Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Laura... A (Bitter)Sweet Romance

, directed in 1944 by Otto Preminger, powerfully demonstrated how close love and hate can be. This movie is a flashback starting with a murder. Laura Hunt, or so we are skillfully led to believe, is shot in the face and unrecognizable. Mark McPherson, a New York detective, comes to her apartment to investigate. During his investigation he learns all about this young woman. Her beautiful portrait hangs over the fireplace. He goes through her possessions, reads her letters and sees the warmth of her home which surely reflected the person she was. He sits on her couch trying to reconcile the facts. Laura had 3 suitors. Her fiance, Shelby Carpenter (played by Vincent Price); a columnist Waldo Lydecker; and now, "even in death", the detective (portrayed by the fine actor, Dana Andrews) himself falling under her spell. That haunting portrait staring at him fuels his imagination. The columnist was an older man, portrayed brilliantly by Clifton Webb,  and had helped Laura's career. Despite his misogynism, she loved Waldo Lydecker in the spiritual sense, not romantically. Laura is portrayed exquisitely by the lovely, Gene Tierney.

In flashbacks we learn that Laura thought she loved her fiance but had doubts and so she went off to her country home to re-examine her life. Meanwhile, back at Laura's apartment, a friend fatefully asked to spend the night there. Laura consented and the movie begins with the murder of a girl who resembles Laura. The murderer thought he did his deed but did he?

While the detective was lying back on her couch in the glow of her fireplace, staring at that haunting portrait, to his astonishment the front door is unlocked and the real Laura Hunt enters. The portrait "comes to life" and McPherson, is taken aback until Laura tells him where she was and who the murdered girl was. Laura herself had no idea a crime had taken place. To make this short and sweet, the engagement is broken, the detective is hopelessly taken with Laura, the girl he thought he could never have, and she begins to have feelings for him as the movie plays out.

Waldo Lydecker, who is actually the killer, loved Laura, body and soul. No man could have her if he couldn't. This was his devastating obsession. Waldo became aware that Laura was still alive and that a  romance was budding  between her and the detective. He could not bear the thought of this "low-life" detective putting his hands on her. Unrequited love became hate.

At the climax of this epic, Waldo enters Laura's apartment and tries to kill her again. The detective and Waldo have a shootout and, as Waldo lay dying, he utters his final words to Laura, who is now by his side: "Goodbye Laura, Goodbye my love". The movie ends with the crime solved and the detective and Laura happy in each others arms.

Now, having told you the story and because I am a little "off-center", I actually fell for the killer, Lydecker. I was hoping for a May /Dec romance. The way he loved her was all-consuming. I found that so very attractive. Imagine to be loved beyond all reason. Unfortunately, Lydecker crossed into insanity when he killed that girl whom he thought to be Laura.  But, Waldo Lydecker had another secret. It was more than insinuated that he was a gay man. He himself could not reconcile the overpowering love he held in his heart for her with who he really was.

The theme song "Laura" was just beautiful and perfect. The acting was a little over the top but just the same, this was one great movie -- Fast paced, with intrigue and romance on many levels. I highly recommend it.

Joisey Girl


Noiree said...

Joisey, I have heard many opinions about Laura, but yours is unique in my experience. I have a completely different take on the relationships in the film; with the exceptions of Bessie the maid's and McPherson's feelings for Laura, the relationships in the film are bitterly cynical, and the opposite of what is usually understood by the use of the term romance.

As for Waldo's feelings for Laura, I perceive them as having been pathological from the start. Obsession is most dangerous when it wears the mask of love!

I'm interested in your comment that the acting was a little over the top. Could you be more specific? I disagree with your assessment, but have an open mind, and would enjoy hearing another point of view.

JoiseyGirl said...

I agree with you that this movie is not the "Sweetest" of Romances and certainly had its share of cynicism. I guess I prefer to have more than just the romantic component. When I truly enjoy a movie, I put myself in the character's place. Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) was deeply disturbed, but in his obsessiveness he had a love for Laura which even he could not comprehend. Remember, I suggested Waldo was conflicted sexually, and somehow, in spite of this, Laura became his single-minded focus. I could kind of feel his all-consuming torment. This is not a justification for his actions, merely my interpretation of his complex role.

By "over the top", I was referring to the melodramatic performances typical of the 40's. For instance, Vincent Price, a consummate actor, both overacted and over-reacted in this movie, IMO.

Getting back to Clifton Webb...
I have always enjoyed his movies, particularly his comedies (Sitting Pretty, Mr. Belvedere, Cheaper By the Dozen). From his bio, I discovered he was very quirky and had his life run completely by his mother with whom he lived. When she died, his grief was inconsolable and, within a few years, he too passed on. So sad...

Ironically, Gene Tierney also had a most difficult life, the details of which are easily found on Wikipedia. Yet, despite, all of the sadness and tragedies in their lives, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb were extraordinary performers who brought so much to their craft.

Noiree, all my life I was told that I marched to a different drummer. I believe now that it may have been a different "band!" Not that there's anything wrong with that, right?

Noiree said...

Your response gives me a lot more insight into your original post. There are many threads in this skein, so let me see if I can tease them out for analysis.

Clifton Webb’s nuanced portrayal of Waldo Lydecker allows the viewer to feel sympathy for his pain, pain that is no less intense for being caused by his pathology. For you, there is at least a small hope that, by the healing power of love, Waldo could be restored to emotional health by his love for Laura. For me, Waldo’s dysfunctionality is beyond redemption; his suave cynicism provides the gloss for his sick attempts to manipulate the lives of others, behavior which, by its very nature, precludes the possibility of love. No wonder Dawn loves this movie; it is truly a noir chick flick!

I understand your comment on Vincent Price’s performance. He could make a whole scene campy by raising an eyebrow. However, having lived almost 30 years in the South, I find his performance as the high living, low-life, erstwhile aristocrat to be quite credible. Real Southerners express themselves in a melodramatic manner.

I think that your reference to the “melodramatic performances typical of the 40’s,” reveals another fundamental difference in our preferences. I prefer the performances of classically trained actors, sometimes referred to as “pre-method.” I find method acting over the top.

In the case in point, I thought that most of the performances in Laura were understated, especially that of the great Dame Judith Anderson. Gene Tierney’s performance was almost too understated. An exception to this generalization is the performance of Dorothy Adams as Bessie the maid. It seems that a staple of Hollywood’s depiction of upper class life, then and now, is the madcap maid, rather like the king’s fool in Shakespeare.

I have enjoyed Clifton Webb’s performances in comedies, especially in Cheaper by the Dozen; however, I think that his greatest role was as Elliot Templeton in The Razor’s Edge. Thank you for a very thought provoking exchange!


Dawn said...

Noiree and Joisey, Laura is one of my favorite films. Joisey, I really enjoyed seeing the movie through your eyes. Next time I watch it I will remember your point of view.

JoiseyGirl said...

Thank you. "Laura" was also one of my favorites.

Noiree said...

Joisey, I couldn't help but notice that you used the past tense--Laura was one of your favorites--I am conscience-stricken that I may have spoiled it for you. Say it ain't so!

JoiseyGirl said...


No need to go into therapy! It ain't so. It is and always will be one of my all time favorites. I enjoy the give and take of everyone's opinion.

Noiree said...

What a relief!

PurpleLion said...

Having read the exchanges here, I will have to view it again keeping all of this in mind. What a treat!

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