Next stop on the iCheckMovies noir list is Otto Preminger’sLaura“, a sophisticated, classy detective drama, which unfortunately left me feeling a little disappointed.

Tough New York detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is investigating the murder of advertising executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney). Laura is loved by men and admired or envied by women, and it is up to McPherson to sift through her relationships to try to piece together the puzzle. As he investigates her private affairs through witness testimony and private documents, he finds himself falling in love with the idea and essence of Laura. When a surprise visitor arrives at Laura’s apartment a few days into the investigation, the case is turned on its head and the plot thickens.

There is no denying the film’s glossy production values. Excellent camera-work moves smoothly through gorgeous sets, snappy dialogue is present throughout, and it is generally timed and directed with precision. The film won the Oscar in 1945 for cinematography, beating Wilder’s superbly shot Double Indemnity, and it also picked up nominations for “best supporting actor”, “best screenplay” and the archaic and oddly specific “best art direction- interior decoration, Black-and-White”. Preminger also received a nomination for Best Director alongside Hitchcock and Wilder (Leo McCarey ultimately took the statue home in one of many errors in judgment by the Academy). On a technical level Laura cannot be criticised by anyone but the most pedantic of viewers.

The screenplay is the main thrust of a film of this type though, and although it generally delivers, it also hits a couple of bum notes. Detective McPherson is essentially an extension to the audience in the first half of the film, and he speaks to characters the viewers want to speak to, and asks the questions they want asked. The plot is teasingly unveiled, with just enough information to keep you guessing, and little enough to preseve the mystery. Just when you think you are figuring something out, another twist sheds a whole new light on things. Unfortunately though, it’s a bit too clever for it’s own good, and takes a few liberties to recover – ones which are deal-breakers in my opinion. I do not want to spoil the plot too much for anyone that hasn’t seen this yet, but I baulked when McPherson – completely unprompted and without motive – knew exactly where the obscurely hidden murder weapon was. It was as if he had suddenly developed x-ray vision. Hints were subliminally suggested to the audience earlier in the film, but there really was no way the detective could have known about it.

There were a couple of other issues that I cannot really discuss in great detail without spoilers – for example an emotional level to a relationship that seems to develop in a blink of an eye. I can’t say any more, but there are other flaws if you are keeping a close eye on the plot developments. I am all for a little suspension of disbelief in movies, but for a film that requires such concentration on the character and plot developments, sloppy plot-holes and a moment of Deus ex Machina should not have existed, and this left a nasty taste in my mouth.

The two main stars of the film, Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews put in great performances, especially Andrews as the shrewd detective. The same cannot be said for supporting actor Vincent Price. It probably doesn’t help that his character is a bumbling idiot, but Price delivers the lines in a very stagey, slightly awkward way and was a bit of an ambience breaker. I’m a fan of Price’s later work, but his inexperience shows here.

Overall if you want a classy, impeccably produced, twist-filled detective film, and can sacrifice plausibility for ambience, then Laura is likely to impress. The production values go a long way in papering over some inherent flaws in the script, but leaves the film a little clinical and sterile.

3 / 5