Laura [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Eureka
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (31st December 2018).
The Film

Oscar (Best Cinematography, Black-and-White): Joseph LaShelle (won), Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Clifton Webb (nominated), Best Director: Otto Preminger (nominated), Best Writing, Screenplay: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Elizabeth Reinhardt (nominated), and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White: Lyle R. Wheeler, Leland Fuller, and Thomas Little (nominated) - Academy Awards, 1945

The morning after someone fired both barrels of a shotgun into the face of advertising company art director Laura Hunt (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir's Gene Tierney), author and columnist Waldo Lydecker (Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell's Clifton Webb) decides to undertake a biographical account as the only person who really knew her; and he gets the opportunity to populate his story when Detective Mark McPherson (Night of the Demon's Dana Andrews) allows him to accompany him and observe the reactions of others in Laura's life, even though Mark lets him know that he too is a suspect. Among the suspects is her fiancι Shelby Carpenter (Dragonwyck's Vincent Price), a "male beauty in distress" as Waldo describes him, Laura's maiden aunt Ann Treadwell (Rebecca's Judith Anderson) who feels that Shelby shares the same weaknesses as she and can afford to keep him, her fiercely devoted cleaning lady Bessie (The Killing's Dorothy Adams) who may have something to hide among Laura's possessions and letters under the guise of keeping her memory from being sullied by McPherson's prying eyes, and Diane Redern, a model at the ad agency who was rumored to be running around with Shelby and whose current whereabouts are unknown. Waldo seems insulted that McPherson should consider him a suspect as he takes credit for having "created" Laura as she was before her death, recognizing in her a raw talent and breeding, shaping her image to his satisfaction through a combination of clothing and good company. He denies being jealous of Jacoby, the artist who painted her portrait, and using his column to destroy the man's reputation for Laura's own good, trusting that "her own discrimination" would rule out others; that is, until she met Shelby at one of Ann's parties and gave him a job at the agency where she had risen to the top from designer to art director thanks to commercial endorsements and securing clients from Waldo's network of famous friends. He was taken aback when she announced that she and Shelby were to be married, and his taking the step of having Shelby investigated by a private detective further widens the gulf between them. As McPherson drags out the investigation and continues to probe Laura's private affairs, Waldo correctly diagnoses that he too has fallen in love with Laura, even if she is a corpse. When Laura, however, turns up alive, the mystery becomes who was the woman whose features were rendered unrecognizable by the shotgun blast, and whether Laura herself was the intended victim or the killer?

One of the classics of the Hollywood Film Noir, Laura made the Hollywood career of director Otto Preminger (Bunny Lake is Missing) after he got the "you'll never work in this town again" threat after he was taken off the big budget Kidnapped, spawned a quotable and much-re-recorded theme from composer David Raksin (Invitation to a Gunfighter), and has proven highly influential on the likes of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo to David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Much has been written about the coded homosexuality of Waldo Lydecker – played with George Sanders-eque drollness by Webb – but equally intriguing is McPherson's own obsession in Laura, equally unattainable to him when dead as she was to Waldo when alive, but just another dame to him when the living incarnation – at first seemingly conjured up by him in an alcohol-induced haze – proves as complicated as his investigation has revealed; and, their quickly established romance may be less a contrivance of the script than indicative of their own deep flaws; and it is just as well that the moving camera of Joseph LaShelle (The Apartment) focuses not on the pair of them in the aftermath of the climactic action but the destruction of a symbolic object (its own twin having been damaged by McPherson's need to know the truth in an early scene) before the final fade out. Laura's resurrection may be more of a gimmick, and the identity of the killer easier to guess for savvy noir fans aware of the genre's coding of character "flaws"; but, Laura is ultimately less interesting as a whodunit or even the angle romantic obsession as a whole than as a study of the entanglements of the ugliness underlying the decadent lives of the leisure class ("for a charming, intelligent girl, you've certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes") which was perhaps as true to wartime audiences as it is today.
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Video

Released theatrically by Fox and reissued in 1952 before entering television syndication in 1957 through NTA and released to laserdisc in 1989 – although many American viewers of my generation might have first seen it broadcast uninterrupted on PBS in the early nineties around the time it finally got a VHS release - Laura first hit DVD in 2005 as an entry in the Fox Film Noir range with an attractive fullscreen transfer of both the theatrical version and the extended version which reinstated a scene cut because of the studio's fear that it would alienate wartime audiences, as well as one of Fox's stereo remixes and the original mono track and a nice set of extras (the UK arm of Fox moved the extras over to a second disc as part of their Studio Classics standard and Cinema Reserve steelbook lines). When the package as ported over to Blu-ray, it was as part of the company's Fox Studio Classics line, dropping the stereo track, and carrying over the same extras. Eureka's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen utilizes the same master for both cuts (87:06 for the theatrical and 88:09 for the extended) which is virtually spotless apart from the expected coarser-looking grain associated with opticals, with deep blacks and sharp detail (eyes scanning the frame for a flaw might at first see moire in the background of one shot only to then quickly ascertain that it is the rain falling outside through a sliver of open Venetian blinds). As with the DVDs and the Fox Blu-ray, the Eureka disc includes both theatrical and extended cut playback options.
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Audio

The sole feature audio option for both cuts is an LPCM 1.0 mono track which is extremely clean from the start, from Fox's fanfare to the first rich orchestral iteration of Raksin's theme, along with the highly quotable dialogue, and a sound design that both calls to attention the sparseness of the scoring as well as very disciplined use of sound effects and atmosphere in Laura's apartment where a lot of the film takes places. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.

Extras

The theatrical version is accompanied by the pair of commentary tracks dating back to the DVD edition. The first audio commentary by Wesleyan University film professor Jeanine Basinger and composer David Raksin is a scattered affair with Basinger's comments interjected between those of separately recorded Raksin who provides some information on his score and his collaborations with Preminger amidst platitudes for everyone involved. Basinger's does more lot of play-by-play description of what is onscreen than analysis while also discussing the careers of the cast and crew: noting the type-casting of Webb with this first feature role, Wheeler's tenure as supervising art director at Fox which encompassed the studio's early experiments with color and the design standards of sets for the CinemaScope frame, and much of the information specific to the film imparted here may seem like overlap if the track is audited after the second audio commentary by film historian and author Rudy Behlmer. Drawing from multiple play, novel, and script drafts, correspondence, and interviews conducted with people involved in the film back in the 1970s, Behlmer provides a more comprehensive discussion of the film. He starts with author Vera Caspary (A Letter to Three Wives) coming up with the conceit of a detective falling in love with a dead woman only for her to turn up alive, coming up with the Waldo Lydecker character – although she was inspired by Alexander Woollcott, she claimed that the character evolved more from her collaboration with writer Ellis St. Joseph – and developing the concept initially as a stage play. Preminger was interested in producing it on Broadway, but he saw it more as a detective story and was attracted by the gimmick of a woman who become a suspect in her own murder just by turning up alive, but Caspary was more interested in it as a psychological drama. When that fell through, she turned it into a novel and brought it to Hollywood where the producers initially wanted it tested as a stage play before committing to a film but the second version of the play never saw the stage. He then traces the development of the screenplay through the first draft of Jay Dratler (Call Northside 777) and the five pages of notes from Fox's Daryl Zanuck – who initially saw it as a B-feature but the demanded changes (ultimately for the better) were the first indication that it would be an A-class production – to the uncredited revisions by Ring Lardner Jr. (M*A*S*H) who had been working for Preminger on a Nazi drama that went unproduced, and the writing team of Elizabeth Reinhardt (Sentimental Journey) and Samuel Hoffenstein (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) brought in while the film Rouben Mamoulian (Queen Christina) was slated as the director. He also goes into how Preminger was hired by Fox the previous decade, fired by Zanuck, and rehired by William Goetz (The Ox-Bow Incident) while Zanuck was doing his wartime duties, and how Preminger ended up directing in spite of Zanuck insisting that he would produce but never direct another feature at Fox.
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Exclusive to Eureka's roster of extras are four radio adaptations of the film, starting with the Lux Radio Theater, Episode 468 (February 5, 1945; 59:30) with Tierney, Andrews, Price, and Otto Kruger (Dracula's Daughter) as "Paul" Lydecker. Host Lionel Barrymore (The Devil Doll) narrates rather than Lydecker. The same script would be utilized for Lux Radio Theater, Episode 866 (February 1, 1954; 56:52) with Tierney and Victor Mature (Samson and Delilah) as McPherson. The Screen Guild Theater version (August 20, 1945; 30:15) featured Tierney, Andrews, Webb, and David Bruce (The Mad Ghoul) as Shelby, with a script that featured Andrews' McPherson narrating (framing each character introduction with extracts from his report), and the Ford Theater version (May 30, 1948; 60:18) starred Virginia Gilmore (Berlin Correspondent) and John Larkin (Th Satan Bug) with Howard Lindsey (The Sound of Music) narrating. Also exclusive to this edition is "A Tune for Laura: David Raskin Remembers" (10:30) in which the composer discusses his first film composing assignment on Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, his collaborations with Preminger, and the popularity of "Laura's Theme" once set to lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Ported over from the Fox editions is "The Obsession" (12:37), a surprisingly dense featurette in which authors James Ursini and Alain Silver discuss the film as noir, USC professor Drew Casper discusses Preminger's technique, and composer John Morgan discusses the score; but the most interesting discussion comes from filmmaker Carl Franklin (The Devil in a Blue Dress) on the structural dividing line between noir and romantic mystery, analyses of the characters, and the photography. The deleted scene (2:37), reinstated in the extended cut, is presented here alone with optional commentary from Behlmer about the reasons for its deletion initially. Video extras close with the film's theatrical trailer (2:31).

Packaging

Not provided for review was the collector's booklet featuring a new essay by Phil Hoad, alongside a selection of rare archival imagery included with the disc.
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Overall

 


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