I will now be writing all future reviews from the luxury of my own million dollar bathtub.
So, yesterday was my mom’s birthday and as a small gift (I got her a real gift too, don’t worry) I let her pick which movie I reviewed for this week’s Wayback Wednesday. You would think that her choosing Laura (1944) is entirely based on her own name being Laura, but you’d be wrong there. My mom has a long-standing love and appreciation for Old Hollywood movies, and this classic mystery is one of her all-time favourites. After watching it for the first time, I can safely say that it’s one that I’ll be re-watching in the future as well. Happy Birthday Mom!
Based on the novel of the same name, Laura tells the story of the titular character, a successful and enchanting advertising executive who is seemingly murdered without reason. Assigned to the case, Detective Mark McPherson investigates Laura’s fiancée, friends and family to piece together why anyone would murder a woman so beloved.
There’s more than enough evidence to prove that I’m my mother’s son (we share a chin and an intolerance for group sports) but our shared love for old movies seals the deal. Not to sound like a pretentious film snob, but wow oh wow do I hold a special place in my heart for old movies. The Golden Age of Hollywood was a time like no other and I just adore the glamour, artistry and majesty that goes into the movies made during that period. Laura is no exception. Though not as overtly extravagant as movies like Gone with the Wind (1939) or Casablanca (1942), there’s still an inherent sense of grandeur that spills out of everything from set design to wardrobe. There’s a montage about 25 minutes in where Laura wears some pretty fabulous costumes and let me tell ya, I was well and truly gagged. The world that acclaimed director Otto Perminger creates is almost as captivating as the title character herself.
As Laura, Gene Tierney is a sensational leading lady. Although her character doesn’t even appear in the movie until the aforementioned 25-minute mark, when she does show up she absolutely steals the show. The men who set the movie up as an intriguing murder mystery do their job well, but it’s Tierney’s sudden appearance that truly peaks my interest. Much like Marilyn Monroe – by the way, check out my review of Some Like It Hot (1959) here – Tierney is the reason why we began to call Old Hollywood actresses “stars.” She has this indefinable magnetic quality that drew me in and held my attention as I slipped further into the mystery. Strong-willed, intelligent and unflappable, Tierney takes what could have been a throwaway role as a damsel in distress and turns it into a multi-layered protagonist that all actresses should aspire to emulate.
One of the marks of a great actress is being able to share a chemistry with any scene partner, something Tierney proves again and again in Laura. Whether she’s flirting with aristocratic columnist Waldo Lydecker, hard-boiled detective Mark McPherson or sweet advertiser Shelby Carpenter (played by Vincent Price who we WILL talk about), Tierney creates believable romances with each man. It may not be the first genre that comes to mind, but Laura is very much a love story. Or at the very least, a story that is steeped in love. Her relationship with Waldo is probably the least moving, but if nothing else it makes Waldo give us this great quote which I’m already planning on painting across my bedroom wall: “In my case, self absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention.” Waldo may have not been the greatest love interest, but he was certainly a sassy old bastard. I mean, hello, he writes all of his articles while working in an enormous bathtub. On behalf of writers everywhere, let me just say that the jealousy is real.
No, it’s Mark and Shelby who really have you rooting to end up with Laura, each one serving as the perfect companion for a woman who herself seems to be perfect. What is most interesting is that both men are the opposite of Laura in different ways. Mark is wary of others where Laura is inviting. Shelby is childlike where Laura is hardworking. I’m a big fan of when love interests have starkly different personalities and wind up bringing out the best in each other. It makes for a much more dynamic and interesting romance and Laura serves this up not once, but twice! Like all good love stories, Laura will have you going back and forth between who you want Laura to be with, but in the end let’s be real: we’re all rooting for the stoic and lovably stern Mark.
But Shelby doesn’t make it easy! As I said, Shelby is played by the master of horror himself, the legendary Vincent Price. Which I couldn’t believe by the way. I’m so used to seeing Price as a sinister, spooky old man so you could imagine my surprise when he makes his entrance as a charming, debonair and handsome gentleman! Price’s performance as the lighthearted Shelby is wonderful to watch, and I dare you not to be swept off your feet. Hmm…macabre horror icon and dashing Hollywood star? Vincent Price is everything I want to be when I grow up.
A prime example of classic detective stories and film noir, it only takes a few minutes for Laura to cast a spell over its audience. Trust me, this is a mystery that will leave you guessing from beginning to end. Full of twists and turns, watch as you frantically switch up your theories to who’s behind it all, who is who they say they are, and what is to be believed. There’s one masterfully made story about the horrible lengths people will go to in the name of love, and that story is Laura.
Have you seen Laura? What are your favourite mysteries?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!