Released by: Fox
Released on: February 5, 2013.
Director: Otto Preminger
Cast: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Clifton Webb
Year: 1944 Purchase From Amazon
Otto Preminger's classic 1944 Crime-Noir/Thriller/Mystery film, Laura, based on the novel by Vera Caspary, is an interesting film with an equally interesting cast of notable actors and actresses. The stunningly beautiful Gene Tierney (Oscar Nominated for Leave Her To Heaven) plays Laura Hunt, a woman who has recently been murdered by a shotgun blast to the face. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews of The Ox-Bow Incident) has been assigned to find out who killed her and why. The first two people who he's going to go after are her fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) and her ex-boyfriend Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in this film). The fact that Shelby has something going on with Laura’s aunt, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), is reason enough for McPherson to be suspicious but Waldo’s got secrets of his own too.
As McPherson goes about putting the pieces of the puzzle together, he's soon starting to obsess over the portrait of Laura that hangs over the fireplace in her apartment. He begins to fall for her a little bit. Things take a strange turn when he’s confronted by her face to face when she wanders into her apartment to find him sitting in her living room after a weekend away - healthy as can be. With Laura alive and well, McPherson has to work overtime to figure out who the victim really was, who shot her dead, and most importantly, why they did it.
Preminger, who started off simply producing the film only to step in as director once Rouben Mamoulian was taken off the project, does a great job of slowly but surely building the tension. The more we get to know the two main suspects in the case the more we begin to distrust them. Shelby, at first a happy go lucky playboy and man about town, is actually down on his luck and all image. Waldo, socialite columnist for the local newspaper and a man who possesses an extremely acerbic wit, is actually a possessive and egotistical man who only thinks of himself. Laura is, to coin a phrase, who every woman wants to be and who every man wants to be with. She's gorgeous, smart, and it's easy to see why the three men in the story all obsess over her by the time that the end credits hit the screen. Tierney does a fantastic job portraying enough classical doe eyed beauty to nail the 'looks' part, but handles the character traits the movie requires equally well. Price, in a rare and early non-horror role, is great as the young Shelby, his tall frame filling up the room when he enters and instantly drawing attention to himself by doing so. Clifton Webb is perfect as Waldo, and justly earned that Oscar nod even if he didn't win it. He's a flamboyant and at times rather cruel man, and Webb quite simply nails the part. Dana Andrews is tough as nails, referring to all the women in his life as 'dolls' or 'dames' and he makes for an interesting contrast to Waldo's high society snobbery.
This is a crime noir though, and what would a crime noir be without murky shadows and dimly lit sets? There's plenty of that here too. When McPherson enters Laura's kitchen the light that shines through the vertical blinds and paints black and white stripes up and down his body and the counter behind him is an instantly recognizable crime noir motif. The use of shadows and light does a perfectly wonderful job of basking the characters in just enough luminescence to capture all of their striking features. Shot by Joseph LaShelle, the movie really does look perfect in terms of set ups, framing and lighting. An amazing looking movie performed by a completely talented cast and helmed by a master director, Laura is justifiably considered a classic in every sense of the word.
Laura looks very nice on Blu-ray from Fox, framed properly at 1.33.1 and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The picture is a bit brighter than the DVD but offers better contrast and considerably improved detail and texture. There’s a very nice, natural amount of film grain evident throughout but nothing in the way of serious print damage to note – this looks very good. Fine detail is considerably improved over standard definition offerings not just in facial close ups but throughout the movie, you’ll notice it in the faces of the cast but also in the sets and costumes. Shadow detail looks excellent, black levels are nice and strong and never murky while the whites and grays remain consistent, never overblown or washed out. There’s no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement here, and it’s really hard to imagine the movie looking a whole lot better than it does on this disc.
The default audio track for the feature is an English language DTS-HD Mono mix, though Dolby Digital Mono tracks are offered in French and Spanish with subtitles provided in English SDH, Dutch, French and Spanish. David Raskin’s score sounds great here while dialogue is nice and natural sounding. There are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout. Though the mix shows the limitations of the original audio you certainly can’t fault it for that – this is a nice mix, it sounds very good.
Fox adds nothing new to Laura’s supplemental package save for a brief twelve minute featurette entitled The Obsession which is a collection of interview clips with various filmmakers and historians. The emphasis here is on the influence of the film and of director Otto Preminger. It’s a minor but welcome addition and worth a quick watch. Aside from that, the disc does carry over everything from the previous special edition DVD release from a few years ago.
First up is a commentary track featuring Wesleyan University film professor Jeanine Basinger, with intermittent comments supplied by composer David Raksin. There are a lot of great anecdotes about the cast and crew involved in this film, even if the delivery tends to be a little on the dry side. It's quite scholarly, as should be expected, but not so formal that it'll go over anybodies head. Basinger provides some interesting information on how Preminger came to be the director, as well as some great facts about the cast members. This track also does a good job of explaining some of the history behind the film's memorable score, which Raskin was responsible for.
A second commentary features film historian Rudy Behlmer. This one is just as informative, if not more so, than the first track but again the delivery is slightly dry. Behlmer does a great job of filling in the blanks on the history of the film as well as some of the casting decisions, and makes some interesting observations about the movie as it plays out. He goes into detail on some of the inspiration behind a couple of specific characters, and gives some great biographical information on the cast and crew involved in making the film.
Behlmer also supplies an optional commentary for the deleted scene that is supplied. This scene, presented here in rougher shape than the feature itself (and with the option to watch it inserted into the film by way of seamless branching or separately as a single clip) is basically just under two minutes worth of Laura out on the town. We won't spoil the reasons the producers had for cutting it, as it makes for a truly odd story but it is quite interesting in hindsight.
If that weren't enough, Fox has also licensed two complete episodes from A&E's fantastic Biography series: Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait and Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain. The Tierney feature proved to be quite interesting as it follows her career from her early days on Broadway through to her sad and troubled later days in the 1950s right up until her death from emphysema in 1991 - ironic considering that film producers encouraged her to smoke in the 40s to lower her voice. At any rate, this is a great look back on one of the most beautiful actresses to come out of Hollywood's 'golden age' and a fitting tribute to the late Ms. Tierney. Equally interesting is Price's Biography. As a lifelong Price fan this one didn't contain as much new information for this reviewer as Tierney's piece did, but it was still a lot of fun to watch, especially considering it is littered with clips from all sorts of his films, including the Americanized cut of Witchfinder General shown here as The Conqueror Worm. Interviews and rare photographs flesh out Price's history from his early days to his peak in horror films from the 50s to the 70s through to his cooking programs in the 1980s and finally to his death from lung cancer in 1993.
The film's original theatrical trailer is also included, and the disc features chapter selection and some classy interactive menus. The deleted scene and trailer are presented in high definition, the rest of the supplements are in standard definition.
The Final Word:
Laura is a solid mystery/noir with a stellar cast and a couple of nicely executed plot twists. The cinematography is very nice and the performances are quite good. Fox has carried over all of the great selection of extra features from the DVD and added one minor extra, which is nice to see. All in all, this Blu-ray is absolutely worth the upgrade for the noir buffs and Gene Tierney and Vince Price fans alike. Just a really great release in every way it should be and here’s hoping Fox is able to give similar treatment to more of their noir titles in the coming months.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!