Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson
Written by: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt, based on a novel by Vera Caspary
Directed by: Otto Preminger
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 87
Date: 11/10/1944

Laura (1944)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Face Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Laura on DVD.

This kooky film noir is so beautifully directed by Otto Preminger that all its protruding elements seem to slide delicately and accurately into place. Preminger keeps everything shadowy and hauntingly sinister so as to diffuse any potential hysterics. Dana Andrews stars as the stoic detective Mark McPherson investigating the murder of the beautiful Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney). Tierney is seen at her gorgeous best mostly in flashbacks, and most of McPherson's detective work consists of rummaging through her letters and gazing at her painting. Andrews barely moves a facial muscle but drives everyone nuts with his little toy baseball game. The two top suspects are her supposed fiancée, the milquetoast Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) and the savage, bitchy newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). All three men are in love with Laura, dead or alive. Not much of the plot mechanics fit, but the movie does have one terrific curveball, and the performances are superb. Webb especially makes a memorable entrance in his sunken tub, writing on a typewriter balanced on a shelf across the water. And Judith Anderson plays the Thelma Ritter role as the grouchy housekeeper who is fiercely devoted to her mistress and has no use for rotten cops.

DVD Details: Fox gets big points with their superb treatment of this new DVD, presented in crisp black-and-white with clean sound and optional English and Spanish subtitles. It comes with two commentary tracks, one by the film's composer David Raksin and another by historian Rudy Behlmer. It restores a short scene cut from the original release and gives the viewer the option to watch the film with or without the scene intact. (I preferred the cut version.) Best of all, it features two full-length A&E Biography episodes, one on Tierney and another on Price.

Note: According to the IMDB, director Rouben Mamoulian worked uncredited on this film, as did screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr.

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