LAURA is about a man in love with a dead woman. It has a mid-point surprise that’s a reversal of the big shock in PSYCHO; instead of someone we thought we’d be following for the rest of the movie being killed, we find someone we thought had been killed is who we’ll be following for the rest of the movie.
LAURA is filled with warped lovers. Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) claims to be in love with Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), but sneaks around with her Aunt Ann (Judith Anderson). Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) is all about the Laura, too, but more as someone he desperately wants to control–he seems completely asexual. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is in love with a dead person, then gets abusive towards her when she turns out to be alive. And Laura falls for this cold bastard, for some reason. No one here is happy, or capable of happiness. They all live to jab at each other.
On the surface it’s a mystery about the murder of a society woman who has a lot of admirers–why would anyone want to kill this beautiful, popular woman? Look closer and it’s about the complete lack of love among this tight little group of creeps.
LAURA is a good co-feature with I WAKE UP SCREAMING, another movie about a detective in love with a dead woman (both include pictures of the women as important details). Every character lies, to him- herself and to everyone else. No underworld types, no shady noir characters, but High Society gentlemen and ladies, their hearts as black as any underworld villain’s. Except for Laura, who is treated as a saint, even though at best she’s amoral. She knows what kind of people surround her, but she’s only offended when her fiancee steps out with her aunt. All these vain people make one long for a few loan sharks; at least you know what they want from you.
This is a romance of deception. Detective Mark is our hero because he is willing to deal with his dishonesty about his feelings for Laura. If he continued to lie to himself, the movie would be more hardcore noir, but like so many films of the era it has a happy ending, requiring the hero to Become A Better Man.