My recent posts about the similarity between the figures of the Fembot and the Femme Fatale from classic film noir have put me in a singularly shadowy mood. What better way to indulge this sense of sensual melodrama than viewing of one of my favorite films, Otto Preminger’s Laura.
Released in 1944, Laura stars Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, playing alongside Clifton Webb as well as Vincent Price, in a somewhat unusual role for him, that of the romantic playboy. Based-off of a 1943 novel of the same name by Vera Caspary, Dana Andrews plays Detective Mark McPherson, a stoic, clever man who is in charge of the Laura Hunt murder case. Was she killed by her philandering lover? A business rival? A jealous friend? And why can the usually rational McPherson not get the intriguing Miss Hunt out of his mind? Is it possible to fall in love with a woman who’s already dead? Given that it was ranked as the fourth best mystery film in AFI’s 10 Top 10 list, I’m certainly not going to give away the ending. Watch it for yourselves and be enthralled, that’s my recommendation.
One of the things I love best about this film, if I can pick only one thing, is the way in which it reveals darker, harsher sides to the commonly used theme of love, a trick film noir was particularly apt at pulling, showing audiences the seedy underside of what they thought was a well-ordered world.
Love is and probably will forever be one of our greatest motivators. Love has shaped human history in more ways than it is possible to count and it has been at the center of many fictions told from the beginning of time. It’s something that most everyone hopes to experience one day and something they will never forget. But it doesn’t always lead to the best of outcomes, and it very frequently brings out the monsters in men.
It’s important to remember, when exploring a seemingly exhausted theme like ‘love’, that there is more than one angle to everything – that one man’s happiness is another’s misery; no ideal is untouched by impurity or evil. In order to accurately represent a theme such as ‘love’, ‘war’, or ‘justice’, a writer must give the audience as many varied examples, both good and bad, of the thing as possible. As much as we might wish love was an idyllic prize, we’ve all known of or heard of someone for whom it caused only heartache, sorrow, or even death. A writer has to recognize a theme’s nebulousness, admit its less than pleasant truths, in order to make the story worth experiencing.
Laura does just that. The tagline of the film when it was released was: “Laura. The story of a love that became the most fearful thing that ever happened to a woman!” But even that simplifies the film’s treatment of the subject. We have the couple of Laura and Shelby – a pretty pair, who might legitimately care for one another, but aren’t really well matched. Bessie, Laura’s maid, adores her unconditionally, so much so that she’s willing to withhold evidence to keep her mistress’ death from being sensationalized in the press. Detective McPherson, falling helplessly in love with a woman he never met, except as a corpse, has to come to terms with his feelings in order to see the truth behind her life. Laura is a film that reminds us that nothing is as simple as it seems. As a writer, I find this an important and hopeful source of inspiration.
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