After watching Anatomy of a Murder a few days ago, I knew I wanted to see as many Otto Preminger films as possible. It turns out this one is not one of his typical films. First of all, Preminger started the project as a producer, and gave directorial duties to Rouben Mamoulian. It was only when it became clear that Mamoulian was getting nowhere that Preminger took over the reins. By this point, there were already elements worked into the script that worked counter to his usual style. For example, Preminger usually shunned flashbacks, and made Anatomy of a Murder without any, despite the fact that the courtroom drama usually relies heavily on them. While Laura might not be typical Preminger fare, it is a spellbinding film that deserves multiple viewings.
The story revolves around the title character, an ambitious young worker in an advertising firm who is dead by the opening of the film. Police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is sent in to investigate. There are plenty of suspicious character to consider, namely Laura’s good-for-nothing playboy fiance (Vincent Price), her aunt (Judith Anderson), who has been throwing her money away on the fiance, and her mentor Waldo Lydecker, an effete radio columnist with an acerbic wit, loosely based on theater critic Alexander Woolcott. Lydecker is played with great relish by Clifton Webb, who hadn’t been in a film since the silent era, and was cast despite the fierce opposition of the studio. Preminger’s gamble paid off. Webb won an Oscar for his performance in Laura and went on to a number of successful roles, including Sitting Pretty (1948), which was the ’80s TV show “Mr. Belvedere.” Yet another suspect shows up through a surprise twist halfway-through the film, but you won’t hear it from me, and I urge anyone who has not seen the film to not read anything on imdb.com or Wikipedia before watching, so they can view it in the same way as audiences of 1944.
Although Laura falls neatly into the look and pattern of film noir, with is is also more sophisticated and complicated in terms of plot and themes than anything else in the genre. The central theme of a detective obsessed with a dead woman aligns it more closely with Hitchcock’s Vertigo.