Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

LAURA (1944)
Directed & Produced by: Otto Preminger.
Written by: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein & Betty Reinhardt, based on the novel by Vera Caspary.
Director of Photography: Joseph LaShelle.
Edited by: Louis Loeffler.
Music by: David Raksin.
Country of Origin: USA. 87 min. Not Rated. With: Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price & Judith Anderson.
DVD Features: Two commentaries: composer David Raksin & Jeanine Basinger, Wesleyan University film professor; and film historian Rudy Behlmer. A&E Biography: “Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain” and “Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait”. Deleted Scene with commentary by Behlmer. Extended version with alternative opening. Trailer. English & Spanish audio. Subtitled in English & Spanish.

Compelling from start to finish, Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) feels contemporary by visually appealing to emotions in a clearly universal manner. This film noir centers around the murder of beautiful New York socialite Miss Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), a woman every man would love and maybe even kill for. But the story doesn’t focus on the romantic angle as much as it would if it were filmed today. In fact, the mystery almost becomes background to the perfectly lit (and Oscar winning) cinematography and the music that manages to overwhelm the senses but not the film. The camera movements too add to the atmosphere yet simultaneously allow all other elements to shine through. In combination, it is a perfectly executed film that allows the viewer to become curious and involved whether they dare to or not.

DVD extras: The best of the extras include two A&E biographies. “Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain” covers the entire span of Price’s career from Yale to Edward Scissorhands. The second biography details the actress’ dramatic life and health problems. Neither really adds to the understanding or appreciation of Laura but are interesting nonetheless. There is a choice between two commentary tracks over the film. The first is narrated by the late David Raksin, the film’s composer, and Jeanine Basinger of Wesleyan University. The second is by author Rudy Behlmer. Between the two commentaries, Behlmer’s is delivered in a much more engaging and livelier manner. It also benefits from his anecdotes of Laura’s creator, Vera Caspary, whom he had interviewed. Interestingly, Caspary considered Marlene Dietrich the actress closest to the character of her independent, pampering Laura. The two commentaries often overlap, discussing the creation of the score and original director Rouben Mamoulian, as well as repeating the same Tierney quote regarding her first reaction to the role (“Who wants to play a painting?”) Basinger dominates her commentary, talking about the film’s history with critical attention to the small elements and their importance throughout the plot. Raksin is entertaining, interspersing Basinger’s historical facts and interpretations with personal tales of his experiences, admitting from the start that he won’t be able to hold back. Included in the extended version is a deleted montage that was deemed too decadent in 1944. Finally, the theatrical trailer is surprisingly revealing. If you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t watch the trailer first. Mallory Potosky
April 18, 2005



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