Laura (Blu-ray Review)4 Mar, 2013 By: Mike Clark
Stars Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price.
For a movie to advance past the whodunit threshold to become something or even a lot more, it needs additional components (beyond even Gene Tierney, though this is possibly arguable) to keep enthusiasts tuning in again over the years. For a durable time capsule that even Otto Preminger detractors concede was prime of its type, 1944’s Laura offers supreme casting that goes beyond its luminous lead; Oscar-winning cinematography by Joseph LaShelle (much later Billy Wilder’s camera mainstay during his Panavision Mirisch Brothers period); and, of course, composer David Raksin’s magnificent title tune — which, after being given Johnny Mercer lyrics, engendered memorable recordings by a slew of pre-rock mainstays, not the least of which was a blistering insane Spike Jones rendition that managed to work in a reference to Bromo Seltzer.
LaShelle replaced Lucien Ballard early in production — the same switcheroo that more prominently resulted in producer Preminger taking over creative chores from fired initial director Rouben Mamoulian, a case of one great cinematographer losing out to another. Almost all of the major 20th Century-Fox noirs — from Nightmare Alley to Road House to Preminger’s own Tierney-Dana Andrews reunion picture Where the Sidewalk Ends — are movies a lot of savvy cineastes would savor seeing on Blu-ray, but Laura is special. Photographically, it’s lavish in its interiors yet hard-boiled when it has to be. Plot-wise, it turns into a different movie at the halfway point with a twist that really does rattle you when you see it for the first time. The cast of characters is full of sick puppies almost straight down the line — starting with a career-enhancing role for Clifton Webb that turned him into an equally major and improbable star for the next 15 years.
The fresh-air exception is Tierney’s Laura herself, who manages to stay above the fray of snobs and social climbers with a genuine innocence that doesn’t quite conceal her professional ambition. And famously, we have the prospect of a cop (Dana Andrews) investigating Laura’s murder and falling in love with her portrait, not exactly the kind of boy-next-door material that made up so much of, say, MGM’s output at the time.
Handsomely upgrading the previous standard-DVD edition, the Blu-ray carries over two commentaries, A&E Biography segments on both Tierney and co-star Vincent Price, and further adds a new retrospective featurette on why the film endures (Devil in a Blue Dress director Carl Franklin has some clued-in things to say). The Tierney bio, which snared the participation of first husband Oleg Cassini, is predictably powerful, given the personal tragedies that afflicted the actress and shortened her career. It occurred to me while watching it that Tierney was the centerpiece of two movies that got the cinematography Oscar in successive years: Laura in black-and-white and Leave Her to Heaven (coming to Blu-ray May 14) in Technicolor. That tells you just about everything you need to know about what a photographic subject she was.