Review: Laura (1944)


Oh Waldo, the way you get out of the tub has me smitten already!

Screenplay By: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Ring Lardner Jr. & Elizabeth Reinhardt
Directed By: Rouben Mamoulian & Otto Preminger

It’s interesting to watch a film like Laura and come away thinking it is great, because it’s hard to peg any discernible reason for thinking as such. After a few viewings my feeling became that Laura is great because for some unknown reason it overcomes its many deficiencies. If you really think about it, the murder mystery is highly convoluted and doesn’t make a lick of sense, Waldo Lydecker is as homosexual as they come yet he’s lusting after a betrothed woman, the direction and visual style of the film really is quite unremarkable and plain. I could go on, but there’s no point, because as I have said for some unknown reason Laura overcomes all of this, although as I will get to later it can’t quite overcome its ending.

Laura doesn’t say anything new about love and the lengths people will go to for love, so that isn’t why it ends up feeling special. The twist is admirable, and that was when I began to realize why I enjoy Laura so much. In spite of the contrived and convoluted story, the cardboard cut out love story between the detective and Laura and the absurdity of how the investigation is handled, the movie plays everything straight. It laughs at its own absurdities, refuses to even acknowledge them and continues to trudge on with its story. It’s an interesting reaction to a film, one that I haven’t had very often and never as strongly as with Laura. But, for reasons beyond my ability to comprehend, that straight forward “Oh, to hell with it” style of Laura led to me finding greatness in the picture.

Despite the aforementioned romance not being all that interesting, I did find the characters of Waldo Lydecker and Shelby Carpenter to be interesting in their own way. Waldo is interesting because of how Clifton Webb portrays him, he’s aloof, far too cerebral, in love with himself, and in love with the idea of love and beauty. It’s interesting to watch him play such a blatantly homosexual character in an era where homosexuality wasn’t acknowledged in any way, just watch the first scene where he comes on to the detective with all his considerable might. This added layer of homosexuality makes his infatuation with Laura all the more interesting. She could have been a dude, the gender isn’t the point, it’s the idea of beauty that Waldo holds in such high regard. In retrospect, maybe Webb didn’t play Waldo as a homosexual, but rather a bisexual. Shelby is interesting because Vincent Price is downright creepy and you constantly wonder why anyone would ever fall for him, yet at the same time you understand how people could mistake his creepiness for suaveness.

I do harp on the fact that Laura is able to overcome its deficiencies, but that isn’t true in a couple of areas. Waldo’s flashback was a good method of giving out more information, but it was told first person remembrance style so when we were given a couple of moments between Shelby and Laura when Waldo wasn’t around it does feel false. My biggest problem with Laura was the ending, while I was able to get over all the other contrivances in the film, Waldo’s easy reentry into the apartment, the detectives stupidity with leaving Laura and the shotgun alone, and finally Waldo somehow having shotgun shells in his jacket was too much for me to forgive.

I’ve said it a bunch, but Laura really shouldn’t be as great as it is. Yet, for some reason it ends up as one of the better noirs I’ve ever seen, despite all the flaws I have talked about. A very peculiar movie is this Laura, perplexing even. It shouldn’t be all that surprising then that a peculiar movie engendered a peculiar reaction from me, I am nothing if not out there.




8 responses to “Review: Laura (1944)

  1. I am guessing you did not watch Laura’s extended version. If you had watched, you’d know Waldo and Laura had a love (sexual) affair. Laura is one of my favorite movies and I was highly surprised–and much amused–to learn that anyone would consider Webb’s caracter to be homosexual! How could a homosexual state, as his caracter did in the movie, that he was going to kill her because if she did not belong to him, she would belong to no one?!

  2. Quite a few critics have put forth the notion that Waldo is homosexual, so I’m not exactly alone in my reading of his character.

    To your last point, belonging is a state that can have nothing to do with sex. Just look at All About Eve, there’s no sexual relationship between Addison and Eve, but he truly wants her, specifically the success of her career, to belong to him.

    Maybe the extended version changes all of this, but I view extended versions and director’s cuts as completely different films than the originals, so that version of Laura would have to be read on its own merits.

  3. Anyone who perceives Waldo as a straight man is robbing him/herself
    of one of the many ironies this great film offers. He/she would also
    be in terrific denial. And the absurd notion that Waldo is “bisexual”
    (whatever THAT is) only adds weight to the many, many people
    (myself included) who subscribe to the belief that bisexuality is a
    behavior, rather than a true orientation. Hmn…Maybe Waldo is
    bisexual at that. Cheers!

  4. Well, I don’t subscribe to the same belief as you, I’m of the mind that bisexuality is an orientation, not a behavior. The notion of him being bisexual isn’t absurd, and the many many people (myself included), who think bisexuality is an orientation would find your easy dismissal absurd.

  5. Cute, Bill. But I’m not the only person who feels this way. And you
    know it.

  6. I’m not discounting that people feel the way you do. However, there is an entirely different way of viewing bisexuality that is out there and is adhered to by a lot of people. You’re dismissing that view for reasons that aren’t apparent, and acting like I’m dismissing your viewpoint when I have done no such thing.

  7. I loved this movie, and I also have no idea why. The book’s great, it gives more character info than the movie, so I guess if you really want to understand motive you ought to read that. It’s really cool, they go back and forth from pov. And I think Vincent Price is charming, Waldo’s the real creep in this one. The whole bathtub scene was a good sign this guy wasn’t quite right in the head

  8. I’ve considered giving the book a go, maybe one of these days. ūüôā

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