`Laura': A dream of a movie

Film Column

September 06, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

In the world of film noir, few films match the macabre refinement of Laura, a seedy murder mystery set among the denizens of the highest of high society in which the heroine is, by turns, a faceless corpse, a painting and the ravishingly beautiful lady of the house.

The 1944 film, set for noon tomorrow as part of the Saturday revival series at the Charles, made an icon of Gene Tierney (who was never lovelier, which is saying something) and a leading man of Dana Andrews.

It provided Vincent Price with one of his best early roles, one that should be a revelation for those who remember him as strictly a horror-film star. And it also announced director Otto Preminger as a Hollywood force-to-be-reckoned-with (although an autocratic and borderline sadistic one, if Hollywood legend is to be believed).

But mostly what it did was delight audiences, who loved the film equally for its high-class veneer as for its soft white underbelly; there's not a straight-arrow among the characters, and to call Clifton Webb's performance as one of Laura's suitors odd is to understate matters considerably.

And then there's the matter of the film's repeated twists, just the thing to annoy the heck out of anyone trying to stay one step ahead of the plot. Good luck.

Andrews is Mark McPherson, a detective brought in to investigate the murder of Laura Hunt, who starts off the film as the aforementioned faceless corpse, shot dead and mutilated in her own house.

There are three suspects in the murder, each of them trying mightily to implicate the others, each acting absolutely guilty. Waldo Lydecker (Webb) is an art critic who sees himself as Laura's Svengali. Slimy playboy Shelby Carpenter (Price) was her fiance, and Laura's aunt, Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson), was having an affair with Carpenter.

I guarantee, you'll wish they all could have done it. But only one did, of course.

McPherson remains stumped by the case, but more importantly, he's falling in love himself with Laura - or, more precisely, with the painting of Laura he's constantly staring at. Imagine the mix of joy and consternation he feels when who should walk through the front door but ... Laura (Tierney), very much alive.

So now, the question is not only whodunit, but who have they done it to. And what of those wonderful kids, Mark and Laura: Can they have a future?

Preminger, who was assigned to the picture well after shooting had begun (studio boss Darryl Zanuck fired original director Rouben Mamoulian), gives everything a deliciously high-gloss finish that contrasts marvelously with the seedy goings-on.

And Webb and Price, especially, have great fun with their characters' sexuality; it seems fairly obvious that both Lydecker and Carpenter are gay, meaning that the beautiful Laura was coveted by two men with no interest in her sexually!

Admission to tomorrow's noon feature at the Charles is $5. Call: 410-727-FILM.

Awards dinner

Former Baltimore newscaster Sandra Pinckney, now with cable's The Food Network, and producer Mary Holland will be honored at the annual Charm City Awards Dinner, sponsored by Women In Film & Video of Maryland.

The dinner is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Belvedere Hotel, 1 E. Chase St. Tickets, provided they're purchased before Sept. 20, are $45 for WIFV members, $50 for nonmembers. After Sept. 20, prices go up $5.

Call: 410-685-FILM.

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