Laura is a film with multiple twists and a brilliant screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt but none of it would work without Preminger’s direction of his cast. Preminger’s direction, in terms of composition, is fantastic. Thanks in no small part to cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, every moment of Laura looks wonderful. Preminger has a fabulous way of positioning his actors, particularly Dana Andrews in the first half of the film, to enhance the performance. It’s not quite a trick, though it is separate from the other way Preminger directs the cast.
The film is able to get through its twists and turns, which–with a major exception–are entirely about the characters, not just because of how the actors succeed in those scenes but because of how they, and Preminger, have established their characters throughout. It’s also where the script comes in–for example, Laura works because Andrews and Clifton Webb bond. With the beautifully cut flashback sequence introducing the viewer (and Andrews) to Gene Tierney’s eponymous character, through Webb’s perspective–Louis R. Loeffler is the editor; don’t want to forget him–Preminger is able to sublimely arrange the characters for later revelations. Webb and Andrews play wonderfully off one another. Webb’s erudite snob and Andrews’s mildly laconic police detective are great together. The script goes for gimmicky dialogue; Preminger and the actors sell it thanks to a self-awareness.
Because, even though it’s a mystery, Laura needs a certain amount of melodramatic flair to succeed. David Raksin’s lush, emotional score, along with rainswept New York streets–not to mention the wonderful sets–Laura is far from realistic. Preminger never lets it go too far though. The film runs less than ninety minutes, with it changing tone fifty minutes in; that second half, very different from the first, still occupies the same spaces. The film’s exquisitely constructed.
The film’s major twist is incredibly melodramatic in its plot implications. All that careful construction is what makes it work so well.
And, like I said, that careful construction has to do with the actors as well. Like when Tierney and Andrews get together, their chemistry is perfect. Scene after scene, even as their relationship develops, the chemistry is precise. It’s a little more obvious–as Andrews moons over her–but it’s the same careful way Preminger established Andrews and Webb’s relationship.
All the acting in the film is excellent. Webb’s the best, just because. Andrews and Tierney are both great. Andrews gets to have more fun at the beginning of the film, but it’s only fair because co-star Vincent Price doesn’t get to have much fun until near the end of the film. Price’s good, Judith Anderson’s good. No one else got billed, but Dorothy Adams deserved it as Tierney’s maid.
Laura’s a phenomenal film.
Produced and directed by Otto Preminger; screenplay by Jay Drawler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt, based on the novel by Vera Caspary; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by David Raksin; released by 20th Century Fox.
Starring Dana Andrews (Det. Lt. Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell) and Dorothy Adams (Bessie).