The Daily Stream: Laura, A Strange Experiment In Love ... And Murder!

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Laura"

Where You Can Stream It: Criterion Channel

The Pitch: Directed by Otto Preminger and released in 1944, "Laura" is, simply put, the story of a detective who falls in love with the woman whose murder he's investigating.

Based on the 1943 novel of the same name by Vera Caspary, the story follows Detective Lieutenant Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) as he investigates the murder of one Laura Hunt (played by the captivating Gene Tierney in flashbacks). The more he learns about her from her old flames, friends, and fiancé (a very young Vincent Price, FYI), the more he falls in love with her. But can he solve the mystery of her murder?

Why It's Essential Viewing

Let me start off by saying if you know nothing about this movie, good. Go into it completely blind. Stop reading right now, and come back once you've checked it out on Criterion Channel.

I'm not joking. It may have come out in 1944, but enough people don't know it exists to give anyone the opportunity to see it through fresh eyes for the first time. You won't regret it.

"Laura" breaks with convention every chance it gets, and it does so exquisitely. Preminger's a deft hand at creating a haunting portrait of a woman that's so captivating — made that much easier by virtue of Gene Tierney's exceptional performance as the titular Laura — you'll get lost in its barely noticeable tonal shifts. It ebbs and flows with such ease, gliding effortlessly through points of view, and faking the audience out every chance it gets. 

Ok, enough of the hyperbolic praise, however justified.

"Laura" is an absolute banger. Am I biased because it's my absolute favorite film noir? Perhaps. But it was recommended to me by Noirvember creator and film noir aficionado Marya E. Gates a few years ago, and I've been eternally grateful ever since. She encouraged me to go in blind, and my god was I not disappointed.

Murder Is My Favorite Crime

So if you're still here, you've seen "Laura" already. Or you don't care about 77-year-old spoilers. Honestly, I can't blame you.

Regardless, This movie is absolutely stunning. It starts off as a murder mystery, slowly taking you through the late Laura Hunt's life by way of stories (and flashbacks) from her former beau, the cantankerous Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). Waldo's a journalist and radio personality who boasts of making an obscene 50 cents per word in 1944 (which would translate to $7.86 USD today, making a piece this length worth approximately $7,860 ... now I'm sad). His earning potential is as much a part of his personality as his walking stick or his disdain for ordinary human beings.

Waldo tells Detective McPherson all about Laura — how they met, where they went for dinner, what their experience was like while he groomed her, essentially. He helped her get ahead in her career, and, as all egomaniacal men are wont to do, took complete credit for her success.

Clifton Webb's portrayal of Waldo is magnificently queer-coded and delightfully sardonic. He's a perfect villain in part because he's loathsome while still being entertaining from the very start, and at the time was unassuming. He almost didn't get the job because he was perceived as being too "effeminate," according to 20th Century Fox chief at the time, Darryl F. Zanuck.

Waldo is probably one of my favorite characters in the entire film for one simple reason: he's our gateway not only to the story but breaking with the conventions of the genre as they were understood at the time. Voiceovers and flashbacks are a staple of many film noirs, though not a necessity. There is truly no one right or wrong way to make a film noir, stylistically, thematically, narratively, or otherwise. But what seems to be most common is that the protagonist of the story is usually the one doing the voiceover. Not the villain. And while there was a trend towards having a dead person do the narration, again, that was seldom the villain's duty.

Old Waldo over here definitely did things differently.

Like I said, when "Laura" makes you think it's gonna zig, it zags!

The murder mystery stealthily and ever so delicately becomes a haunting love story. McPherson falls in love with Laura the more he learns about her. She's managed to shake him to his very core from beyond the grave. Or so he thought. That is until she comes home and the poor guy thinks he's seen a ghost.

Enter the next zag, wherein "Laura" ever so briefly presents as a ghost story. If you've gone in blind, that's where this effect really sinks in. May actually give you the chills, even for a second. And that's how you know that you can't predict what's going to happen next. Or maybe you can, but half the fun of watching a movie is surrendering to it and taking the Leap of Faith. "Laura" is worth that leap, I promise you.

Perfect for those long rainy nights we've all come to expect from November, "Laura" will keep you enthralled and guessing what's next at every turn.