- Waldo Lydecker
You can say, and I'm not arguing, that Laura is sentimental melodrama.
Yes, it's full of 1940's social protocol and silly hats. Yes, as all my Twelve-Step Group friends have said many times, the love story is based on disaster bonding, the Lady and the Cop have little else in common, it isn't True Love.
But as filmmaking it's so well-crafted that it mends some of those plausibility seams, and if you don't buy that, it's still sumptuous to watch. The one Oscar it won, out of 5 nominations, was for cinematography, but the art direction was nominated too and the two work together. I don't think there's a single object, moment, or shadow in the movie that wasn't chosen to be there, and chosen well.
I find new things in it every time, which is why yall are being subjected to More Than You Wanna Know about why I love this movie. Complete with not-great screen shots in which I sometimes concealed the dvd-player controls and sometimes forgot.
Here in this flashback, Waldo Lydecker tells the detective how he used his newspaper column to mock the talent of Laura's painter boyfriend. Laura, still unaware that Waldo wasn't just her caring mentor but her stalker, found the column witty and insightful, and dumped the boyfriend.
The screenwriters could have written this scene various ways. Waldo is telling the story, but viewers could have seen Laura delighting in the nasty column all by herself - she'd certainly have told Waldo how great she found it. Or he could have come over to her place to observe her reaction, but sat with her at a breakfast table, with Laura fully dressed.
Instead they brilliantly, creepily, place Waldo there in her bedroom, while she, in negligee, is served breakfast in bed.
The camera pans away from Waldo quickly and focuses on a medium close-up of Laura giggling at the column. Possibly to make trimming out Waldo easy, to allow censoring if the Hays Office balked.
But Waldo is definitely there and that adds an icky intimacy to their relationship. It's filmed to demonstrate both how un-platonic his feeling for her was, and how clueless she was about that fact. It's wonderful detail that adds dimension to the characters and a quiet clue to the murder motive that the viewers might or might not catch.
Everything in this movie is about detail. Starting with something little, look at Gene Tierney's outfit in the flashback scenes depicting the fateful day Laura Hunt introduced herself to famous critic Waldo Lydecker.
The costume designer has to outfit Laura for a major character development that takes place within a few hours.
This is a just-out-of-high-school Laura Hunt. Pre-success. Pre-sophistication. But smart, tasteful and ambitious, which is why she wants a celebrity to endorse a product and get her ad campaign noticed. In the restaurant scene, where she's vulnerable and naive, she wears a tasteful but unsophisticated suit with a boxy jacket. The jacket has a demure white collar and cuffs, country girl dressing professional.
Shot down by the acid-tongued Lydecker, she returns to the steno pool at her ad agency.
But he has seen something exceptional in her - or sees a predatory opportunity. Take your pick. I choose both. Anyway, the repentant Lydecker comes to see her that same afternoon, to apologize and give her the product endorsement she wanted. But their roles have flipped. Now he's the uncomfortable one, on her turf, and wanting her approval. Laura has taken off the jacket and her outfit now looks, still unsophisticated and demure, but sleeker, showing innate good taste on a budget, and self-esteem.
More great costuming -- as the plot thickens, we need to suspect several people, including the weak, passive Shelby. How to make this dork seem menacing...??
The coat. If he just stood there in his business suit with that gun, he'd look goofy, but with the coat over his shoulders like a villain's cape, he looks potentially evil.
The sets .... Oh my. There are three New York apartments shown, all belonging to well-off artsy folks. Each is unique, each reflects the owner. Waldo Lydecker, famous columnist and radio personality, has it all, including a leopard-skin chair in his bathroom, and a collection of masks on the wall that includes, as Detective Mark McPherson notices, one scary one given a central spot.
Laura's aunt is also well-off, but her taste is a little more classic and even staid. Hers is the home of an older woman with money, who wants acceptance by high society but can't entirely extinguish her showgirl origins (That, by the way is in the book - the movie doesn't bother to explain her) or lose her taste for superficial pretty boys who love her money.
Laura, now 5 years into being mentored by Lydecker, has been influenced by his tastes, but still likes sentimental music. And ruffles. The first few times I watched Laura, I thought those ruffled lampshades were just 1940's kitsch, but the sets are dressed with a lot more character insight than that. Laura Hunt is a self-made woman, with sophistication modifying her sentimental tastes, but not eradicating them.
My dvd of the movie has features including commentary by a film professor who mentions something I too noticed, but I think the professor misses the meaning in it. That's the importance of Bessie, the maid.
The film professor says that this, in which Detective Mark McPherson meets Bessie, is an unimportant little scene, but it's not. Bessie is a vital force in the movie and it's a key scene.
The movie is famous for its theme of the detective falling for the dead woman whose murder he's investigating. He doesn't fall for her portrait, whatever other observers say about it. The portrait that the people who loved her draw with words does it. The painting itself is merely a tangible object he can focus on ,and possibly own. Bessie loves her employer deeply and blisters Mark's ears with a tirade about Miss Hunt's virtues as a kind, giving, wonderful, true lady, and this is the testimony that tips the scales for McPherson.
Bessie is the method by which the script makes a case for these two possibly having a reality-based love story. Bessie is a hard-knocks Irish woman who hates cops: "I was raised to spit when I saw one." She destroyed evidence to help her beloved Laura keep a good reputation even in death, and she's proud of it.
And McPherson is smart enough to admire Bessie, to let the evidence problem slide, and to see the value of having her as an ally. In that one short scene she drops her cop-hating ways and becomes his biggest fan. Watch her through her few scenes in the rest of the movie. She looks at him as though he made Laura rise from the dead.
Bessie sees that both Mark and Laura are exceptional people, each transcending the world he or she comes from, and it's her devotion to both that symbolizes a solid and reliable bridge between Laura's and Mark's worlds.
The film professor also mentions that Bessie wears the same outfit two days in a row. "It's a one-outfit role" she laughs. I don't think that's it.
Same dress, different day
For a maid who's been presented as uneducated, rather superstitious, and as having a black-and-white view of people, that is a very classy, tasteful dress. Especially for her to come do housekeeping tasks in.
She has actually just come directly from the funeral, according to the book, and apparently they wrote a funeral scene for the film but ditched it. That could explain her nice dress in the first scene, but not the fact that she's wearing it the next day, too.
Nothing says this, but the attention to detail in this movie is so good that I'm pretty dern sure we're meant to see Laura's kind and close relationship with Bessie in that dress. I think Laura gave Bessie the dress, either new or as a cast-off, and that's why Bessie wants to keep wearing it. Strictly my opinion.
Judith Anderson. I LOVE Judith Anderson. You just have to listen as she delivers lines nobody else could speak without sounding like they had a mouthful of graham crackers:
"He knows I know he is just what he is. He also knows that I don't care."
I love Vincent Price, too. Watch him clench his jaw when he's nervous. Watch him always try to make himself look good, so that when he really is telling the truth, and when he's not, he's hard to sort out.
Clifton Webb. Sarcasm at its finest. "Haven't you heard of science's newest triumph; the doorbell?"
This is one case in which the movie is an improvement over the book. The book has a point-of-view problem that filmmaking sort of renders moot. In the novel, several characters narrate, but in each one's segment, the author is forced to tell us things that the current narrator couldn't know, so it kind of shifts into a vague omniscient narrator. I've been told that this is called "author intrusion." They dropped the narrator idea in the film. The camera simply takes us through the investigation.
Just watch it, or watch it again, in a good print. It's a lot of fun.