11/13/09

For the Love of Price: Laura (1944)

Some romances know not the bounds of time, space, distance, dimension, or the cinema screen. One such romance has occurred between The LBL’s Fran Goria and Vincent Price. Once in a while the pull is just too overwhelming, and Miss Goria must put pen to paper for the love of the man, for the love of his movies…..

Laura (1944)Director: Otto Preminger. Writers: Novel- Vera Caspary. Screenplay- Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstien, and Elizabeth Reinhardt. Starring: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, and Judith Anderson.

Detective Mark McPherson (Andrews) is investigating the murder of well known advertiser and socialite, Laura Hunt (Tierney). Men fall madly in love with her, and women envy her. The list of suspects include Laura’s playboy fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Price), her crass and outspoken mentor, Waldo Lydecker (Webb), and even her rich aunt Ann Treadwell (Anderson). On the surface, they all seem like nice people, but each has an underlying streak of darkness which keeps them from being trusted. As McPherson becomes more and more enchanted by the deceased Miss Hunt, his case becomes more difficult to solve. To make matters even more complicated, Laura comes home from a vacation in the country. McPherson’s surprise to see her alive is shadowed only by Laura’s surprise to find not only that she had been murdered, but there is a strange man in her apartment. But, if Laura is alive, who was murdered in her apartment? There is still the question of who did it. McPherson will have to resort to some unorthodox means to solve this case.
Fran Goria's Thoughts

ME ME ME ME ME MEEEEEEEE……..”Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes…” oh wait, wrong film. However, Vincent Price did attend opening night of the musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show in ’75. Now with that tidbit of info out of the way, it is time to talk about something completely different.

Each year, The National film Preservation Board selects up to 25 films to be preserved on The National Film registry in The Library of Congress. These films are considered to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In 1999, Laura was selected for preservation. The 1944 film noir also won an Oscar in 1945 for Best Cinematography/Black-and-white and was nominated for 4 others. I am not surprised by the film’s honors. It was classic, beautiful, intriguing, and interesting from start to finish. The director had a clear vision of the novel. The cinematography was crisp, clear, and a joy to see. The acting was great on all parts. All of these elements, along with an original score, came together to make an extraordinary film.

Otto Preminger was voted the 47th greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly. With films like The Man with the Golden Arm, Angelface, and Anatomy of a Murder under his belt, one can see why. However, due to personal issues between Preminger and studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, he almost never directed the Laura at all. Zanuck allowed Preminger to produce, but not direct, the film. Instead, Rouben Mamoulian was given the task. After a month of filming, the studio found the early rushes to be unsatisfactory. As a result, Mamoulian, the cameraman, the designer, and the extant footage (along with an unflattering painting of Laura by Mamoilian’s wife) were all scrapped. Only then was Preminger allowed to take the helm. He completed the film with the same cast and script. There were a few disagreements with Zanuck over the ending (Zanuck wanted Laura to wake up at the end with all having been a dream). Preminger’s ending won out, and Laura has become one of the most classic film noirs of all time. Vincent Price once asked Preminger why he was so much better at creating Laura then Mamoulian; His response was “Rouben only knows nice people. I understand the characters in Laura. They’re all heels, just like my friends.”

Laura also has an all star cast. Three of the four leads (Price, Tierney, and Webb) have stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, as well as various wins and nominations for numerous other awards. In 1946, Dana Andrews won a Golden Apple for Most Cooperative Actor. I am a little surprised that this was the only award mention that I could find for him. He was great as the hard-boiled detective. The persona seemed to flow naturally from him. One can even pinpoint the moment when his character changed from just solving a murder, to falling in love with the idea of this woman he has never met (her death aside), to playing the hero card at the end. His entire performance was just fun. Andrews went on to star in more films, mostly of the B-movie grade. He did make an appearance in Airport ’75, and his name is in the opening theme of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That alone is pretty awesome.

Clifton Webb was wonderful as the over-the-top, better-than-all socialite/radio personality of Waldo Lydecker. This was a roll he almost didn’t get. The studio felt his effeminate, homosexual mannerisms would keep him from pulling the character off, but after seeing his audition, they changed their minds. It’s a good thing too, because I cannot think of a better actor to fill the roll. His style was perfect for the high society type he was playing. One can almost feel his character’s obsession with Laura. His Lydecker and Price’s Carpenter worked well together in their shared scenes. The insults and bickering between the two over Laura seemed quite natural. Webb meshed well with the other actors also. He did not steal any scenes, but one got the feeling that he could if he took the notion. Webb was predominantly a Broadway actor. Although he had been a few silent films, Laura was his first “talkie“. He was recognized for his work in films like Sitting Pretty and Razor’s Edge, but is probably best known as Mr. Belvedere in a series of three films.

Another Broadway performer graced the silver screen for Laura, the Tony award winning Judith Anderson; oh excuse me, Dame Judith Anderson. She received the title in 1960 for her services to the performing arts. Anderson plays Ann Treadwell, Laura’s rich aunt. Ann Treadwell is in love with Shelby Carpenter. Not only is she one of his mistresses, but she seems to be the playboy’s sugar mama as well. Ms. Anderson played this role to a tee, but one would expect no less from such an accomplished performer. Her role was small but necessary. It did drive home a few of the plot points of the film. Dame Anderson is best known for the lead role of Broadway’s Medea, and she was great as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca (1940); but I will always remember her as the Vulcan High Priestess in Star Trek III: the Search for Spock.

The title role of Laura went to Gene Tierney. She was a beautiful and talented actress, and her career was just taking off when Laura was filmed. Tierney went on to costar with Vincent Price in two other films (Dragonwyck and Leave Her to Heaven), and she worked with Clifton Webb in Razor’s Edge. Tierney was just lovely in the roll of Laura, the pseudo-murdered socialite. She really exuded a warmth of character that made Laura come alive (no pun intended). It’s not hard to see why all the boys love Laura, and why even her maid would do anything for her. She is the only character that does not seem to have a deep set, evil side. It’s a nice contrast to the rest of the characters.

With all this aside, there is only one reason why I’m here, and that reason is Vincent Price. Price played Shelby Carpenter, Laura’s not-so-faithful fiancee. Carpenter is a smooth talking, southern gentleman. He has the charm and chiseled good looks that drive all the girlies crazy. Perhaps this is why they give him money. Shelby really does love Laura; he just can’t be confined by her. Shelby Carpenter is a fabulous character, and Vincent price plays him brilliantly. Laura was made very early in Price’s career. This was before he became the beloved horror icon. It was even before he started getting top billing. I love Price as the spooky guy. I love his over-the-top, spirited style, but this has to be one of his best performances. With ease and confidence, Vincent Price was Shelby Carpenter, ladies man. This was pure acting, with no gimmicks or larger than life personas. This was the embodiment of a character. As I have said, I love Price as a villain, and I will always lean to his horror films, but I always find it refreshing to see a different Price from time to time. This role is defiantly a stand out in his vast career.

Laura is a wonderful film. I can see why it is considered a classic. It is a surprisingly satisfying film to watch. The slight twists and turns keep the audience suspecting everyone just as much as the detective. The story is also able to hold one’s attention consistently from the start to the bit of excitement at the end. My copy of Laura even has a DVD extra of a mini Vincent Price biography! I recommend this film to fans of Price, classics, mysteries, and anyone in between. It has absolutely earned a place as one of my favorites.






Price Rating

2 comments:

  1. jervaise brooke hamsterNovember 15, 2009 at 4:27 PM

    Its odd but i think "Laura`s" greatest acheivement is that it was included by Danny Peary in his first book of "Cult Movies" first published in 1981, for it to be there alongside classics like "Forbidden Planet", "Night Of The Living Dead", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "The Wizard Of Oz" and 95 other odd, edgy cult items is a sign of its greatness.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, hamster, that is an excellent point, and it makes me want to go watch "Forbidden Planet" right now! I am aware of this book, but sadly, I have not read it. Thanks bunches for the comment.

    ReplyDelete

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