Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Laura (1944)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Laura (1944)

In unconventional producter/director Otto Preminger's haunting, hard-edged noir romance - it might be called a psychological study of deviant, kinky obsession - even at the height of the Hays Code enforcement period. The gripping, moody, stylish murder mystery was a classic, complex film noir and tale of romance based on the 1943 novel by Vera Caspary. The film contained troubling, unsettling, obsessive undertones of voyeurism, sexual obsession, and ghoulish necrophilia by the hard-boiled detective for a dead woman that he was investigating. With both sharp and witty dialogue, and a great ensemble group of character actors, it was an Academy Award winner for Best Black/White Cinematography. It also featured the haunting melody of the title theme song, David Raskin's "Laura."

Street-wise police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigated the shotgun slaying/murder of a beautiful young socialite Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) - her face had been blown away. During his interviews and work on the case, he became personally absorbed in the details of the young woman's life and found himself irresistibly falling in love with a large portrait of the mysterious victim and his pieced-together image of her. Almost everyone in the cast loved the 'murdered' title character.

The detective's earthy directness and toughness was contrasted to the smug, pseudo-intellectualism of the victim's upper crust, socially-prominent friends in Manhattan, including Laura's elderly mentor Lydecker (Clifton Webb), Laura's fiancee - an effeminate gigolo and "kept man" named Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), and Laura's own amoral spinster aunt Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson) who was Shelby's companion. It was revealed in the film's plot twist halfway through the film that the murdered girl was not Laura, but model Diane Redfern, after Laura returned from a long weekend in the country.

  • the opening title and credits played atop the haunting portrait of the eponymous title character as the haunting 'Laura' theme music was heard (the film's famous atmospheric theme tune by David Raksin)
  • in the memorable opening scene, the camera panned around the interior of a New York penthouse; the occupant's narration (in voice-over) by given by celebrated, prissy, acidic-witted, cynical gay columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) (purportedly based upon columnist, broadcaster, and The New Yorker theater critic Alexander Woollcott), who unfolded part of the story in flashbacks
  • the camera tracked from left to right across glass cabinets with beautifully-displayed shelves of priceless objets d'art (plus it viewed a baroque grandfather clock with pendulum - an important plot point) - in the alcove of Lydecker's elegantly-expensive apartment; it was the hottest day of the summer of 1944, and it was revealed that the story took place in the recent past, at the time of socialite Laura Hunt's (Gene Tierney) death the previous morning: ("I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her. And I had just begun to write Laura's story when - another of those detectives came to see me. I had him wait. I could watch him through the half-open door. I noted that his attention was fixed upon my clock. There was only one other in existence, and that was in Laura's apartment in the very room where she was murdered")
  • the first view of the pompous, snobby and arrogant Lydecker was as he was typing his notes in his bathtub, as he was questioned by handsome homicide gumshoe/police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) of the Homicide Bureau; while listening to "Laura's Theme" on the phonograph, Lydecker asked McPherson: "Have you ever been in love?" with the reply: "A doll in Washington Heights once got a fox fur out of me"
  • an investigation into Laura's murder was pursued by both Lydecker and McPherson, who took a taxi together to the apartment of a possible suspect: Laura's upper-crust, spinster aunt named Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson), a middle-aged society woman; she was neurotically in love with her companion, Southern gold-digging, charming playboy and "kept man" Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), whose marriage to Laura was in question; Anne was decidedly defensive and jealous of the younger Laura, her engagement, and her forthcoming marriage to Shelby; Shelby also arrived and was soon considered a prime suspect; both claimed that they were innocent, and that Laura had planned to go to her country house to decide whether or not to marry Carpenter
  • McPherson was joined by Lydecker and Shelby to visit the inside of Laura's upstairs Manhattan apartment; the murder had occurred at the apartment's front door (the door opened inward); in the living room was a grandfather clock identical to the one in Lydecker's place, and a stunning oil portrait of Laura, the 'murdered' title character; Lydecker and McPherson stared at Laura's portrait above the fireplace
Lydecker and McPherson Staring At Laura's Portrait
  • Lydecker related a montage-style series of flashbacks of his times with Laura, who was about 30 years younger; Lydecker had functioned as Laura's Svengali-like mentor and protective confidant in a platonic relationship, when he helped her become a successful advertising executive; Lydecker was highly jealous of Laura's many suitors, including noted painter Jacoby, the man who had painted her portrait; he had written a scathing column to assassinate the man's character out of spite - to keep another of Laura's suitors at bay; he was also faced with the romantic advances of Shelby upon Laura
First Flashback of Laura As an Aspiring Career Woman (Ad Designer) with Ascerbic Columnist and Mentor Lydecker: ("I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom..")
  • during his second visit to the apartment, McPherson questioned Laura's loyal "domestic" maid Bessie Clary (Dorothy Adams) who castigated him for reading Laura's private letters and diary: ("You've been readin' 'em, pawin' over them. It's a shame in the face of the dead. That's what it is. It's a shame!"). She also stated her adoration for Laura: ("She was a real, fine lady...")
  • and later during McPherson's third visit, while alone in Laura's apartment, the obsessed McPherson read her love letters and diary, rummaged through Laura's bedroom drawers and lingerie, inhaled her perfume, and peered into her mirrored closets and then stared at the haunting, domineering oil portrait of Laura -- and fell in love with the dead woman in the portrait

Laura's Haunting Portrait

Rummaging Through Bedroom Drawers

Peering into Mirrored Closet Door
  • while in the apartment, columnist Waldo Lydecker arrived and objected to McPherson "prying into Laura's letters," especially those from him, and he opposed McPherson's growing attraction to his protegé; he incisively described McPherson's obsession over the murdered bewitching woman: ("...It's a wonder you don't come here like a suitor with roses and a box of candy...Have you ever dreamed of Laura as your wife?...You better watch out, McPherson, or you'll end up in a psychiatric ward. I don't think I ever had a patient who ever fell in love with a corpse")
  • in a surprising and memorable scene (at about the 48 minute mark in the 88 minute film), Laura Hunt suddenly walked into her own apartment - a murdered woman who mysteriously appeared over half way into the film - there were double-stunned looks; NY detective McPherson was uncomfortably shocked when Laura was 'reincarnated' and walked in to her own apartment, awakening him from dozing; Laura was surprised to find a stranger in her apartment. She turned on the light and found him half-sleeping in her armchair next to her portrait. When stirred from sleep as the "dead" Laura appeared, he did a double-take and wiped his eyes, wondering if he was dreaming. At first, he thought she was a ghost or figment of his imagination. He had already dreamed of what she was like from her portrait, her perfume, her clothes, her letters, her apartment's decor, and the recollections of others. He probably wondered if he had willed her into existence
Laura's Sudden Appearance to Detective McPherson
  • she threatened to call the police: "What are you doing here?" - unaware of the news of her own slaying - she had been in her country apartment for three days (from Friday evening to Monday night); Laura was horrified to realize that she was caught in the middle of a murder case - and that she was the victim! She was unaware of the news of her own slaying, that she had been shot in the face in her apartment doorway - she didn't read the newspapers and radio broadcasts were unavailable to her while she was out in the country; when Laura found a dress belonging to young model Diane Redfern in her closet, it was thought possible that the murder victim (in a negligee) was actually one of Laura's design models in a case of mistaken identity; McPherson considered that it was possible that Laura killed Diane Redfern out of jealousy for her association with Shelby, her ex-fiancee; however, he also learned that Laura had decided AGAINST marrying Shelby during her getaway weekend

The Mistaken Victim: Diane Redfern, One of Laura's Designer Models

Laura's Explanation to McPherson of Her Weekend in the Country
  • after tailing Shelby to Laura's country home, McPherson caught Shelby with a recently-fired shotgun in his hands; after being grilled, Shelby confessed he had been in love with Diane; he had snuck Diane Redfern (who thought she was in love with him) into Laura's flat, presumably to talk to her and break off their affair; when the doorbell rang, Shelby remained in the bedroom and asked Diane to answer the door; after she was gun-blasted, he fled the scene and remained quiet; Shelby claimed that he didn't know the murderer's identity, but didn't suspect Laura
  • after reappearing, Lydecker was shocked that Laura was alive, and fell faint to the floor; Laura was one of many prime suspects in the murder case, and a love-hate quadrangle of sorts had developed between Shelby, Laura, Anne, and McPherson (plus Lydecker who was also circling around); at a party celebrating Laura's return, McPherson arrested Laura for the murder of Redfern
  • during a tough interrogation scene in a bare room in police HQs, McPherson grilled Laura about what she had been holding back: ("Let's have it"); after questioning, he began to realize that Laura was innocent of any crime, and had strong ambivalent feelings about Shelby (she had become re-engaged to him); McPherson didn't even book or charge Laura - he brought her there only to erase the last of his doubts about her innocence
  • while searching Lydecker's vacant apartment, McPherson noticed a secret compartment in the base of his grandfather clock, identical to the one in Laura's apartment; McPherson proceeded to Laura's apartment, where he witnessed Lydecker's possessive jealousy over his interest in Laura (in Laura's presence); Lydecker was peeved and embittered by McPherson's masculinity, earthiness, and easy sexuality; as a result of Lydecker's order to stay away from McPherson, Laura brusquely broke off her long-standing relationship with Lydecker, who then congratulated the pair on "what promises to be a disgustingly earthy relationship"

Lydecker's Jealous Disgust After Laura Broke Up With Him

Lydecker's Murder Weapon (Shotgun) Found Hidden in Laura's Clock

McPherson's Explanation of the Accidental Murder of Diane by Lydecker
  • Lydecker stormed out but hesitated in the stairwell, as McPherson searched in the base of Laura's identical grandfather clock; he located the murder weapon - the shotgun in a secret compartment in its base, and removed its bullets; it was now very clear that Lydecker was the actual murderer, who in a jealous rage mistakenly shot the wrong woman (in the face) with a shotgun blast at Laura's apartment door, thinking Diane was Laura; before leaving, McPherson returned the shotgun to its hiding place
  • when Laura was left alone (McPherson went to arrest Waldo), in the drama's climactic scene, the possessively-jealous 'Laura Hunt' murderer Waldo Lydecker, in a passionate rage, snuck back into her apartment through the separate side-kitchen entrance, past her identical grandfather clock; Lydecker removed the shotgun from the clock's base, reloaded the murder weapon, and became startled when he heard his own mellifluous voice on a pre-recorded radio broadcast that Laura was playing within her bedroom
  • Lydecker's sick fantasy was echoed in his own poetic broadcast about how Love lasted beyond death: "And thus, as history has proved, Love is Eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human actions throughout centuries. Love is stronger than Life. It reaches beyond the dark shadow of Death. I close this evening's broadcast with some favorite lines...Brief Life - They are not long, the weeping and the laughter, love and desire and hate. I think they have no portion in us after we pass the gate...They are not long, the days of wine and roses. Out of a misty dream, our path emerges for a while, then closes within a dream"
  • in her bedroom as Laura prepared to retire, Lydecker broke her out of her reverie and shocked her with his appearance; he threatened to mortally wound the real Laura in her bedroom with a blast from a shotgun rather than lose her to McPherson: ("The best part of myself - that's what you are. Do you think I'm going to leave it to the vulgar pawing of a second-rate detective who thinks you're a dame? Do you think I could bear the thought of him holding you in his arms, kissing you, loving you?"); he was about to murder Laura (for the second time! during a murder/suicide) because she had fallen in love with Detective McPherson and was not returning his love
  • he raised his shotgun as McPherson, who had returned with a police force, broke down the locked front door; Lydecker noted: "There he is now. He'll find us together, Laura, as we always have been and we always should be, as we always will be." His words strongly implied that he intended a murder/suicide; Laura deflected the aim of the shotgun upward as it went off
  • McPherson broke through the side kitchen door and entered just in time to save her and have her run and fall into his arms; Waldo was mortally wounded in an exchange of gunfire with the police; his shotgun blast went wild and shattered the face of the grandfather clock

Lydecker Shot Dead by Police

Lydecker Mortally Wounded: "Goodbye, Laura. Goodbye, my love."

The Shotgun-Damaged Grandfather Clock Where the Murder Weapon Had Been Hidden
  • as Waldo was dying and uttered her name ("Goodbye, Laura"), she rushed to his side; the camera rested on the image of the shotgun-damaged grandfather clock as Lydecker's final words were delivered off-screen to Laura with a theatrical flourish: "Good-bye, my love"

The Interior of Columnist Waldo Lydecker's (Clifton Webb) NYC Penthouse

Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) Viewing Lydecker's Grandfather Clock

Detective Mark McPherson

Lydecker in Bathtub, Questioned by the Detective

Laura's Aunt, Socialite Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson)

Laura's Fiancee and "Kept Man" Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price)

Threesome Inside Laura's Apartment

Another Flashback: Laura's Growing Romantic Relationship with Shelby

Lydecker's Jealousy Over Laura's Association with Shelby

McPherson's Questioning of Laura's Maid "Bessie"

Staring at Laura's Haunting Portrait

Lydecker Questioning McPherson's Weird Necrophiliac Obsession

McPherson Falling Asleep Next to the Portrait

McPherson Grilling Shelby at Laura's Country Home

Lydecker Collapsing After Seeing Laura Hunt Alive in Her Apartment

McPherson's Official "Arrest" of Laura at Party

Laura Being Harshly Interrogated by Detective McPherson in a Bare Room in Police HQs

Hidden Compartment Discovered in Base of Lydecker's Grandfather Clock

Lydecker Hiding Outside Laura's Apartment

Lydecker Removing the Gun From Laura's Clock

Threatening Laura With the Shotgun in Her Apartment's Bedroom


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