Laura: A College Student's Review
by Armando Rocha
I’ve always enjoyed a good murder mystery with some surprising twists and turns. The film Laura has a traditional setup for a mystery film, but it works brilliantly here. They slowly introduce the suspects, and with each new face we get a little more of the story.
In this a classic murder mystery, Clifton Webb plays one of the most iconic villains in classic films - Waldo Lydecker. He is a man who speaks with clarity in a way you don't hear these days. He's also an obsessed lover who considers Laura to be another prized piece in his collection. [SPOILER] He turns out to be a crafty killer whose crime is out of sentiment, something he never would have felt without Laura in the 1st place. Lydecker's psychological complexity is the centerpiece of this film and his character was the blueprint for villains to come.
I love how the first act functions to both give us exposition but also help us see how the characters interact and why any of them might be the culprit. The director changes the story as it was presented and creates even more suspicions and motives than before. I have to applaud any murder mystery that gets my mind running in circles trying to guess who did it and suspecting every character. It’s a marvelous story, and one that I can’t wait to watch a second time now that I know the truth in order to pick up some of the subtle clues along the way.
The cast is superb across the board. Each one has moments where they seem sneaky and suspicious, with other moments that make them appear kind and gentle. Clifton Webb is perfect as the highly literate mentor of Laura. His pride shows in every scene, but you can still sense his affection for her. Vincent Price is someone I’ve always thought of as intimidating and kind of scary from his other roles, but here he proves his range by playing a relatively spineless kept man. I could keep going on and praise Judith Anderson, Dana Andrews, and Dorothy Adams, because they were all great. However, the real shining star is Gene Tierney as Laura.
Tierney is not just stunning to look at, but also plays a wide range of difficult scenes with ease. Her ability to make the audience care about her while still wondering if she’s done something wrong puts us right in the middle of the movie with the detective. If there was any nitpick or complaint I would make against Laura, it’s that the affection Detective McPherson forms seems sudden.
It's a shame that Dana Andrews' detective - the hero, so to speak - is rather flatly written making certain aspects of the plot regarding him seem rushed and unlikely; fortunately, the others do more than enough to distract, particularly Clifton Webb's Lydecker, who steals the show every time he appears with his witty and blisteringly condescending dialogue.
Perhaps there is a passage of time that is greater than what we witness on screen, but it feels rushed for him to be so attached without even meeting Laura. I can excuse it, because I also felt a connection with Gene Tierney just from those flashbacks, but the depth of feeling did grow at a rapid pace in the movie. Otherwise, there’s very little I can criticize in Laura.
The visuals are stunning, and the dialogue is smart and witty. I also loved how the whole thing fit the tone and style of a film noir, but it resisted falling into all the traditional tropes. At times noir can become predictable when it sticks to the formula, but this was smart and unique. With a well written plot and a wide variety of characters with all sorts of traits, this is a whodunit done right, keeping you guessing until the very end.
As I said before, Laura is a movie that I’m already anticipating my next opportunity to watch it. Everything about this movie clicked for me, and it could become a favorite of mine with time.