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Laura

The genre of film noir is awash in perversity, the mischief that comes from exploring characters' warped morals and gray areas that ensue when normal people are placed in abnormal situations. Many of the genre's most notable titles troll in the darkness of murder and illicit sex — but is anything lewder than necrophilia? Besides being a trenchant murder mystery, Otto Preminger's Laura (1944) is about a detective who falls in love with a woman who's presumed dead. Only Alfred Hitchcock (almost two decades later) pursued this sort of perversity within the Hollywood system. Yet for a film so awash in lurid themes (or, more likely, because of it), Laura was Preminger's first big hit. After doing comedies and adventure films, the title launched him into a genre that fit like a tailored jacket — Preminger's best films after this one relentlessly explored human nature and the mess contained therein. It also made famous David Raksin's inedible theme music, which had an afterlife of its own. The film begins with the narrations of columnist and all-around personality Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), who we find is being questioned by Det. Lt. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews). A woman has been found dead the apartment of Lydecker's fried Laura (Gene Tierney), her face taken off with a shotgun, and through McPherson's prompting Lydecker tells his story of his connection to the younger woman: She was an eager advertising designer and once asked Lydecker if he would do an advert for a pen. He rebuffed her, but then reconsidered, only to take Laura under his Svengalian wings to teach her how to be the perfect woman. But Laura disgusted him when she took up with idle playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), who comes across as naturally guilty. Shelby's a suspect, not least of all because he's moved on to the older and richer Ms. Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson). During questioning it's revealed that Shelby's a little more than a male hustler; a child of money long gone, he's spent most of his adult life provided for by the women he's kept company with. But the further Mark investigates, the more he falls for Laura, and the portrait of her in her apartment. He even spends some of his off-hours at her place — where he eventually learns the dead body wasn't Laura after all.

*          *          *

Otto Preminger was a master of human politics, and it's interesting how in Laura he aligns McPherson with the clingy Lydecker; both dislike Carpenter out of jealousy, and in the beginning such creates a partnership of disgust. Though McPherson becomes the obvious partner for Laura, the first half of the film is spent building Laura up into a mythical figure, while the second half is spent making her pedestrian. In that way — as the story begins with Lydecker's narration — the dream-visage of Laura is the one he created, and the one McPherson falls for. But she's just a simple graphic designer, easily romanced by both a rakish playboy and a creepily devoted detective. Even though the film concludes on an up note, it's hard not to see the cracks in whatever McPherson and Laura might have together. These elements make Laura more than just a simple mystery, and instead one of the great films noir. Preminger puts the knife in, and then twists. As the inaugural title for their new "Fox Film Noir" line, Fox presents Laura in a nice special edition. The film is presented in a remastered and gorgeous full-frame presentation (1.33:1), with remastered mono audio and a remixed stereo soundtrack. The DVD offers two audio commentaries, the first with film scholar Jeanine Basinger and composer David Raksin, the second with film historian Rudy Behlmer. Behlmer also provides commentary (albeit briefly) on a short deleted sequence, also included, that was cut because of war concerns. The disc also features an alternate version of the film, which includes a slightly different opening and runs a minute longer. Also included are the documentaries "Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait" (45 min.) and "Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain" (45 min.) from A&E's "Biography" series. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—DSH



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