“Laura” won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Black & White, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Clifton Webb), Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Art Direction, Black & White.
Cited by historians as one of the first prototypes of film noir, "Laura" still retains a special allure for those who caught the classic on late-night TV airings. A textbook example on how to craft a successful murder mystery, the film's major twist - the sudden appearance of the supposedly deceased - also became a standard story template for several Universal TV series, including "Columbo" and "Magnum P.I." "Laura" was also remade several times for TV, and Vera Casparay's novel enjoyed a long publishing legacy.
The duty of the DVD's dual commentary tracks is to tell fans and newcomers why this film remains so special, and recall some of the classic Hollywood conflicts that led to its formal creation. Not dissimilar from "Casablanca," "Laura" also went through various casting choices, rewrites, and directors, and historian Rudy Behlmer more or less transposes his intriguing making-of chapter from his excellent book, "Behind The Scenes."
The second track is headlined by historian Jeanine Basinger, and composer David Raksin (who wrote the film's hugely popular theme). Both tracks offer decent clusters of information, but what Fox's producers need to address is the problem of repeated information. Behlmer recalls Raksin's eureka moment that led to the famous song, while the composer also describes the event; Raksin's recollections clock in at less than fifteen minutes at best, and aside from a handful of completed thoughts, one or two-word utterances are inter-spliced with Basinger's comments; Basinger herself points out obvious visual moments, story points, and sometimes structures her comments as though listeners haven't seen the film yet.
Perhaps it's a contractual obligation to give speakers their own full-length track, but a tightly-paced single track would have done the job, and erased a few obvious pauses when a speaker gets caught up in the drama and starts watching the film when they should know better (although an understandable indulgence). Film music fans will find Raksin's own contributions disappointing, particularly since the late composer spent many years teaching his craft to some of today's top composers, and offers so little on his first and only DVD commentary. Overall it's still a good collection of light theory, anecdotes, and historical facts, but there's no extra value in boasting dual commentaries when an exceptional single more than suffices.
Like 20th Century Fox's Studio Classics line, this noir edition includes an excellent pair of "Biography" episodes on Tierney and secondary co-star Vincent Price. While slick and frequently drizzled with saccharine muzak, the interviews, rare film clips, and career overviews frequently offer goodies missed by the biographers & historians.
The audio-visual extras largely cover the stars, so it's all the more welcome that each commentator makes appreciative nods towards producer/director Preminger, who directed some extremely solid thrillers during his thirteen years at Fox. (Preminger's own account of his big American directorial break can be read in his slim but lively 1977 autobiography, and in Gerald Pratley's 1971 interview book.)
If the film proper and the extras aren't sufficiently alluring, there's also a deleted sequence, which can be played separately, or in an optional 'longer version'. (The sleeve notes also list an alternate opening, but there isn't one.) The montage's a nice bonus for an already loaded DVD, and its omission from the final release version is accompanied by an amusing explanation via an optional commentary. (Bits of the sequence also appear in the original trailer, which also sports narration by what sounds like a young Mike Wallace.)
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan