MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.
Laura (1944, 88 minutes)
Otto Preminger’s Laura fits squarely into film noir’s pigeon-hole, but it’s done with a more lyrical touch than usually seen in this genre. Not to say it doesn’t have a hard-boiled mug as Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), the cop assigned to investigate the grisly shotgun murder of socialite Laura Hunt. Maybe it’s the haunting David Raksin melody bearing the film’s name that sands off any rough edges.
“I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” intones NYC newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), musing aloud about the death of his friend. “A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. I felt as if I was the only human being left in New York City. With Laura’s horrible death, I was left alone. And I was the only one who really knew her.”
Lydecker’s reverie, trying to soak away this devastating event while sitting chicken-chested, pecking away at a manual typewriter set up on the side of his bath tub, is interrupted by McPherson’s arrival. Aided by his notes, the columnist begins to repeat the statement he’s already given to two investigating officers. “Laura phoned and canceled our dinner engagement at precisely 7 o’clock. After that I … ” McPherson finishes the alibi for him: “You ate a lonely dinner, then got into the bath to read. Why did you write it down? Afraid you’d forget it?” Lydecker’s story lies limp, like a washcloth on the bathroom floor. “I am the most widely misquoted man in America,” he sputters, fishing for a valid explanation.
The journalist dresses quickly as McPherson plays a kid’s game, trying to get four tiny ball bearings to settle into holes in the four bases of a pocket-sized baseball diamond under glass. “Something you confiscated from a raid on a kindergarten?” Lydecker snipes. “Takes a lot of control,” says McPherson. “Would you like to try it?” “No, thanks,” replies the older man.
Out of the blue, McPherson asks, “Were you in love with Laura, Mr. Lydecker? Was she in love with you?” As he inserts a carnation into his lapel, Lydecker answers, “Laura considered me the wisest, the most interesting man she’d ever met. I was in complete agreement with her there. She thought me also the kindest, the gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world.” “Did you agree with her there, too?” asks the cop. “Let me put it this way,” says the writer. “I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbor’s children devoured by wolves.” On that cryptic note, Lydecker asks if he can accompany McPherson on his round of interviews with possible suspects. “I should like to study their reactions,” he says. “You’re on that list, yourself, you know, ” reveals the detective. “Good. To have overlooked me would have been a pointed insult.”