This is one of my favorites.

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This is one of my absolute favorite films noir, but the discussion question and posts here are making me really examine the opening scene.

 

I think it's setting up the differences between the two men. Waldo's a slight man and a cultured aesthete who loves the finer things in life and makes his living with his intellect. One of the other posters here really nailed it when they said Laura was part of Waldo's collection. "Don't touch that stuff, it's priceless" takes on an interesting meaning if you apply it to all of his objets d'art, including Laura.

 

We eventually find out that all of Laura's suitors are of the big, handsome variety. That's something Waldo just can't compete with. It bothers him that handsome always turns her head.

 

Meanwhile, Det. McPherson is a rough but handsome man that Waldo mistakes for making his living with his brawn and daring alone. He was the hero of the shootout mentioned by bravely barreling into the situation, not by thinking it through. And, as another poster has noted, he doesn't even remove his hat inside. ****.

 

Who sees rich people in their bathtubs? Not guests, not equals. Servants. Waldo has dismissed McPherson as beneath him in both social stature and manners and thus (mistakenly) intellect.

 

Fun fact from the IMDB goofs section of "Laura": There's no way Waldo could have seen McPherson pick up the crystal whatever-it-was because the bathroom door was barely ajar and the opening at the wrong angle to the tub for Waldo to see anything in the other room.

 

ADDITION

 

I forgot to address McPherson's smirk when Waldo gets out of the tub. They are figuratively -- and literally -- sizing each other up!

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The voiceover is way too writerly and hyberbolical.  a very economical way to introduce us to Waldo Lydecker, epicene poseur.   Two days after the event Waldo is turning Laura’s murder into a romance,  with him at its center. We open in a large room filled with beautiful and exquisite,  things.  As we dolly the length of the room, we pass vitrines full of precious objects, sculpture, all surfaces and wall spaces covered with treasure.   When Andrews is discovered, he looks at first like another object, then like a man who doesn’t belong here. He looks over the room, there is an oil portrait of a beautiful woman, he  pauses at a collection of masks on the wall.  Masks are a perfect object for Waldo to collect.  A lovely standing clock chimes, Andrews moves to it to check the time. Is it correct or does it lie?    The hands are not directly over hour, ½ or ¼ marks.,   Lydecker ‘s peremptory “Come in here.” leads Andrews back down the room to an open  doorway.  We cut, for the first time, to the other side of the door.  The room could be a charming, intimate parlor were it not for the a large free-standing carved marble bathtub at its center.  Waldo is writing while in the tub, much like Marat in the David painting.  Whisper of things to come?   Andrews does not appear flummoxed by discovering Waldo naked in the bath, but when he sits he does so astride the chair with its back between him and Waldo.  When Waldo’s **** can no longer be ignored, Andrews smirks. 

 

Waldo has created the world and its people in his own image.  He says he was the only one who knew Laura.  She is thus his creature.  He dubs Andrews the Detective With the Silver Shin, making Andrews his creation, under his control.  He never bothers with details, he says ; the truth is irrelevant,.  He creates truth as he wishes it to be..

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I do not know if this is a hallmark of the "noir" genre, but I was struck by the idea of observation at the beginning of Laura. Clearly any "detective" film is going to include characters looking for physical clues, but noir films seem to be more interested in understanding the motivation of the characters in the story: who they are and why they do what they do? Lydecker is observing the detective to get an idea of who he is before Lydecker will speak with him. The detective, unable to observe Lydecker directly at the beginning of the scene, attempts to discover more about Lydecker by investigating Lydecker's art collection. What someone collects - and displays (ostensibly for others to view) - says a lot about who they are as a person - or at least that is what the detective probably thinks. It is only when the detective opens a case to take a closer look at one of the objects Lydecker has on display does Lydecker break the silence and speak with the detective. Is Lydecker really concerned that the detective might damage a "priceless" item, or does Lydecker worry what the detective will discern from a closer inspection of the things that Lydecker holds dear?

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From my understanding, this was one of the first times in filmdom that a film opens with the discussion of the death of the title character. Right off the bat that causes the viewer to lose balance...
I agree with GipsieGirl in an earlier post that the masks on the wall serve many purposes- but to me chief among them, the fact that Lydecker is a calculated and coldblooded, textbook psychopath. His arrogance and demeanor in the bathtub point to deep narcissism at the very least. The clock face also is swathed in meaning.
This is a great Noir indeed and I am looking forward to seeing it again!

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I have seen this movie before so knowing how it ends gets in the way a little. Lydecker comes off as an elitist and intelligent (maybe too smart for his own good and under estimates the detective). McPherson, however, is clever and seems to let his suspects do the talking, looking for a slip up. This scene helps sets up the two personalities and also start and game between the two, leaving the watching wondering who will win, Can't wait to watch the film again....

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I was thinking over the idea of character studies. Introducing a character in a bathtub does a couple of things I think. It gives you the idea that he must be an important person or else other people wouldn't agree to a ridiculous idea like coming into someone's bathroom. But it also takes an important person and strips away any semblance of superiority, as one cannot very well be impressed by a skinny little soggy man. 

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Dana Andrews.... [swoon]...  The previous comment is more than a simple flattering accolade. The voiceover by Lydecker created a sense of the person who was to hold a prominent position in the story, and held the apartment. Lydecker's voice, his concentration on establishing his self importance, is extremely apparent. Now, the camera pans to the detective played by Mr. Andrews. The detective HAD to be good looking. He had to stand out amongst the "lavish" apartment of Lydecker and Lydecker's self-importance. Andrews, his looks, had to be part of the "charming character study of furnishings and faces." He succeeded (I have always had a crush on Mr. Andrews.)

 

The introduction of Lydecker played upon the narrative mentioned above. Lydecker admits in the voiceover he knew, and was keeping an eye on, the detective. Yet, he created, the embodiment of the "charming character study of furnishings and faces." He was a prop (to lobby for his own innocence, as it would turn out - I've watched the movie several times and own the book) that said, "Don't touch me, I'm priceless." IT is interesting to see the typewriter at the tub. It gives the impression he was writing the voiceover in real time -- clearly a demonstration of coolness under pressure.

 

This couldn't have been the first use of such a voiceover introduction, was it?  Still, it was an original way to introduce all the main characters, their roles, and the plot in just a few minutes.

 

 

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