Studio: 20th Century Fox
Film Year: 1944
U.S. Rating: NR
Film Length: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio:[*] 1.33:1
Audio:[*] English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono[*] English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo[*] Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned: Yes
SLP: US $14.98
Release Date: March 15, 2005
Film Rating: /
Starring: Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Dana Andrews (Det. Lt. Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Mrs. Ann Treadwell)
Directed by: Otto Preminger
The story of a love that became the most fearful thing that ever happened to a woman!
I can’t think of a better film to kick off 20th Century Fox’s newest line of cinema classics on DVD. The Fox Film Noir series begins with Laura, a classic title from 1944. With restored video and audio we can see the true beauty of the film on DVD. Laura is the first of three titles available in the USA and Canada as a part of the first wave of the Fox Film Noir series beginning March 15, 2005.
The film is about Det. Lt. Mark McPherson who becomes obsessed about Laura Hunt, the dead girl who was found murdered on her apartment floor. After seeing her painted portrait on her apartment wall he is mystified by her absolute beauty and perfection. He wants to get inside the head of Laura. He allows himself to become deeply involved in her life and death during his investigation; her entries in her diary, the atmosphere in her apartment, her choice of wine and music, and the men in her life who wanted her beauty all intrigue McPherson about this girl.
There were many men in Laura’s life. Clifton Webb plays Waldo Lydecker, a pompous personality columnist who helped elevate Laura from a small-time girl to a well-respected advertising executive in New York City. Despite their age difference of about 20 years, they remained great friends until Laura began to show interest in the younger and shadily character named Shelby Carpenter (Price) who eventually became her fiancée despite their troubled relationship. There were many men who admired her and women envied her.
McPherson is forced to question all of these people to bring out the events before Laura’s death. Who is guilty of this hideous crime? Who would want to murder this piece of fine beauty? During the course of his investigation, his personal feelings about Laura begin to anguish him. While alone in her apartment one solitary evening while piecing the clues together about her death, McPherson is about to find something extremely important that will change the face of his entire investigation.
Laura’s composition as a film fits the definition of film noir. While film noir is not a genre of film, it’s a way to categorize films with a particular mood and style of movies coming out of this age. While the world was at war, there was paranoia among people – suspicion, anxiety, and pessimism that maybe anytime someone would drop the bomb and end the world. The term “film noir” came out of France from critics who realized how there seemed to be this trend of dark themes from American Crime Cinema. Moods depicting alienation, melancholy, disillusionment became very prominent in the post-war era and lasted to about the late ’50s. Many were black and white films depicting the evil of society and moral conflict of characters. The moods of these films are also brought about by the skewed camera angles and low-keyed lighting among other stylistic strategies.
For many people there are film noir titles that are lasting favourites. Laura is one of those classics. It features some well developed characters through excellent acting. Tierney was still learning the ropes of acting so she doesn’t stand up to the talents of Webb or Andrews, and her role wasn't as commanding as in the film Leave Her To Heaven in which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Laura is also well known for David Raksin’s original score and his theme of Laura. This recurring theme hauntingly identifies her character and is suitable to the plot of the haunted detective.
Laura was the 1944 Academy Award Winner for Best Black and White Cinematography, and was nominated for five other Academy Awards: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Clifton Webb), Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration (B&W), Best Writing, Screenplay, and Best Director (Otto Preminger).
The DVD is packaged in a keep case with artwork design reflecting the new noir series. The poster art of the film is the dominant picture surrounded by a sepia border. Each Film Noir title is given a number on the spine, Laura being 01.
VIDEO QUALITY /
The last time I saw Laura was on a VHS tape of low quality. The film was over-contrasted and continuously marred with film grain, dirt and scratches. Fans of Laura will be pleasantly surprised to see a dramatic improvement from previous presentations of this film. I watched this film with my projector in my second colour temperature preset of 5400K used to watch and evaluate black and white films. This warm and slightly sepia look is quite different from the slightly blue 6500K preset used to evaluate colour films. At 5400K, I am viewing it as it was seen in the theatres. The most immediate improvement with this release is a more realistic contrast. The whites on past viewings were always too much and gave the picture an over-contrasted washed out look because black levels were poor at best. This DVD has deep black levels in most scenes. This more accurate contrast gives the film a better sense of depth, detail, and comfort.
The image isn’t noisy from compression, but there are still artefacts from the film coming through. The result is a milestone improvement compared to previous releases because much of the artefacts are reduced and scratches are barely visible. If you are watching this movie on a smaller screen you may not notice it because the dirt spots are so small. What is noticeable is the distortion of the image in the vertical direction when the film is rolling giving the film a slight “wibbling” effect once and a while. Given the amount of material on this disc, compression artefacts are not noticeable and edge enhancement is not a problem. The aspect ratio according to the DVD is 1.33:1.
AUDIO QUALITY /
There is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo version as well as the original mono audio in Dolby Digital 2.0. My advice is to stay with the mono soundtrack. The stereo version gives a false sense of space with no clear localization of dialogue and effects, much the same as other Fox classics promoted to stereo. The mono sound is clear, focussed, and has a little more bass. Dialogue comes through quite fine although there is background hiss and a few pops and clicks that are audible at louder volumes. No surprises there. Given the age of the soundtrack I don’t expect it to be very dynamic. The audio does sound strained with some music and dialogue, but this is no fault of the DVD but rather the technology of the era. This is the cleanest the audio has ever been presented in the home.
SPECIAL FEATURES /
Two versions of the film are on this disc; the first is the theatrical cut and the second is an extended cut (available in the special features menu) featuring about a minute and a half montage of Laura when Lydecker helped her career and well-being. When viewing it in the extended cut, it takes place about twenty-five minutes in and isn’t as “seamless” as one would think. The scene has not been restored in terms of audio and video like the rest of the film. This scene is also accessible as a deleted scene in the special features menu. This scene was cut due to the war atmosphere in America and wasn’t in the best interests of the film to have it included at that time.
Strangely, the back cover of the DVD claims the extended movie version has an alternate opening. I checked for this and did not see it when viewing it. Maybe it was so minor I never noticed it; but both openings looked identical to me. Maybe it was a feature that was dropped at the last moment? Another error that seems to be apparent in some press releases is a widescreen version of the film on the extended version. This is not on the DVD. How this came about I’m unsure because the only way to get widescreen from this 1.37:1 film is to crop the top and bottom (a method I hope DOES NOT become popular with an HD delivery format).
This DVD also includes two commentaries; one from the late David Raksin, the composer for Laura with Wesleyan University Film Professor Jeanine Basinger. The other commentary features film historian/author Rudy Behlmer. Both are very engaging commentaries that anyone will find worthwhile listening to.
Two A&E Biographies are included on this disc. Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait and Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain given a good run-through on the actors’ youth and career up to their final days. Both are about 45 minutes in length.
At last, the theatrical trailer is included on this disc too. Watching this trailer with its scratches and all makes me appreciate the work done to Laura for this DVD release.
IN THE END…
BRAVO FOX! After such an anticipated wait, both Laura and film noir buffs will be happy with this new series from Twentieth Century Fox. Not only does this DVD look and sound fabulous, it shows that care is still taken for the release of timeless classics reflecting an important era in American cinema. I’ll let you know right now that the remaining two DVDs of this first wave of Fox Film Noir are at par with this release. I can’t wait to see more beyond this! If you haven’t seen Laura I highly recommend you do. This is a fabulous film and DVD to add to the collection - and for only $14.98! This is one of the best deals you will find on DVD sales shelves and chances are you will find it for less. So please don’t pass by this title; the beauty of Laura really is to die for! Highly Recommended!