Welcome to the House of Spoilers! Enter at your own risk!
Private investigator Sam Marlow: “Dana Andrews was swell in Laura, but what if Bogart had played Lt. McPherson? Yeah, Bogart... smoking a cigarette and looking up at that portrait, thinking Laura was dead, but still in love with her. What a love scene. And neither of them naked!”Laura. In 1944, the movie version of Laura hit the silver screen, fated to be movie bait against all odds (more about that in a moment)! The film and David Raksin's haunting theme song were so popular, they were affectionately parodied with much gusto in many ways, including a spoof by no less than Spike Jones and his City Slickers, an honor akin to Weird Al Yankovic's song parodies (much beloved here at Team Bartilucci H.Q.).
The Man with Bogart’s Face by Andrew J. Fenady
The film starts off on an appropriately ominous note with the voiceover, “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died.” These are the words of Waldo Lydecker, a waspish New York columnist (blogs hadn't been invented yet :-)), played by scene-stealing former silent film actor/ballroom dancer/stage actor Clifton Webb in the role that made him a full-fledged movie star and Oscar nominee. In case you had any silly notions that Waldo was the shy retiring type, he allows Detective Lt. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) of the NYPD to grill him as he sits in the bathtub of his opulent bathroom. (Perhaps Waldo hoped Mark might want to take a dip in the tub himself, the old slyboots!) Waldo multitasks, typing one of his devastatingly sharp columns on a tray in his bathtub while answering Mark’s questions about lovely, smart advertising executive-turned-murder victim Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), found violently killed with a double-barreled shotgun blast at close range
But by all accounts, to know Laura was to love her, and why not? Even her maid Bessie (the uncredited but memorable Dorothy Adams) adored Laura, not only “on account of the thousand sweet things she done for me; it was because she was so sweet herself!” Laura was as winsome as she was beautiful; sophisticated, yet hard-working and down-to-earth. Who’d want to kill her? Someone who loved her too much, perhaps? Maybe Waldo, her longtime mentor and friend? Or could it be Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price, then best known as a stage actor; his great horror films came later), Laura’s fiancé and colleague at the advertising firm Bullitt & Company (how eerily appropriate, considering how she died), who Waldo sneeringly characterizes (not unfairly) as “a male beauty in distress”? Mark’s investigation brings him into Laura’s glamorous world, and quickly discovers it’s also a world of ambition and danger, obsession and desire. In spite of himself, tough detective Mark realizes he’s getting so deep into the case that he’s falling in love with Laura—her portrait, anyway, all that’s left of her. Or is it? When Mark falls asleep while on stakeout in Laura’s apartment, he’s awakened by Laura herself! But if the shocked, bewildered Laura isn’t dead, then who is? (Fun Fact: The famous portrait of Laura was originally painted by the wife of Rouben Mamoulian, who’d been chosen to direct before producer Otto Preminger opted to direct as well. The portrait was touched up to make it look more like an actual painting of Tierney.)
Witness for the Prosecution and other favorite films of mine, discovering who really dunnit doesn’t spoil the fun of watching Laura again and again, especially with those beautiful clothes, the Oscar-nominated set design/decoration, and of course, listening to composer David Raksin’s rapturous music (which also deserved an Oscar nod, if you ask me)! Indeed, if you pay closer attention to real killer Waldo on a second viewing, you’ll catch more of the clues to his true nature that you were having too much fun to notice the first time around. For example, during Waldo’s flashback-laden dinner conversation with Mark about Laura, you suddenly realize how truly obsessed and self-centered Waldo really is. Note that everything he says about Laura really ends up being more about him than about her: “She deferred to my tastes...the way she listened (to me) was more eloquent than speech….”
|"Mark, get me away from these wackos!"|
Laura was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director for Preminger; Best Supporting Actor for Webb; Best Adapted Screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt, with an uncredited assist by Ring Lardner Jr.; and Best Interior Decoration. But it was Director of Photography Joseph LaShelle who went home with an Oscar for his atmospheric black-and-white camerawork. Incidentally, Tierney and Webb were reunited in The Razor’s Edge (1946), for which Webb earned another Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Webb didn’t win, but co-star Anne Baxter snared a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, four years before her Best Actress Oscar nomination for All About Eve. No nomination for Tierney, alas; she got her only Best Actress nomination earlier for the psychological thriller Leave Her to Heaven (1945).
|"I coulda been a contendah!"|
Laird Cregar, The Man Who Would be Lydecker
By the way, Carly Simon does a gorgeous live rendition of David Raksin's Laura theme: