Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944)
The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) and All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950), Laura is full of characters one would be well advised to steer clear of in real life, but who make for tremendous entertainment when viewed on a screen from a safe distance. It makes a feint at a conventional happily romantic ending, with Laura supposedly going off with McPherson, but do we really believe it? Laura Hunt has shown dubious taste in men -- whom McPherson characterizes as "a remarkable collection of dopes"-- including the desiccated fop Waldo and the smarmy kept man Shelby. So it's hard to believe the social butterfly Lydecker has created is going to settle down happily with a man who, as Waldo says once, fell in love with her when she was a corpse and apparently has never had a relationship with a woman other than the "doll in Washington Heights who once got a fox fur outta" him. Laura is notable, too, for its deft evasions of the Production Code, including Laura's hinted-at out-of-wedlock liaisons, which are at the same time undercut by the suggestions that Waldo and Shelby are gay -- another Code taboo. (Shelby, for example, has an exceptional interest in women's hats, including one of Laura's and the one of Ann's that he calls "completely wonderful.") This shouldn't surprise us, as Preminger went on to be one of the most aggressive Code-breakers, challenging its sexual taboos in The Moon Is Blue (1953) and its strictures on the depiction of drug use in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), and giving the enforcers fits with Anatomy of a Murder (1959). In addition to the contributions to Laura's classic status already mentioned, there is also the familiar score by David Raksin. (Johnny Mercer added lyrics to its main theme after the film was released, creating the song "Laura.") And Joseph LaShelle won a Oscar for the film's cinematography.