The genre of film noir is generally one of the less adaptable ones; either a picture has all the hallmarks of a noir film and is thus a noir, or it doesn’t. Then, into the frame comes a film like Laura, that while not openly flaunting the lack of standard noir tropes still manages to get by on them. Directed by Otto Preminger, this was one of the last remaining highly-regarded noirs I had left, and I was curious to see what the fuss would be about. Ultimately, I think the film would have fared better had I not gone into it with such expectations; while still being a good film, this is pretty standard by noir’s sake.
The titular Laura Hunt is found murdered in her apartment with a shotgun blast to her face, and thus in comes our hard-boiled detective Mark McPherson to investigate the killing, which he does by questioning all his potential suspects (and thus our cast of characters): elderly mentor figure Waldo Lydecker, Laura’s would-be fiance Shelby Carpenter, housekeeper Bessie Clary, as well as a few others. Slowly, through his investigation, McPherson begins to fall in love with the deceased Laura, and begins to wonder how things might’ve turned out if she hadn’t been killed… or had she? I went into this film expecting a noir to end all noirs, which in hindsight was a little unfair both to the film and to me. What I got was a very well done crime drama, albeit one that seemed to have the word “noir” printed and pasted over it to obscure the clear window on the other side. The standard tropes of noir seemed to be either lessened, or not apparent at all. Laura isn’t exactly a femme fatale, but she is a dame that others would seem to be “fatale” enough for. As my fellow blogger Squish humorously points out, a noir without a face slap is “like a day without sunshine”, but there is a lack of such action in this one. Really, aside from the hard-boiled detective character and the liberal use of nighttime sequences, there wasn’t very much noir to this one at all, at least for me. Maybe I’ve just been jaded by “super-noirs” like Double Indemnity or Murder, My Sweet too much to appreciate a much more tame noir like this one. Still, for what it was worth, the film itself was well-constructed in just about every regard, and at a brisk less-than-90-minutes, kept me entertained the whole way through.
As much as I did like the fact that it didn’t overstay its welcome, there were a few areas where the film felt a little rushed, in particular the relationship between McPherson and Laura, which is very much glossed over until the character of Waldo Lydecker makes a point of calling out the detective for loving a dead woman. Only then do we really realize that McPherson is pining for Laura, which is unfortunate as that plot point becomes significant in the second half of the film. But, plot quibbles aside, I liked this one; it was well made, and though it wasn’t as “noiry” as I was expecting, it had enough of it that I didn’t feel let down by the end. Dunno how much of a “must see” this is, though, but it’s not a bad way to spend an hour and a half.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10