Laura (Otto Preminger / U.S., 1944):

The perfect noir comedy of desire, an erotic refraction played in dapper proximity to Hitchcock (whatís taken from Rebecca is passed on to Vertigo). The famous opening introduces aristocratic Manhattan as a perfumed glass cabinet, a whip pan followed without pause by a dolly-in reveals Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) in his bathroom soaking like Marat, venomous typewriter suspended above a marble bathtub. Queenly aesthete and viperish columnist ("sentiment comes easy at 50 cents a word"), he finds a Galatea in Laura (Gene Tierney) and helps her ascend from Madison Ave. go-getter to shimmering socialite. A disfigured corpse brings out the blue-collar detective (Dana Andrews) and the shady bourgeoisie: a sponging playboy (Vincent Price), the "lean, strong body" easily toppled, and the dead girlís aunt (Judith Anderson), a sort of neurotic high-priestess of the penthouse set. In the remarkable central passage, the saturnine lawman rummages through Lauraís apartment, going through letters and clothes before pouring himself a drink and dozing off by the painted portrait hanging above the fireplace. The aura is that of a necrophiliac incantation, the audience on the armchair bewitched by the illusionist opening on the wall, with the dreamer suddenly confronted by the reality thatís just walked through the front door. "Kinda balls things up, doesnít it?" From the midpoint resurrection to the erect rifle in the antique clock to the detectiveís handheld pinball toy (remembered by Godard in Made in U.S.A.), no bit of urbane surrealism escapes Otto Premingerís Viennese eye. Keeping the characters in medium distances, he contemplates the Baudelairean specter that is the heroine through the trio of clods projecting ideals onto her, not with severe interrogation lights but with the moody illumination of a continually reframing camera. A feverish trance wrapped in a deadpan investigation, mirrored laterally by the rest of the directorís career. "Love is stronger than life," cries the culprit; the shattered clock fills the screen at the outset, an ideal image for a suave entertainment unsettled by Premingerís mix of seamless classicism and inquisitive modernism. Cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. Music by David Raksin. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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