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Catherine Savard
Catherine Savard

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Picture Perfect

Laura%20Gene%20Tierney%20blue.jpgGene Tierney’s breathtaking beauty in the title role adds to the performance of the ensemble cast accompanied by the memorable score composed by David Raksin. It all goes together to make this unforgettable classy film noir classic. TVOntario’s Interviews, (Aug.18,’07) include contributions from the leading man, Dana Andrews and director, Otto Preminger. The Interviews contain revelations into the evolution of this wonderful film that are almost as enjoyable as the plot reversals contained in the film itself .

See the "Laura" Video Trailers here

My tastes in home décor definitely run toward the classic . A mantle clock under glass sports 19th century ladies and gents caught up in an eternal circular dance. A finely upholstered wing chair sits beside a gas fireplace accompanied by a brass table lamp inviting one to read into the late hours of the night. Lace curtains, a finely finished oval oak coffee table and a portrait of two young ladies in linen circa 1830 over the mantelpiece complete the picture.

It sounds so idyllic and serene – and so it was when I first designed it all in my mind’s eye. The original design for my living room didn’t take into account the stresses and strains of the invasions of real life: LEGO strewn around the room with my son’s creative structures filling up all available table space and more, protective throws on the furniture continually askew, cookie crumbs under the couches, the clock dancers’ whirling waltz interrupted by batteries that have ceased to function.

Ahh, this is the life. At least, this is my life.

Laura%20poster%20cropped.jpgIn the opening scene of the film, we first meet Laura through taking a virtual walking tour of her home. In the days before “video visits” in online real estate listings, it must have been something of a novelty to inspect the interior of another person’s home in their absence through the camera lens – a kind of early video voyeurism. Waldo Lydecker, ably played by Clifton Webb, is more than happy to oblige as the tour’s host. Lydecker’s character provides voice over commentary for the house tour and for the rest of the film.

The camera pans over various art objects in the apartment coming to rest on an oil painting of Laura herself. The portrait is very lifelike and very beautiful (It was a photo of the dazzling Gene Tierney, painted over to look like an oil portrait). The narrator intones, “I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her.” As we soon learn, Lydecker has no problems assuming that his opinion is the final word, in fact the only word worth knowing, on just about any subject.

Laura%20Dana%20Andrews%20earnest%20bw.jpgPlaying opposite Waldo Lydecker is Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), a tight-lipped police detective who also knows his own mind, although he is perhaps less hasty in forming and reforming his opinions about a situation. Andrews plays the part of the detective as holding things very close to his chest, with hardly a ripple of emotion permitted to escape. He keeps himself calm by playing a little handheld pinball game. McPherson says that it helps him to keep his mind clear.

Laura%20Vincent%20Prica%20bw.jpgThe trio of men who surround Laura is completed by Shelby Carpenter, a Southern playboy, labelled a “male beauty in distress” by Lydecker. Carpenter’s prime function in life seems to be to mooch off of those who can afford his company. His other prime function, at least in this story, is to serve as the all too obvious prime suspect in Laura’s murder. As noted in the Interviews (Aug.18,’07), a decision was made to heighten the contrasts in personality of the three male characters so that they would play off one another.

As for the character of Laura herself, it seems to be a case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Her conspicuous absence during the first part of the film adds all the more mystery to her character and suspense to the plotline. Laura seems to be altogether too lovely to be real; the “girl next door”, an independent self-made woman, smart and sexy, sweet and sophisticated.

Laura%20Gene%20Tierney%20sultry.jpgLaura is a lot like the theme music that David Raksin has composed for her . The repetition of the “Laura” theme music, although it comes up over and over again in different settings and at different tempos, is never tiresome, but somehow manages to add to the haunting beauty of Laura herself. No wonder detective Mark McPherson falls for her like a ton of bricks, sight unseen. In fact, everyone around Laura seems to be bewitched by her. They all adore her from Betsy the parlour maid to that cranky old columnist, Lydecker, who seems so full of himself that there couldn’t possibly be room for anyone else in his life.

But there it is. Waldo Lydecker has been bewitched. Or perhaps possessed is a better word for it. There is this tricky business of who possesses whom in this odd December/May relationship between Waldo and Laura. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Lydecker is not only frightfully possessive about certain objects of art that he wishes to reclaim from Laura’s apartment after the investigation. He is overly attached to the young lady herself. Making use of a razor sharp wit and his poison pen (a goose quill dipped in venom, by his own report), Lydekker manages to dispose of Laura’s suitors quite handily, one by one.

And what delicious dialogue has been served up for Lydecker via Vera Caspary’s novel of the same name and the team of screenwriters! Oh my, Waldo: “Young woman: either you have been raised in some incredibly rustic community where good manners are unknown, or you suffer from the common feminine delusion that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from the rules of civilized conduct. Possibly both.” No wonder Clifton Webb was lured back to Hollywood from the New York stage after an absence of almost 20 years by such a scrumptious part as Waldo Lydecker. It was a great success for Webb as an actor, relaunching an onscreen career.

Laura%20Gene%20Tierney%20hair%20up%20bw.jpgLaura has evidently had a profound effect on those around her (including some, like McPherson, who haven’t even met her yet in person). Lydecker claims that Laura’s effect on him has been an entirely beneficial one: “Laura considered me to be one of the wisest, the wittiest, the most interesting men she had ever met. I was in complete accord with her on that point. . . .You may not understand this but I tried to become the kindest, gentlest, most sympathetic man in the world.” McPherson quips in response, “Have any luck?”

Although it may be in doubt in the beginning, by the end of the film we find out that Lydecker has not had much luck either in remaking himself or in keeping Laura’s affections to himself. Lydecker has had some remarkable success in maintaining appearances, thanks to his native intelligence and his wonderful storytelling abilities, but in the end, that is all that it is; a well crafted story that sounds very convincing on the surface.

Laura reveals to Mark that Lydecker has this uncanny ability to rewrite history, not only for his hearers, but also for himself. In explaining to the detective why she is forever grateful to Lydecker for giving her a start in her career, Laura lets slip that the whole incident of the pen endorsement was a story Lydecker invented for his column. The truth about the situation was considerably less spectacular and less complimentary to both parties involved. It was all a skilfully woven fabrication that takes everyone in(including the audience).

Laura%20raincoat%20jpg.jpgIt takes Laura some time to sort out the truth from the fiction. It also takes a process of various unveilings in order for her to sort out her feelings towards the men in her life. Of course the process is as fascinating and as entertaining as the Dance of the Seven Veils. It all culminates with a dramatic rescue by the knight in shining armour (Andrews) and the unmasked villain (Lydecker)getting his comeuppance.

If only things in real life in complicated and dangerous relationships could get sorted out as easily, preferably within a 2 hour timeframe. It would be so much easier and so much more satisfying than the kinds of painful and confusing relational gymnastics that happen in the real world. But hey, this is Hollywood ! Pass the popcorn and let’s all settle down for a cozy evening’s tête à tête with a wonderful gem like “Laura”.

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