Laura (1944), directed by Otto Preminger and starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price, is a murder mystery and film noir. Detective McPherson (Andrews) is investigating the murder of Laura Hunt after her body was discovered at the entrance to her apartment, her face unrecognizable after a shotgun blast to the head. His two main suspects are newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Webb), who tries to lend a hand in the investigation, and Laura's somewhat sleazy fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Price), who is receiving cash for companionship from Laura's aunt. Both Lydecker and Carpenter are dubious and immediately unlikable. McPherson, on the other hand, becomes obsessed with Laura, spending time lazing about with drink in hand in her apartment and falling in love with her, seemingly through the portrait of her on a wall.
But Laura is not dead. McPherson falls asleep in her living room and is shocked when she walks through the door after returning from a trip someplace (where the radio wasn't working, so she hadn't heard the news of her murder). This part confused me, as I thought a drunk McPherson was actually dreaming Laura was still alive, and I had to get back on track with the plot after realizing later that what happened after she turned up was in fact not a dream. His investigation continues, though now he must find out who the murdered woman was and why she was killed in Laura's apartment.
Laura is considered to be one of the greats of film noir, and I can see how it's unconventional but can't figure out why it's ranked so highly in lists of best noir films. The dialogue, especially from Lydecker, is biting and fast-paced, and there are twists and surprises. Watching Vincent Price not in a monster film is interesting, and the very attractive Gene Tierney helped hold my attention. Strangely, her character's reputation as a sophisticated and successful advertising exec, which we come to know before she resurfaces—through the way she's described by acquaintances and how she's characterized through the portrait—doesn't ring true once we get to know her "in person." I can't see any reason for her character being depicted differently than she seems to be later, and I think this must be something of a flaw in the storytelling or perhaps poor casting, since although Tierney is a treat to watch and a talented actress, she's too girlie in the way she plays Laura. It's a fun movie but not one I'd put in my personal list of favorite noirs.