Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

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


Recommended Posts

 

     The detective is introduced as a kind of voyeur- looking around at the objects, obviously not part of his normal world. I love his reaction to those weird masks on the wall- maybe a prescient view of all the characters that will follow.

And Lydecker in the bathtub- how great a way to introduce him- a quirky but brilliant character. His voiceover in the beginning is so well crafted. Yet in spite of the lavish way in which he lives, it becomes clear that he is fascinated by things much more gritty- the "detective with the silver shinbone", murders, etc.

 

 

That's funny, my takeaway was that Lydecker was the voyeur. Once McPherson reaches out to grab something, you discover that Lydecker had been narrating from his bathtub while watching the detective through a half-open doorway.

Link to post
Share on other sites

This wasn't a typical introduction of a character at all in my mind.  I wondered how Waldo let the detective in, as it starts with him observing Dana Andrews, but from exactly where is a mystery at first.  Then, to discover him sitting in a bathtub, typing is odd, and nothing expected.  This is truly a unique introduction.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I learned so much from reading through everyone's comments here. I've seen LAURA several times but cannot wait to rewatch it again after reading through the insights posted here. To me, Lydecker is one of the premiere villains from film noir, just as McPherson is the quintessential film noir detective, and Laura Hunt, the ultimate femme fetale.

 

Lydecker's disdain for everyone is palpable and I think the opening introduction shows us just that. Was anyone ever better at delivering a verbal barb than Clifton Webb?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Did you notice that the first furnishing shown in the opening sequence has a face?  It looks like a statue of Buddha; which is ironic, because while Buddha taught detachment from things and people, Lydekker is overly attached to his "priceless" objects as well as his protege, Laura.

 

Laura contributes to the film noir style by beginning at the end.  Detective McPhearson will spend the rest of the movie working backward to determine what happened prior to this scene, and why.  

Link to post
Share on other sites

in this film, i've always seen lydekker as the unlikely femme fatale just like veda is the femme fatale in milded pierce and claude raines in the unsuspected.. but he's a bit obvious. 

 

 

 

I learned so much from reading through everyone's comments here. I've seen LAURA several times but cannot wait to rewatch it again after reading through the insights posted here. To me, Lydecker is one of the premiere villains from film noir, just as McPherson is the quintessential film noir detective, and Laura Hunt, the ultimate femme fetale.

 

Lydecker's disdain for everyone is palpable and I think the opening introduction shows us just that. Was anyone ever better at delivering a verbal barb than Clifton Webb?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Basically, the opening scene is the set up between the two men.  Lydecker is asserting what he believes is his superiority over McPherson, and McPherson sees right through it.  He even sees the possibly effeminate side of Lydecker through Lydecker's asking for things from McPherson (washcloth, robe) which are extremely intimate and intimidating, especially for two men of the Forties era. At any rate, the scene also sets up Lydecker's position, wealth, and control over Laura's life. He's telling McPherson, "she's mine, keep off".  Finally, he only shows respect for McPherson once he realizes who McPherson is. We (the audience) are also not to think he is the killer.  That is not the set up. But we are given the impression Lydecker is out to control Laura's murder, also, perhaps at any price.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Opening of Laura eases the viewer into the mystery. The narrator starts by revealing that the titular Laura is dead, and then that she was murdered. However, even the narrator, ostensibly the character from whose point of view the audience sees events, is shifty and closed-lipped when questioned by the detective.

 

The slow teasing out of information without fully explaining events builds suspense, leaving the audience wondering how Laura died.

Link to post
Share on other sites

That's funny, my takeaway was that Lydecker was the voyeur. Once McPherson reaches out to grab something, you discover that Lydecker had been narrating from his bathtub while watching the detective through a half-open doorway.

I'd tend to agree with this. Lydecker feels like the voyeur. He's out of the room and yet he is there, present. It's almost suspicious. He acknowledges the fact that he's looking through the door but still... His introduction is generally suspicious: greeting a detective from his bathtub, getting dressed pretty much in front of him, writing down his own deposition (of sort). It feels bizarre for someone who's just lost someone they somewhat cared about. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

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

The camera is like a hidden pair of eyes (those of Waldo Lydecker’s) observing the actions of the detective (Lt. Mark McPherson).  Because we see what he sees, an emotional bond between the narrator and us is created. This technique harkens back to the first film in this series, Fritz Lang’s M, in which the camera “spied on” the children as they played their game of elimination, or simulated murder.  However, Lydecker’s oriental art collection also arrests our attention as the camera pans left, then right.  Lydecker himself calls our attention to the ornate clock when he says that his and Laura’s are the only ones in New York.  If the viewer still hasn’t focused on these oriental furnishings, Lydecker’s admotion to McPherson to not pick one of them up is a direct message for the viewer to notice them.  Nino Frank’s reference to faces is emphasized in this opening scene as we watch Lt. McPherson’s eyes and facial expressions as he examines the decorations and furnishings of Lydecker’s apartment.  Then, when Lydecker calls him into the other room, we are drawn to Lydecker’s features because he, like Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, is the voice over narrator, thereby indirectly telling the viewer that he is the one who knows the most about Laura Hunt’s murder.

-- What do you think about how Preminger introduces the character of Waldo Lydecker in this scene?  Preminger implies that Lydecker knows more than anyone about Laura Hunt and how she was murdered by having him be the voice-over narrator.  Lydecker himself reveals that he knows more about Detective McPherson than McPherson knows about him, when he reveals to McPherson details about an earlier case in which McPherson was wounded.  The voice-over narrator is normally a person who is remembering what has already happened, implying that they know the outcome of the story they are just beginning to tell us.  Furthermore, this technique serves notice that we will see reality through their eyes, thus warning us to pay special attention to them because they will be our guide and we need to know whether they are reliable or not.

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

As previously mentioned, the “observing” or “spying” camera directly states or implies that we (and perhaps one of the characters) are watching someone who is unaware of our presence.  This element of stealth gives us the sensation that we are participants in the action.  This draws us into the action.  Furthermore, the awareness that a crime has been committed reveals the type of characters we are dealing with and implies that more could occur.  These elements generate dramatic tension, increasing the viewer’s engagement and participation.  These elements are present in many film noir flicks.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm finding it challenging to discuss only the opening scene. Like many others posting here, I have seen this film many times, and love it!

 

It's a memorable start to a great film.

 

I enjoy how unflappable Dana Andrews is in these opening moments, which sets him apart as the "detective" and "hero" of the film. He tosses the washcloth to Lydecker, unphased by the inappropriateness of the situation (Lydecker receiving McPherson while in a bathtub); this, for me,  perfectly sets up the ongoing conflict between the two men.

 

And the interview happening in a bathroom is certainly non-traditional, and sets this film apart from classic detective stories.

 

I feel that the opening also perfectly sets up our understanding of Lydecker. His voice over is self-obsessed ("For with Laura's horrible death, i was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her ..." ) and by receiving the detective in the bathroom and asking for a washcloth, it seems he is willing to push buttons.

 

I always found it funny (in a morbid way) that  Lydecker's statement to the detectives was that he "ate a lonely dinner" after Laura left town. Poor Lydecker had to eat dinner alone while Laura was murdered .... ? Even keeoing in mind how the film ends, it's such a perverse and narcisistic way to view one's evening. So if perversity is an aspect to the noir style, it can certainly be found here in this opening.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Laura is such an amazing film.  How is the opening scene a "charming character study of furnishings and faces"?  First of all, we are first introduced to Lydecker via voice-over while the camera pans the fastidiously appointed items in his elegant apartment.  His surroundings and his diction already tell us a lot about who he is, and while we may not have expected to see him sitting there in his tub at first, it doesn't exactly surprise us.

 

The conversation between Andrews and Webb is mostly one-sided (on Webb's part, with Andrews grunting a few words) but their body language (and Andrews' expressions) tell a lot about who they are.  Lydecker is someone comfortable in his own skin, who feels superior to most and loves to try to shock people.  However, he's clearly an outsider and despite his arrogance is still excited with the macabre and adventurous, as evidenced when he becomes visibly excited when confronted with a real-life subject of one of his columns and that he has a "shin full of silver."

 

Meanwhile, Andrews is completely unconcerned and could not be rolling his eyes more, though there is a hint of pleasure when Webb asks him about his injury sustained on the job.  And Andrews all but wears a sandwich board saying in huge letters, "I'M NOT IMPRESSED."  His pushed back hat, playing with his little toy, slumped over posture - all screams, "whatever."

Link to post
Share on other sites

A lavish yet emotionally sterile setting tells us (and Mark McPherson) almost all we need to know about Waldo Lydecker before he even begins to pontificate from his bathtub--a picture easily worth the proverbial thousand. "Silver shinbone" is equally revealing about McPherson. A taut, evocative opening that sets mood and lays out competing agendas with no-nonsense economy.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Lydecker's introduction reveals that he seems to think highly of himself. He keeps the detective waiting and meet him while he's taking a bath. Lydecker isn't a man out to impress anyone, but he lets his posh trappings do the impressing.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Eddie Muller said for him, film noir was about "what people wanted and how far they were willing to go to get it."

 

The introduction to Lydecker shows that he has no boundaries. He obviously has no shame, which is evident in both his conspicuous display of affluence as well as his own personal lack of decorum, greeting people in the bath and challenging them by standing up to display himself. This is a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

 

Even in his voiceover, he shows that he doesn't share the same boundaries and morals of the masses, as he lightly moves from talking about the day Laura "died" to the fact that it was a "murder" with the same lack of concern that makes a murder, for him, the moral equivalent to someone dying from natural causes.

 

If you want to look at film noir as an ethos, then Lydecker, for all his money, fame and trappings of success, is the same amoral bottom-feeder found in many film noir: someone for whom everything and everyone are just objects to be exploited for their own agenda.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I watched Laura a few weeks ago and what struck me in the opening scene is the tone: there's something literary and really different from the usual voice over you can hear in film noir.

At the same time, Laura is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of the genre, because things aren't what they seem: we're not in Laura's apartment, the narrator is not a detective (like in Murder My Sweet, for instance), the narrator isn't even who he says he is...

 

The camera insists on the clock misleads the audience: in the context, you can imagine the clock is a symbol of Laura's untimely death, but it's just one of the most important elements to solve the mystery of Laura's murder.

 

About the "charming character study of [...] faces", this opening scene brings face to face two archetypes who will become more and more complex as the plot thickens: the journalist, well-educated, slightly contemptuous and over-confident and the hard-boiled detective.

Things aren't what they seem in this movie and for me that's one of the main characteristics of film noir.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just seconds of fading in black, Clifton Web says what is the climax of the whole story at beginning. Laura was murdered, and we know immediately he loved Laura. The film is really the afterwards conclusion of the terrible crime. Web is obviously making hints about clues when he mentions the clock. The clock that has an exact copy at Laura's room where she was murdered. So immediately like Hitchcock who often says the clock is our "macguffen" an obvious clue and plot device, and so important to the plot that we even see Dana Andrew looking at the clock along with the camera's eye! It's telling us to take notice! The furnishing of Lyndecker's apartment are instant clues to his personality. He sophicated, educated man who values priceless things. Obviously, Laura was the most priceless because he talking about Laura from very beginning! The various items are made of fragile materials of glass and ceramic. The Masks possibly made of mud or plaster also be easily broken. Is Lyndecker wearing masks himself about who he really is? Is that why he likes them? Does he see Laura fragile? Her death seem to be like shattered glass to Clifton Web's character. However, the statues, and the clock are made of stone or marble. Such things are not so easily broken. So maybe the clock represents the time is fixed and cannot be undone. The past is the past. One more thing: the statues are of oriental women. There's even some images of women on the base reliefs of the fire place, and even a painting of a woman above the fireplace This guy loves the female form for it's beauty. Yet when we see what he looks like we know  this man had no shot getting Laura as his lover.  He's graying, he's also old,and from seeing above the water in the tub he is boney and thin. Yet he's intelligent, cocky, and very sure of himself. He's constantly thinking of ideas that he even types while bathing. His bathroom shows more marble, even beauty. There are less things of fragile value here, except a very large vase with lid above and behind his head. Is director saying that Waldo's brain is the great fragile thing of them all? All of this unspoken material and hints of our own amusing, and yet in three mins. of the movie we know a lot about Waldo Lydecker! Including that he's such a snob he has initials stamped on his towels "W.l." It's almost like a little Roman Emperor spa room, with Waldo as emperor. Besides set design which I personally believe is important to noir style, Web's awesome narration is part of the staple of the style. We see everything from his perspective, He even mentions how he see Andrew's through the crack of the door whereas we don't see him when the camera is looking elsewhere. Is the writer and director strongly hinting that this is the man who moves behind the scenes of our story, perhaps the chief suspect, and perhaps may be the one who did the murder? We as the audience can only ask why? That's another noir technique. The movies manipulate audiences so ask the why question, and sometimes they are shocked by the answer, hence Film Noir popularity even today. You just never know what people are going to do and why!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Laura is such an amazing film.  How is the opening scene a "charming character study of furnishings and faces"?  First of all, we are first introduced to Lydecker via voice-over while the camera pans the fastidiously appointed items in his elegant apartment.  His surroundings and his diction already tell us a lot about who he is, and while we may not have expected to see him sitting there in his tub at first, it doesn't exactly surprise us.

 

The conversation between Andrews and Webb is mostly one-sided (on Webb's part, with Andrews grunting a few words) but their body language (and Andrews' expressions) tell a lot about who they are.  Lydecker is someone comfortable in his own skin, who feels superior to most and loves to try to shock people.  However, he's clearly an outsider and despite his arrogance is still excited with the macabre and adventurous, as evidenced when he becomes visibly excited when confronted with a real-life subject of one of his columns and that he has a "shin full of silver."

 

Meanwhile, Andrews is completely unconcerned and could not be rolling his eyes more, though there is a hint of pleasure when Webb asks him about his injury sustained on the job.  And Andrews all but wears a sandwich board saying in huge letters, "I'M NOT IMPRESSED."  His pushed back hat, playing with his little toy, slumped over posture - all screams, "whatever."

haha! I love the sandwich board visual.

Link to post
Share on other sites

All the fine articles and art in the opening scene shows an exquisite taste for collectibles.  The reference to the clock as being only one of two and the second being  Laura's  brings attention to the clock.  Meeting Lydecker in his bath tub shows how inappropriate he could be.  Dana Andrew handles him quite well keeping a very cool position. The dialogue keeps your interest as the camera keeps moving around the room.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm finding it challenging to discuss only the opening scene. Like many others posting here, I have seen this film many times, and love it!

 

It's a memorable start to a great film.

 

I enjoy how unflappable Dana Andrews is in these opening moments, which sets him apart as the "detective" and "hero" of the film. He tosses the washcloth to Lydecker, unphased by the inappropriateness of the situation (Lydecker receiving McPherson while in a bathtub); this, for me,  perfectly sets up the ongoing conflict between the two men.

 

And the interview happening in a bathroom is certainly non-traditional, and sets this film apart from classic detective stories.

 

I feel that the opening also perfectly sets up our understanding of Lydecker. His voice over is self-obsessed ("For with Laura's horrible death, i was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her ..." ) and by receiving the detective in the bathroom and asking for a washcloth, it seems he is willing to push buttons.

 

I always found it funny (in a morbid way) that  Lydecker's statement to the detectives was that he "ate a lonely dinner" after Laura left town. Poor Lydecker had to eat dinner alone while Laura was murdered .... ? Even keeoing in mind how the film ends, it's such a perverse and narcisistic way to view one's evening. So if perversity is an aspect to the noir style, it can certainly be found here in this opening.

 

 

Did you pick up as I did that the detective simply played Lydecker's bathroom game of intimidation to study him?  I felt throughout the film that the detective is studying each person of interest and allowing them eventually show their behind.  We find out lots of personal secrets of a lot of people beyond the actual murder that took place because of this......

Link to post
Share on other sites

First, I love the title of this topic..."Soaking in Noir"!  Clever.  It appears at first that Lydecker has the omniscience of a god as he observes McPherson's every move unawares.  This registers as an upper hand and power over the unsuspecting but then we discover Lydecker in the bath tub, a position of vulnerability, as if to say, things are not always what they seem which we eventually find out runs through the course of the movie.  By today's standards, the ascetic culture maven and intellectual (Lydecker) is a stereotype that generally assumes the position of the "bad guy".  Was this not the same in the 1940s?  If so, then his role in nefarious doings should have been telegraphed to the audience well before the film's conclusion.  I agree with other posters who have said that Lydecker, from his lofty perch above mere mortals, objectifies people, some, prized possessions (Laura) while others more easily discarded.  This falls in place within the noir ethos of an impersonal and uncaring world. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Waldo Lydecker refers to Macpherson as "another of those detectives" which refers us to the detective films of the 1930's, and sets the tone of "Laura" as a film noir.

 

The clock is featured as the camera pans the room and is also mentioned by Waldo in the opening scene. For those of you who haven't seen the film yet, note that it will play a major part in the unfolding of the mystery.

 

As often as I've seen "Laura", I've never noticed until today the smirk on Macpherson's face as Waldo exits the tub. It could mean so many things-- possibly was a subtle way of getting past the censors. I love it!

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

The beginning was mysterious and it drew me in. Waldo seems full of himself when he speaks and even how his house is. He seems to have nothing to hide either. When he spoke about the article the detective was talking about he was full of himself when he said his version of another killing was superior. I do want to watch the rest of the movie to see what happens.

Link to post
Share on other sites

 

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

This opening is a complete contrast not only in the two men - Lydecker in his pompous self absorbed attitude to our common man Detective McPherson easily identified by over coat and fedora. But, also in the opening shot were we see the beautiful "priceless" objects D'art while the narrative discusses unpleasantness as the hottest summer he can remember and of course the death of Laura.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Within the first minute of this preview, we experience two things which are repeated often in later entries in the film noir style.  As the movie opens, we are exposed to a first person narrative talking about feelings related to  events that have recently occurred.  It's not until after the first few sentences that we are able to put a name to the voice.  He then shares with us that there is a detective waiting to see him.  Meanwhile, as the narrative proceeds, we see the room through Waldo's eyes.  We share with him the view of all his collectibles until we settle on the detective, Mark McPherson.  Waldo even tells us that he/we are watching Mark through a half open door as Mark wanders around the room.  Then just as Mark is about to open a cabinet we come out of the first person. Waldo calls out to Mark and we enter a traditional conversational style.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The panning shots of Lydecker's apartment--really a first-person POV of Lydecker himself from the tub in the adjoining room, gives us a lot of information about him.  The objects in his apartment that he focuses on as he talks then stand out as ultra-important in allowing us to understand him.  If you've seen the film before and know the importance of the clock, then you understand that Lydecker's focus on McPherson's interest in it is foreshadowing.  Also, you can hear David Raksin's incredible "Laura" theme best at this point, which helps us connect the clock with her, as Lydecker tells us that the only other one in existence is in her apartment--stands in the very room in which she was murdered.  

 

Connecting objects with personalities--allowing objects to provide some "silent" exposition of characters is a modernist move--James Joyce did it, Virginia Woolf did it, as did others.  Preminger effectively adopts this strategy in this film, because it works so well in adding to the menacing undertone of the film and its characterization of Lydecker himself. Excellent connection to James Joyce!

Excellent literary connection! Joyce did make a good deal of writing on settings and locations, and objects because he believed it was

 important for explaining his characters. His book "Ulysses" is pointed out as a prime example(Although I haven read that one yet, but many have) because describes in detail almost all of Dublin. Many of the buildings are standing today in that great city! Film Noir seems to follow this idea with the "city" as the setting! Nice noticing!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

© 2020 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...