• Laura (Masters Of Cinema) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Eureka/Masters Of Cinema
    Released on: January 14th, 2019.
    Director: Otto Preminger
    Cast: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Clifton Webb
    Year: 1944
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    Laura – Movie Review:

    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 – Blu-ray Review:

    Laura looks very nice on Blu-ray from Eureka, framed properly at 1.33.1 and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. This transfer appears to mirror the one that Fox used for their North American Blu-ray release from 2013. 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 only audio track for the feature is an English language LPCM Mono mix with subtitles provided in English SDH. 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.

    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.

    Also included on the disc is a 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.

    Eureka includes four interesting, and quite different, radio play versions of the story as follows:

    -Lux Radio Theater, Episode 469 from February 5th, 1945 - 59:30 - stars starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Vincent Price.
    -Lux Radio Theater, Episode 866 from February 1st, 1954 - 56:52 - stars Gene Tierney and Victor Mature
    -Screen Guild Theater from August 20th, 1945 - 30:15 - stars Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb
    -Ford Theater from May 30th, 1948 - 1:00:18 - stars Virginia Gilmore and John Larkin

    These are interesting to hear, especially the first one featuring Price and make an interesting addition to the supplemental package on this disc.

    A Tune for Laura: David Raksin Remembers is a ten-and-a-half-minute archival interview with the composer who talks about his work on the film. He starts by talking about his love of film as a kid, how he started composing music as a teenager, how he learned a lot simply by doing, how he got into scoring films and what the expectations were even early in his career, and what it was like working with Chaplin on the film Modern Times, his first project. He then talks about moving up the ladder, learning from different people he met along the way, and then his work on Laura, collaborating with Otto Preminger and what was involved in getting the music created for the film, particularly its iconic main theme.

    The Obsession is a thirteen-minute look back at the film and its place in noir history made up of interviews with authors and film historians James Ursini, Alain Silver, writer/director Carl Franklin, film studies professor Dr. Drew Casper and composer and historian John Morgan. They talk about how the film differs from other film noir entries, the quality of the performances, the themes that the story exploits, Preminger’s direction, the score and much more.

    The film's original theatrical trailer is also included, and the disc features chapter selection and some classy interactive menus.

    Note that the two A&E Biography episodes included on the Fox Blu-ray have not been included on this release.

    Laura – 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. The movie is essential for noir buffs and Gene Tierney and Vince Price fans alike. Eureka has done a fine job bringing the film to Blu-ray in the UK with a very nice presentation and a strong selection of extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized Laura Blu-ray screen caps!