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


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Before I answer my three questions a little preface regarding my thoughts on Laura.

When I first viewed that opening, my thoughts were: I'm not watching this wierdo movie with that shriveled up man in the tub.   :wacko:  I gave it another chance after hearing this was one of the best film noirs. Laura is one of my favorite movies. I'm glad a gave it a second chance. Over the years I've learned to give the classics  I initially dislike a second chance. I'm glad I haven't watched Laura in a few months so I can give my answers with fresh eyes.

 

 

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

Most definitely the opening, Lydekker's house is over furnished. Laura is a mystery, but my goodness is it a study of faces. There are so many layers to Laura. I'm not surprised at the number of comments in this thread as Laura is like an onion, so many layers to this film. 

 

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

Hindsight is 20/20. I'm not giving spoilers, but I can see the opening as  cliff notes to the movie. The overdone furnishings, the clock, the bathtub scene, the way Lydekker talks to the detective,  typing in the bathtub!!.  Oh what a character.  Even though the movie is called Laura it could well be called Lydo because he is the one that holds your attention

 

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

Laura is textbook noir.  Because we have the voice-over and we already know someone is murdered. The setting is not so dark, but it's definitely a somber mood

 

I know what you mean about the setting being not so dark, in general..  But for me the sweeping over the empty room gave me a sort of dark mysterious feeling..  Dunno, could just be because I have not seen this film in it's entirety!  Looking forward to seeing the rest.

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I agree with icwrjohn. Waldo is not a like able guy. I find him having A superior attitude. He seems to think the detective is far beneath him.

To me he definitely seems very odd.  And yes,  seeing him in his tub and the way he speaks to the detective acts as if he is top dog.

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Laura would be a lesser film without the gorgeous Raskin title song, and yes, music definitely enhances and underscores so many movie themes. When you think of North by Northwest, Vertigo, Psycho, can  you think of them without Bernard Hermann's great Hitchcock's scores coming to mind??? I can't. Sorry to the person whose comments my last batch went into at the end of their post. It looks like they were your thoughts, but it sounds like you wouldn't disagree. Guess we are all finding our way around the messge boards this week. Cheers.  Great comments on what no doubt will be a memorable course.

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Laura is by far one of my favorite noirs of all time.  Everything about this movie is pure perfection from the amazingly diverse cast: Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Dana Andrews, Judith Anderson and Vincent Price, to the most sweeping musical score by David Raksin-which of course "Laura" the tune with lyrics by Johnny Mercer becoming one of the greatest jazz standards of all time, and one I perform regularly as a pianist.

 

What I find so great about this movie is all the "psychological" subtext that got past the censors and the complete opposite extremes in emotions, sexuality, manners and out look of Waldo and Detective McPhearson.    

 

I am surprised however that so many on the board could not see from the start that Waldo was the murderer (really?).   To me it was obvious.  Waldo is self -absorbed in his pretentious and precious museum of antiques and things..  his banter and "one upsmanship"  makes for hysterical wit.  To me it is obvious his dilemma is that he is homosexual yet trying to maintain the cover of perfection and elegance>he is not in love with Laura Hunt ..   Laura represents the ideal "project" for Waldo..  He talks a great deal..  about how HE taught her what to wear, how to dress, how to behave.   LAURA is the gay man's great project.    Waldo has great contempt for Dana's character McPhearson..  the sexy "man's man" ..  same with his comment about Vincent's character... who falls for Laura..  and Waldo makes the comment later in the film..  "Laura could never fall for a "pretty boy" in distress..  to me there is always an underling homosexual repression with Waldo.    The stepping over boundaries is odd and disturbing esp for a movie of the 40s..  Afterall  WALDO is actually in the bath when he first meets McPhearson.  The nudity not shown but McPhearson handing Waldo his robe etc.  to me set ups the whole dilemma.  

 

Ok-so since nobody brought it up yet.. I think this is the main interest of LAURA the gay subtext of Waldo.  This was new and interesting not really shown like this before in any movie previous.  It sets up a theme in noir too of the "femme fatale"  The beautiful photo of Laura hanging over her fireplace.. represents the "ideal" girl of a man's dream for McPhearson.. as Waldo says "interesting that a detective would fall in love with a corpse"  and Waldo's obsession as an object like "his precious things" to worship.  The theme of obsession, unrequited love etc runs through many noirs.  

 

"Laura is the face in the misty night...  footsteps that you hear down the hall"..   Johnny Mercer did such a beautiful job of creating this sense of mystery. allusiveness and mystery.    The movie and the characters hold ones attention.  Absolutely brilliant movie.  

Bob Nutter
9:56am

"Preminger seems to be trying to tell us that Webb is not only rich, vain and elitist, he is also gay. The apartment is richly furnished in a not so very masculine style (eg. Leopard print chairs next to the marble tub) he meets Andrews essentially naked though submerged. Then he rises from the tub as Andrews watches. "Hand me that robe" is often used in films where a woman in a tub attempts to seduce a man. Webb seems to be trying to seduce Andrews even though his language is somewhat is confrontational and condescending. He seems to be trying to confuse and dazzle Andrews at the same time."

I quoted this from "Bob Nutter," from the thread on the Daily Dose of Darkness #5 page. Here's what I replied on that page:

These comments are interesting. I wonder if Preminger is adding another element to the film noir list of characteristics: "dangerous" sexuality. I put dangerous in quotation marks because homosexuality and bisexuality could be used against a person. Someone could use blackmail as a way to keep secrets, which is very "noir"! I also wonder how sophisticated audiences were in the 1940s--maybe they were very sophisticated. Maybe I'm making this connection because I just saw L.A. Confidential for the second time, and that movie is all about blackmail and secrets about sex. Simon Baker's character in that movie, the aspiring actor, gets himself killed because of those secrets, as do many others.

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If you watch film Noir, no matter how many times you view a film, you can find something new.  Laura (1944) is no exception.  The insouciant arrogance of Lydecker is amazing.  His use of lavish is said with a nonchalant attitude that places himself above everyone.  And how about the bathing tub of his.  And then the command to the detective to hand me a towel.  All of this is setting up the upcoming jousting between those two.  Both are almost expressionless with a hint of antagonism in their comments.  Setting the stage for a great Noir.  And thanks again for the course.

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"Charming character study of furnishings and faces."  The people in the narrative are important, who they are, their lives, their desires, frustrations, these things are essential to the story. Things, objects, such as clocks, paintings, "priceless" objects, are also important characters in the story. "careful there, that stuff is priceless..."


Waldo Lydecker, Pompous, he acts as if the story is about him. The film should b entitled. Waldo, not Laura, as far as he is concerned. He cares more about his possessions, then people, unless he can possess them... Laura, symbolized by a striking portrait, a grandiose clock, "I noted that his attention was fixed upon my clock, there was only one other in existence, and that was in Laura's apartment." 


Preminger introduce Waldo in the bath, as if he has nothing to hide.


Elements of Noir include gliding camera movements, and references to murder, and shootings.





 



 



 


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

 

A:The elements and objects that made up the shot (mise-en-scène?) during the opening scene inside Waldo Lydecker’s opulent apartment, is so well lit and so detailed. Deep focus (a film noir trait?) must have been used in order for one to feel immersed (or uncomfortably out of place) in his world. In my opinion, Film Noir movies are brilliant at creating atmosphere that visually clues the viewer in on the characters, their motives and the upcoming storyline. “Laura” has that very atmosphere and all its clues and hints in spades.

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What an opening line!  You know the ending, when you've just started watching the film.

 

So much gets discovered in just the first few minutes of the film. There's been a murder, Laura has died, Lydecker is the only one who really knew her, Lydecker knew how Laura was going to die before she actually died, that Detective McPherson will stop at nothing to get his man/woman and that Lydecker was writing Laura's story. 

 

We also get a glimpse at Lydeckers personality through the furnishings and faces of his home. He's a collector, a perfectionist, self centred, self important (?), integral character to the plot.

 

The manner in which Lydecker is introduced to us starts out to be somewhat similar to other films noir i.e. voiceover and description of what he's observing the Detective doing, we soon get a sense of his eccentricity when we actually see him.

 

I found the voiceover great at the beginning, as if I was the observer, watching through the opening in the door.

 

Although there weren't many quick shots as in other film noir, the overall mood of the clip was sinister.  Why did Laura die? How did Laura die?  Who killed Laura?

 

Although I've seen this film before, I'm really looking forward to watching it again with new eyes.

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A question that comes up with the Lydekker character is why he is so obsessed with Laura. Don't want to get too deep into the movie past the opening now, I'll save that for later discussions. But why does Lydekker seem into Laura when from the opening it does not appear that he's the type of man that would obsess over a woman's painting??

I've read many different theories on that and as we discuss the movie I know many different theories will abound

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Bob Nutter
9:56am

"Preminger seems to be trying to tell us that Webb is not only rich, vain and elitist, he is also gay. The apartment is richly furnished in a not so very masculine style (eg. Leopard print chairs next to the marble tub) he meets Andrews essentially naked though submerged. Then he rises from the tub as Andrews watches. "Hand me that robe" is often used in films where a woman in a tub attempts to seduce a man. Webb seems to be trying to seduce Andrews even though his language is somewhat is confrontational and condescending. He seems to be trying to confuse and dazzle Andrews at the same time."

I quoted this from "Bob Nutter," from the thread on the Daily Dose of Darkness #5 page. Here's what I replied on that page:

These comments are interesting. I wonder if Preminger is adding another element to the film noir list of characteristics: "dangerous" sexuality. I put dangerous in quotation marks because homosexuality and bisexuality could be used against a person. Someone could use blackmail as a way to keep secrets, which is very "noir"! I also wonder how sophisticated audiences were in the 1940s--maybe they were very sophisticated. Maybe I'm making this connection because I just saw L.A. Confidential for the second time, and that movie is all about blackmail and secrets about sex. Simon Baker's character in that movie, the aspiring actor, gets himself killed because of those secrets, as do many others.

 

 

I am finding these thoughts very interesting.....my impression on the sexual aspects of this movie:  We have Lydecker, who feels he is creating "the perfect woman, one who will be on his caliber   i.e.  "Finally!  someone who is appropriate for me". He is portrayed as a solitary individual until that point.  

 

Then we have the detective who actually sees her as a woman, although exceedingly beautiful, also a creature of the earth, rather than a statue on a pedestal that Lydecker saw her as being.  This is a man who sees himself actually making love to her, building a future with her, etc. Obviously before he ever met her he became fascinated by her portrait, however he was leading the murder case and through the people he interviewed, came to know her.

 

Then there is Vincent's character, the pathetic character in this movie, who Laura was actually considering for marriage, who coveted her for her attractiveness and the social standing she would bring him in society, but he really needed some money and he was ready to "trick" for it as we learn later in the movie.  

 

Given Laura's character, I do not understand what ever attracted her to him, except that Lydecker references the many "wrong choices" Laura made in men and how he was forced to manipulate situations to expose them, thus driving her away from them.  Perhaps she lacked good judgment, I didn't pick that up from her strong character, however she may have subconsciously been attempting to end Lydecker's pursuit of her.

 

Such details that you don't pick up on the first time, or the second or third for that matter are what make me watch a movie like this over and over.  Every time, you discover something new, something else to study, etc.  Gentlemen, your lines of thought are fascinating to me.

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"It's lavish, but I call it home"

This place is set up like a museum!  Obviously, this is a very fancy house, filled with lots of trinkets!  The camera scans over a room and we get a glimpse of all the precious items carefully laid out - statue, crystal, a very unique clock, lamps and the masks.. ( i like how the detective started moving once the camera hit him, and then it followed him until he entered the room).  
We then move into the other room, which is covered in marble - including the tub (Lucky)
!

 

The way Lydecker is introduced is quite hilarious indeed.  The first image we have is him soaking in his fancy marble tub!  I am also quite suspicious of him.  he seems very pompous and thinks as if he is better than the detective.  Acting all calm and normal but perhaps he is a good actor?  I found it creepy that Lydecker could see - somehow - what the detective was doing from the other room... 

Having not seen this film I don't know if he had something to do with the murder or not.

 

I felt like I could trust the detective right away, for some reason.  Perhaps because he is a detective and we are supposed to feel that way about them?  That they are trying to help?  

 

Classic voice over, the detective.. A femme fatale?

Excited to watch the rest of this one!!

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 The fact that the room is filled lavish artifacts that are priceless is an example that Nino Frank was right.  I thought Otto Preminger could have introduced the character of Waldo Lydecker differently but he was the director. As for film noir I thought that the scanning of the room with the camera was an important contribution to the style of filming.

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I thought Lydecker was menacing, would use his pen as a weapon like Lancaster in Sweet Smell of Success.  Interesting how they focused on the clock several times and this object became a pivotal part of the film. 

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Lydecker is introduced as someone who obviously thinks he's a cut above most people, and works hard to prove it: he makes the detective wait and admire his exquisite taste in art and the things he's accumulated. I saw it primarily as a means to put visitors on the back-foot before they actually even get to meet the great man! 

 

I think too, that Lydecker is introduced in the bath to further cement this superiority: he sits in the bath as if it were almost a throne - and like most with most kingly thrones, there is nowhere comfortable for the supplicant to sit - and his nakedness too could be designed to discomfort the visitor, by putting him in a situation in which he'd never normally find himself. 

 

The detective is the other side of the mirror: down to earth, a classic tough-guy, and someone in his own way looking down on Lydecker for all that...art. Interestingly though and (I've not seen the movie), I thought that both characters are similar in that I'm guessing that Lydecker is not quite as clever as he likes to think, and McPherson is far more clever than his persona wants to project to begin with. 

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A character study eh?

 

I see it.  With Noir it's all about tone.  There is quite a bit going on here from the very open.  

 

All clear glass gives an illusion of transparency, as if we are going to be able to see into the contents of the story... Maybe we will. Maybe we won't .  The ticking clock makes clear the unstoppable force of time. The narrator’s VO speaks of the oppressive heat and death (Camus anyone?) .  Very quickly the tone is established. 

 

The introduction of Lydecker through VO puts us in his head.  He is the seeing and hearing force through which we are observing the environment and the detective.   By doing so, we have already gained sympathy for him and his loss of Laura.   It makes it easier for us to see him vulnerable in a bath tub.  The detective while making inquiries and taking Lydecker's statement again mentions his being in a tub at the time of the murder.  I feel that in some way this makes us question the reliability of Lydecker (he must be trying to wash the "dirt" off).  It's intriguing and draws us into the story. 

 

 

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A character study eh?

 

I see it.  With Noir it's all about tone.  There is quite a bit going on here from the very open.  

 

All clear glass gives an illusion of transparency, as if we are going to be able to see into the contents of the story... Maybe we will. Maybe we won't .  The ticking clock makes clear the unstoppable force of time. The narrator’s VO speaks of the oppressive heat and death (Camus anyone?) .  Very quickly the tone is established. 

 

The introduction of Lydecker through VO puts us in his head.  He is the seeing and hearing force through which we are observing the environment and the detective.   By doing so, we have already gained sympathy for him and his loss of Laura.   It makes it easier for us to see him vulnerable in a bath tub.  The detective while making inquiries and taking Lydecker's statement again mentions his being in a tub at the time of the murder.  I feel that in some way this makes us question the reliability of Lydecker (he must be trying to wash the "dirt" off).  It's intriguing and draws us into the story. 

 

 

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Otto Preminger's Laura opens with a literary narration by a man's voice-over that unfolds itself in multiples forms and echos throughout the scene: as the author of the voice self-legitimizes himself, we immediately start to doubt his ability to tell this story.

The way Otto Preminger introduces this character is remarkable: first the voice is heard over a black screen; when the image appears, the décor we see (a furnished room, full of relics, with a particular emphasis on a clock and several masks hanging on the wall, almost as a gallery of a museum) has nothing to do with the imagery of a sunny day that the voice is describing; the voice presents himself in a authoritarian and self-legitimizing way as being Waldo Lydecker; then the character's voice (now intradiegetic) interrupts his own voice-over to directly interpellate the only character on screen ("another one of those detectives") saw by the viewer so far; we follow Dana Andrews to meet the author of the voice in a odd circumstance: he's writing - maybe the same narration text that opens the film, precisely "Laura's story" - while taking a bath; and finally, Waldo Lydecker repeats word by word his testimony about Laura's death, reading the text trascript of what the said to the police. But how can we trust a character that seems so confident in a ridiculous situation like this one?

Having already watched Laura several times, I can't help myself notice a particular word pronounced by Waldo Lydecker in the begining: he talks about "the hottest sunday in my recollection", and what we see is, actually, his collection. Another question comes to my mind: can we trust the images we (re)collect from/for our memories?

In this opening scene, sound and image seem somewhat disjointed: we may already feel a bit disoriented, adrift, going along with the camera's movement in the room without exactly understand what is being show to us, as the images don't necessarily illustrate what the voice is telling, as we don't have any visible proof that what we hear is the truth. And a cinéphile viewer knows that one should always be suspicious of this king of voice-over narration in a film noir movie... 

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The setting is superb, really emphasizes the eccentricity of the character. It is in stark contrast to the down to earth detective. We can infer that there will be a good lighthearted feel to all of their conversations, with evasive answering and witty retorts. The narration at the beginning is droll and really makes me want to see what exactly is going on in this situation. The panning shots show the classic noir mansions and, I assume, this will be in contrast to a darker and grittier abode shown later in the film.

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Waldo Lydecker

 

We first see Waldo Lydecker in a tub as he's about to bathe himself. I wonder is there a suggestion that he needs cleansing of some sorts. His friend Laura was murdered the day before and instead of taking time to mourn or grieve he plans on writing her story immediately.

 

We know he is eccentric because he thinks the detective recognizes him as opposed to he deducing he's who the detective came to see- who else could it be? He then corrects the detective saying is place is lavish not a "nice little place." 

 

In these opening four minutes we know he does not trust the police, has no problem exaggerating and can not be bothered by details.

 

Director Otto Preminger introduces Waldo Lydecker as a shady character and makes him the focus of our curiosity. What can we learn from this guy about the murder victim who he claims knows her better than anyone else?

 

He's got my attention.

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Laura is one of my top ten movies of all time.  The sets, the cast, the story and of course the twist.

 

I've always loved the opening with Waldo Lydecker's narration of what's happened to Laura and the goings on in the other room. Something about the calm and arrogant tone of his voice always made me smile.  And how can you not smile about our introduction to him.  Sitting in his marble tub...naked and typing...very unique indeed.  

 

As the camera pans across the extravagant apartment we see the proof of his riches in his furniture and the abundance of it.  As well as the clock, masks and glass encased treasures from his travels. We watch McPherson poking about, smiling occasionally at all he is seeing.  When he meets Waldo very matter of fact and professional.  The unimpressed smile returns when Waldo unashamedly gets out of the tub.  

 

I think Laura contributes to the film noir style with our murder, the narration, the hard boiled detective the mystery in the surroundings and the haunting music.

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Whoah! I'm getting in late on this one! The board is really heating up now, already 6 pages worth of thoughts. Here are mine.

 

Now we're talking. I adore Laura. I must admit, as a huge David Lynch fan the film was suggested by all the references he put into Twin Peaks(the name of the murdered girl, some similarities in plot, Waldo and Lydecker), but the film has a haunting quality that stuck with me.

 

I believe the opening, studied for it's influences or contribution to noir, is notable most for it's inclusion of the unreliable narrator. Lydecker is the first voice we hear, telling about the night Laura died. We have no reason to doubt what he's saying, until Det. McPherson calls him out on his tendency to improve reality with his authorial embellishments to the story. I also find it amusing that Lydecker is apparently narrating this opening while lying in the tub and watching Det. McPherson through the bathroom door, and only speaks up when McPherson tries to touch some of his stuff.

 

(side note, also amusing; the little sardonic grin Dana Andrews gives after looking at what must be Waldo's naked body getting out of the tub. Follow his line of sight. What is he chuckling at?)

 

This entire introduction tells us Lydecker is a pompous, preening individual. Maybe not an ****, but certainly someone more interested in aesthetics than honesty.

 

"Character study of furnishings and faces." is such a great description. It's a really great phrase. And it's evident in these opening shots, which spend a lot of time using the art direction in Lydecker's apartment to tell us what we need to know about the character.

 

This is such a good film. I'm gonna go put it on right now.

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Definitely a different kind of opening scene.  You can tell a lot about someone just by the way their house is decorated and clearly this guy has money.  A very interesting way to introduce the character of Lydecker, it proves he has no shame when he steps out of the tub naked right in front of the detective.

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Nino Frank's observation of  a "charming study of furnishings and faces" is spot-on - and something I'd never thought about in 'noir' before - well, not the "furnishings" part. But if you think about it, noir isn't all rain-soaked streets, smoky dives and cheap hotels. There's a fascination with wealth too - think of Marlowe going to "visit" General Sternwood in "The Big Sleep". This isn't the kind of 'top hat and tails' wealth we're used to seeing from 1930's Astaire/Rogers depictions of rich New Yorkers. The opening of "Laura" shows us something more real, more carefully-considered and tasteful. There's a greater reality here - and it's that reality (although heightened for dramatic purposes) which draws me to films of this period. 

 

Again, rather like the opening to "The Letter", we're treated to a smooth, languid tracking shot that's been very carefully choreographed and which remains a single take without a cut (encompassing a great deal of v.o. exposition, establishing Waldo's home, the all-important clock and Dana Andrews' protagonist) until we enter the bathroom. Then a "shocking moment" occurs which breaks the mood of that gliding and carefully constructed opening take.  However, unlike "The Letter" with Bette Davis and a blazing gun, we've got a whip-pan to crinkly old Waldo sitting in the tub. I'm not sure which of the two was more unsettling!

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Lydecker speaks with assurance and superiority, and letting the visitor know about the value of the art object. The style of the opening scene immediately brings the viewer into the mystery, mentions the murder and shows the detective doubting lydecker's veracity, adding to the mystery and since Lydecker mentions seeing Laura, immediately making him a suspect.

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