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Literature / Laura

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"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 with Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her..."
Waldo Lydecker

New York City police detective Mark McPherson is investigating the murder of Laura Hunt, who had become one of the biggest names in the advertising business, thanks largely to the help and influence of her mentor, Waldo Lydecker. McPherson puts together the pieces that led up to the murder, and questions everyone from the dead woman's aunt to her fiancé, but finds himself slowly falling in love with the late Laura, particularly from staring at her portrait.

Laura is a 1943 novel by Vera Caspary. Originally, the story was supposed to be a play, but, after it failed to materialize, it was written into as a book. The novel was adapted by Otto Preminger into a classic 1944 film starring Gene Tierney as Laura, Dana Andrews as McPherson, Clifton Webb as Lydecker, and Vincent Price as Laura's fiancé Shelby Carpenter. The film was one of the first to be labeled Film Noir, being one of the Trope Makers of the genre. It was also later adapted into a TV play.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Curves: In the film Waldo Lydecker is played by the very slim Clifton Webb, whereas in the book he is portrayed as obese.
  • Adaptation Deviation:
    • The film features a different murder weapon from the book.
    • The book has twin glass ornamental globes in Lydecker's and Laura's apartments. The movie replaces them with twin clocks that were used to hide the murder weapon.
    • In the book, Laura is painted wearing a hunting outfit. This outfit, plus the fact there are no pictures of anyone else in her apartment, serves to emphasize her self-reliance (an unusual thing in a woman of that era, and also an echo of author Vera Caspary's own self-reliance). In the movie, she is painted in a negligee, emphasizing her attractiveness.
    • Laura's aunt in the book is named Susan, and her attraction to Shelby is only implied. The film renames her Ann and makes their relationship explicit.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: The clocks' strike is a key plot point in the movie—but wind-up clocks need separate drive trains for moving the hands and striking the time, and so require two keyholes on the clock face. The prop clocks seen in the movie only have one keyhole, which would be for the hands; hence, they could not actually have struck the time.
  • Big "NO!": Bessie the maid lets out a very loud "NO!" after Mark arrests Laura for murder.
  • Camp Straight: Waldo has almost every gay mannerism you can think of, but is madly in love with Laura.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The pair of identical clocks. Waldo and Laura both have one in their homes. Mark finds a secret compartment in Waldo's, which Laura doesn't know exists on hers. That's where Waldo hides a shotgun for the final sequence. In the book, Waldo's ever-present cane turns out to be a disguised shotgun.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: There is a montage of all the pretty and very expensive clothes Waldo bought Laura.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Waldo seems to feel that no other man is worthy of Laura's affection. He uses his column to destroy the career of the painter of her portrait, openly loathes Shelby, chides Mark for his seeming posthumous interest in her, and, in the climax, we learn that he was the murderer, driven to Yandere status by his obsession with Laura.
  • The Dandy: Waldo has a very natty dress sense and is known for his walking stick and his white carnation.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Mark first meets Waldo in Waldo's spacious bathroom, where Waldo is naked in the bath. This demonstrates Waldo's monolithic confidence in himself and need to dictate terms in all situations, whilst his luxurious apartment shows his wealth and pride in it. He even stands up naked, albeit only after Mark has handed him a washcloth and turned his back. It's also an Establishing Character Moment for Mark McPherson as Waldo describes an incident when McPherson had a shoot-out with a gangster and won but was left with a silver shin-bone. This further demonstrates how well-read Waldo is and his need to be the narrator of life.
  • Expy: In the novel, Waldo is based on the corpulent, Affably Evil Count Fosco from Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (which also influenced Caspary's use of Switching P.O.V.). Averted in the movie, where Otto Preminger wanted a thin actor who wasn't Obviously Evil.
  • Faint in Shock: Waldo collapses when he sees Laura alive. He says that it's epilepsy and runs in the family.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Mark assumes career woman Laura won't be able to cook, and offers to make breakfast. Turns out she can cook extremely well.
  • Film Noir: The film isn't really dark in theme, but has many of the style tropes of that genre.
  • Flashback: Much of the first half of the film is told this way, as other characters recount their relationships with Laura.
  • Foreshadowing: In the book, Mark sees Waldo "accidentally" break an antique after the owner refuses to sell it to him. It's a hint that Waldo is willing to destroy anything he can't possess, including Laura.
  • The Ghost: Laura. Also a subversion.
  • Gold Digger: Vincent Price's Shelby is a male example of this, first latching onto Laura, then onto her even more well-to-do aunt Ann (Judith Anderson). Ann, unlike Laura, fully understands this, and believes this is why she and Shelby are perfect for each other; she'll never expect him to be better than he is.
  • Hardboiled Detective: McPherson affects this manner, despite being a legitimate NYPD detective. Turns out McPherson isn't actually that hardboiled at all. This is lampshaded in the book, in which Laura echoes author Vera Caspary's own disdain for that type of detective.
    "In detective stories there are two kinds, the hardboiled ones who are always drunk and talk out the corners of their mouths and do it all by instinct; and the cold, dry, scientific kind who split hairs under a microscope."
    "Which do you prefer?"
    "Neither," she said. "I don’t like people who make their livings out of spying and poking into people’s lives. Detectives aren’t heroes to me, they're detestable."
  • If I Can't Have You…: Waldo tried to kill Laura for choosing another man over him.
  • It's All About Me: Waldo is highly self-centered, to the point that it sometimes falls squarely into A God Am I territory. His recollections of Laura are all through the filter of how divinely awesome he is.
    "In my case, self-absorption is completely justified. I have never discovered any other subject quite so worthy of my attention."
  • Love at First Sight: Mark falls in love with Laura before he meets her, but it takes all of one day for Laura to start returning his affection and interest.
  • Love Before First Sight: Mark falls in love with Laura before he even meets her.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Waldo's final speech confirms this in his case.
  • Maybe Ever After: Mark is clearly in love with Laura, and she kisses him before the climactic confrontation, but then the film ends, albeit with her in his arms. Similarly for the Beta Couple, Ann is last seen comforting an appreciative Shelby.
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: Laura has natural charisma and intelligence, but she was stuck as a lowly office worker before Waldo's guiding hand and networking connections gave her the boost she needed. This fact also gives Waldo a sense of entitlement towards Laura, as he's the one who got her off the ground in the first place. Though, given how egotistical Waldo is, this might be a highly self-serving account by an Unreliable Narrator.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Waldo Lydecker, the acerbically witty newspaper columnist, was modeled on Alexander Woolcott, a Caustic Critic for The New Yorker (who also served as the inspiration for Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner).
  • Nice Girl: Everyone loves Laura, with good reason; she's genuinely a nice and successful person.
  • Pimped-Out Cape: Laura wears a cape studded with pearls on the shoulder in one scene, and a mink cape in another.
  • Pretty in Mink: The clothes Waldo buys Laura includes a few furs, including a fox wrap, a mink cape, and even a knee length fur skirt.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Each narrator in the book provides a conflicting assessment of Laura's character. Including Laura herself.
  • Red Herring: Ann seems the most suspicious of the earliest cast of characters, secretly seeing Shelby and not seeming all that troubled over Laura's murder soon after it happens. She's innocent, though.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Laura's reaction upon getting home and being informed that she was murdered three days ago.
  • The Reveal: Laura being alive was a big twist, even if it came at the middle instead of the end.
  • Secondary Character Title: While she certainly drives the plot, Laura can in no way be considered the protagonist of this movie. That's Detective Mark McPherson.
  • Southern Gentleman: Shelby presents himself as one. He's not much of a gentleman, though.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: The story starts with Laura's funeral, even though it turned out to be mistaken.
  • The Stoic: McPherson keeps his cool even under extreme provocation from Lydecker and others.
    • Waldo as well, barely flinching when the much bigger Shelby Carpenter goes to hit him, merely disguising his irritation by snarking at McPherson for playing with his puzzle. Throughout the film, while everyone else is afraid of being accused of Laura's murder, he never by word or gesture expresses guilt or nervousness. Even when Mark announces that Laura's attempted murderer is in the room and walks around, looking every person in the eye, most of them are terrified but Waldo remains completely unflappable. Even more impressive, considering he did it.
  • Switching P.O.V.: In a structure influenced by Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, the novel uses multiple narrators, switching from Mark's point of view to Waldo's to Laura's.
  • Sword Cane: Waldo carries a gun cane in the novel. It's the murder weapon.
  • Unreliable Narrator: One section of the book is narrated in first person by the character who is later revealed as the killer. Needless to say, this character never gets around in all that time to mentioning that they actually committed the crime, although nor do they ever say that they didn't.
  • Westminster Chimes: Laura's grandfather clock, which Waldo has a duplicate of, uses London's Westminster's chimes.