Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) answered her door and was met with a shotgun blast to the face. Her body was found by her housekeeper Bessie Clary (Dorothy Adams). Detective Lt. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) from the New York Police Department is assigned to the case. His first suspect is Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). McPherson interviews him at his home. Waldo is in the tub. That’s where he does his writing. Waldo is a well known columnist for a newspaper. He can make or break someone just by a word or two in print.
Waldo relates to McPherson how he met Laura and took an interest in her. He helped her advance her career in the advertising business and fell in love with her. A love he never expressed. As far as Laura was concerned their relationship was as friends. However, whenever Laura became close to anyone Waldo found a way to mess it up. Except for Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price).
Shelby is a playboy, a leech and a bit of a gold-digger. He has a relationship on the side with Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson). Ann is in love with Shelby even though he is a jerk. Ann is a bit of a jerk too. Shelby is supposedly also having an affair with Diane Redfern, one of the models that works for Laura. All this while romancing Laura and asking her to marry him. Laura is unaware of how rotten Shelby is until good old Waldo tells her. Laura decided to go away for the weekend and think about whether or not to marry Shelby. That’s when the murder happened. After getting lots of information from Waldo, McPherson questions Shelby with marginal results.
McPherson does some digging into Laura. He reads her letters and her diary. He begins to become obsessed with her. He is falling in love with a dead woman. Waldo, perceptive when it comes to Laura, accuses McPherson of just that. McPherson, pissed at Waldo for making the accusation and because it is true, begins to indulge in some of Laura’s fine liquor. He falls asleep in a chair in front of her portrait. He is awakened by someone coming into the apartment. He looks up and sees Laura Hunt standing by the fireplace, alive.
“Laura” was released in 1944 and was directed by Otto Preminger. It is a crime drama, a mystery and a film noir based on the 1943 novel “Laura” by Vera Caspary. In 1999, Laura was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
“Laura” is the quintessential film noir. It’s stark yet striking. The characters are larger than life. The hard bitten cop that falls in love with a painting is a great example of the style. She is dead, therefore unattainable which makes him a lost soul. The victim Laura is one who falls in love with the idea of being in love. Her return from the dead gives the film a ghost-like quality that is an underlying theme in many noir films. The idea that what you are seeing may not be what you are really seeing. Add to that the evocative music and the typical noir camera angles and shadowing and you fall into the lure that maybe it is a dream. That style is what makes noir films so unforgettable and so much fun. You are the voyeur in someone else’s tragic life.
Twentieth Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was against casting Clifton Webb. In Hollywood Webb’s homosexuality was well known. Producer and Director Otto Preminger prevailed. Webb was fifty-four at the time and, having been in the theater for so long, was making his first screen appearance since 1925. He was nominated for an Oscar.
The very popular music theme for the film was considered haunting. When Hedy Lamarr was asked why she had turned down the part of Laura she replied, "They sent me the script, not the score."
Preminger felt that portraits didn’t photograph well on film. To compensate for that he used a picture of Gene Tierney. He had it enlarged and covered it with oil paint to soften the lines. It looked like a painting but was definitely recognizable as Gene.