Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) is a popular newspaper columnist with his own syndicated radio programme, in other words, an influential man. But even influential men can fall prey to their own foibles, and so it is Lydecker's covetousness over the woman he mentored, Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), has sent him into a whirl that has only ended because tragically she has been murdered. He reflects on their friendship and is planning to use it for his latest column, when a detective, Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) arrives at his lavish apartment just in time to find him typing it out - while in the bath. Waldo may be eccentric, but is he the murderous type? If not him, then who?
Laura was the film that was the making of the career of its director Otto Preminger. A refugee from the war in Europe (he was Jewish by birth), he was pottering along making minor movies and staging plays when he was asked to take over from Rouben Mamoulian on this production (Mamoulian's fall from grace is a whole different story) and he never looked back, well, at least until a couple of decades of hits later where his boundary-pushing style fed into a series of missteps in taste and judgement, though even then he continued to secure projects for himself right up to the very end of the nineteen seventies. This effort, too, had its bad taste qualities to distinguish its potential.
Potential that was assuredly realised when it was a blockbuster of its day, making its cast very successful in the process, though Tierney arguably never appreciated that very much: just prior to filming, thanks to German measles during pregnancy, her daughter had been born with severe disabilities, an event that hastened Tierney's breakdown mentally. To some, this informs her performance, giving it a haunted aspect, though really it should be Laura who haunts everyone else in this story which when you boiled it down, was one of the queasiest the Golden Age of Hollywood every concocted, dealing as it did with a man falling in love with a dead woman he never met.
You can call this a necrophiliac love story, and it's certainly a one-way relationship with McPherson resorting to sleeping in front of the portrait on the wall of Laura's apartment to soothe his troubled nerves. No wonder those nerves are giving him so much grief with the coterie of the object of his desire, a bunch of weirdos and untrustworthy with it, not just Waldo but her fiancé Shelby Carpenter (a soft spoken but insidious Vincent Price) and her aunt Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson): all three obsess over Laura, and her absence now makes them obsess all the more, with the detective joining them. The murder mystery hardly mattered as every one could have been responsible and the narrative would have made as much sense, what did matter was Preminger's glee at getting this morbid lot to wallow in their own grief.
If it wasn't for Tierney's beauty Webb would have stolen the show, relishing the waspish, witty dialogue he was served up, blatantly a homosexual character from the start when he is effectively naked and revealing all to McPherson in the very first scene (we only get to see him from the waist up). Waldo was living his life through his pupil Laura, in some kind of belief that gay men actually want to be straight women the film entertains but does not entirely commit to, as we see him interact with the disarming Laura in flashbacks. But more than the not so subtle implications of sexuality, both McPherson's and Lydecker's, this was a story about what it was like to be a fan; the investigator may never have met the deceased woman, but the more he learns about her from those who did, the more he simply desires to stare at her picture. Here being a fan was synonymous with being sickly in the mind, pushing out all reason to fill your days wondering about your idol and no good comes of it. With a twist that has been spoiled countless times tending to work against the psychology once the shock wears off, this was one of the strangest film noirs of the forties. Music, with a classic theme, by David Raskin.
[Those features on the Eureka Blu-ray in full:
1080p presentation on Blu-ray of both the extended and original theatrical versions of the film
LPCM mono Audio
Optional English SDH subtitles
Audio commentary by composer David Raksin and film professor Jeanine Basinger
Audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer
Laura: The Lux Radio Theater broadcasts Two radio adaptations of Laura from 1945 [59 mins] and 1954 [57 mins], starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Vincent Price in the 1945 version, and Gene Tierney and Victor Mature in the 1954 version
Laura: The Screen Guild Theater broadcast Adaptation of Laura from radio anthology series, The Screen Guild Theater, originally aired in 1945 [30 mins], starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb
Laura: The Ford Theater broadcast A further radio adaptation of Laura from 1948, starring Virginia Gilmore and John Larkin
A Tune for Laura: David Raksin Remembers an archival interview with the renowned composer
The Obsession an archival featurette on Laura
PLUS: A collector's booklet featuring a new essay by Phil Hoad, alongside a selection of rare archival imagery.]