The term “film noir” is used to describe the tone or mood of a movie that uses dark shadows and low-key lighting to highlight the complicated moral nature of its corrupt, cynical characters. They are often films in black and white and use flashbacks to depict the action. The classical black-and-white film “Laura” is a prime example of “film noir.”
Gene Tierney - Wikimedia
A detective, Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) has been called in to investigate the murder of a woman named Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), a socialite with an advertising career who was found dead in her apartment from a shotgun wound in the face. A beautiful painting of the girl hangs over the fireplace in the living room.
Laura’s closest friends are questioned by McPherson who needs background information to advance the case. Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) was the first to come forward about his knowledge of the deceased. Lydecker, a newspaper columnist, related to McPherson that Laura had come to him some time ago to ask for his endorsement of an ink pen for one of her clients. Waldo initially turned her down, but after experiencing her kindness and beauty, agreed to the endorsement. From that time on, they became fast friends, dining on the town and part of the social scene. Lydecker became herprotégé. He was able to use his connections to further her advertising career. He was also able to fend off any of her other admirers by defaming them in his column. McPherson was impressed with an extraordinary grandfather clock in Waldo’s apartment, and was told that there was only one other clock like it in existence; it belonged to Laura.
Dana Andrews - Wikimedia
The List of Suspects Grows
Although Lydecker was a man in his fifties and Laura was in her twenties, their platonic friendship blossomed. His campy persona and effete nature did not seem to put Laura off. Because Waldo’s newspaper column often speaks of crime in the city, he asked to help in the investigation and to be present when McPherson talked with Laura’s other acquaintances.
The two men visited Laura’s wealthy aunt, Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson) who had identified the body, even though her face was unrecognizable. McPherson had learned that she had given several checks to Shelby Carpenter, who was Laura’s fiancé. The checks had been in the range of $1500-2000. She admitted that she had loaned Shelby the money. She was alone on Friday evening, the night of the murder, because Shelby had not invited her to a concert he attended.
Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) came in at that moment. He is a tall, charming southerner known to be a womanizer, an idler with a small income from an estate. Laura obtained a job for Shelby at her advertising agency. Soon, they become romantically involved. He stated that he and Laura were planning to be married that week. Lydecker contradicted him, and said that Laura was going to her cottage in the country for a few days to decide whether she would marry Shelby. She knew, as did Waldo, that Shelby was carrying on an affair with Diane Redfern, a model employed by Laura’s agency.
McPherson asked Shelby what pieces were played at the concert on Friday evening. Shelby answered “Brahm’s First” and Beethoven’s Ninth.” McPherson was aware that the program was changed at the last minute. They played only Sibelius.
McPherson took along Lydecker and Shelby to Laura’s apartment. He saw the grandfather clock in the living room which was identical to the clock in Waldo's home. For the first time, he saw the exquisite oil painting of Laura over the fireplace, and was struck by her beauty. He put on the phonograph which plays the film’s theme song, “Laura.”
Vincent Price - Wikimedia
McPherson Fantasizes About Laura
Having read Laura’s diary and letters, and hearing about her from her friends, McPherson became inordinately pre-occupied with her. Lydecker accused him of being in love with her. He remained in the apartment that night alone, dozing in a chair under her portrait, and the song “Laura” was playing in the background. He had fallen under her spell also. Soon, he was aroused from his sleep and saw Laura standing before him. She threatened to call the police until McPherson informed her that he was a policeman. Because she had no newspaper or radio, she had no idea that she was thought to be dead.
Laura excused herself to change her clothes in her bedroom where she found a dress of Diane Redfern’s in the closet. They both understood that it was Diane Redfern who was mistaken for Laura because her face was unrecognizable and she was the same size, dressed in Laura’s dressing gown.
When questioned, Shelby admitted to McPherson that he had a duplicate key to Laura’s apartment and brought Diane with him. When the doorbell rang, he hid in the bedroom, and from there heard the shotgun blast. He panicked and left the apartment.
Laura is Alive
Lydecker planned a party to celebrate the fact that Laura was alive and invited a large group of friends. The group heard McPherson tell an officer over the phone that he would bring the murderer in that evening. So, he walked past each of the major suspects, and arrested Laura. At police headquarters, he grilled her about her feelings for Shelby in an effort to ease his own hurt that she had decided again to marry Shelby. She stated for the last time that she would never marry him. He took her back home.
His next stop was Waldo’s apartment while Waldo was still at the party. He took note of the grandfather clock that was identical to the one that Waldo had given Laura, and that was in her apartment. He broke the glass front which could easily hide a shotgun, only to find that it was empty. He rushed back to Laura’s party, where Laura has just had strong words to Lydecker, who left in a huff. McPherson headed straight for the grandfather clock and popped the door open. The shotgun was concealed there, just as he thought. He removed the bullets and explained his theory of the night of the murder.
Clifton Webb was nominated for his role in “Laura” but did not win, having been bested by Barry Fitzgerald as the priest in “Going My Way.” Webb was a long-time stage actor on Broadway before being tapped by Director Otto Preminger to play the role of Waldo Lydecker. The film “Laura” is an adaption of a novel with the same name written by Vera Caspary. The music for the song “Laura” was composed by David Raksin. The music became so popular because of the film that Johnny Mercer was asked to write the lyrics, which made the song a classic.