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HTF REVIEW: FOX Film Noir - LAURA



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#1 of 43 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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Posted March 06 2005 - 05:01 PM

FOX FILM NOIR 01
Posted Image

LAURA






Studio: 20th Century Fox
Film Year: 1944

U.S. Rating: NR

Film Length: 87 minutes
Genre: Drama

Aspect Ratio:[*] 1.33:1
Colour/B&W: B&W

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: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

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 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

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 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

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 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

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!

Michael Osadciw
05.03.07

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#2 of 43 ONLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted March 06 2005 - 07:37 PM

Thank you for the review. A week ago or so, I watched "Laura" again on the Fox Movie Channel and I noticed that the video presentation was much more pleasing to my eyes than a previous showing about a year ago. So I'm assuming that this latest showing was from the same transfer used for the dvd. Hopefully, I'll have my dvd later this week.Posted Image





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#3 of 43 OFFLINE   Jeff_HR

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Posted March 07 2005 - 02:26 AM

Well, well, well I can hardly believe this is finally available. Posted Image Thanks for the audio & video info. I'll retire my old Laserdisc now. My collection of Clifton Webb films continues to slowly grow.
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#4 of 43 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted March 07 2005 - 02:53 AM

Wonderful review, Michael! Laura has been long-awaited by many, many film fans and I very excited about this release. I will see for myself tomorrow, but from what I have heard, it is a great package and the price is one hell of a bargain.

#5 of 43 OFFLINE   Mark Anthony

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Posted March 07 2005 - 03:52 AM

Especially at less than a fiver from dvd pacific...! M

#6 of 43 OFFLINE   Richard M S

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Posted March 07 2005 - 04:36 AM

It is such great news about this film finally making it to DVD. About that deleted scene though, it sounds exactly like the scene restored on the Fox laser disc. When that laser disc was released, I do recall reading that the scene was simply deleted because of the cost of the music rights for the song playing in the background, as opposed to the war atmosphere in America. In any case I am glad they included it on this disc, and I am really glad it is listed as volume 1, which means many more are on the way.

#7 of 43 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted March 07 2005 - 04:51 AM

Thanks for the terrific review Mike.

Glad to hear it is on par with the other two Fox noirs about to be released as I am very pleased with Panic In The Streets and Call Northside 777 – both are outstanding films with equally impressive transfers. Can’t wait for my copy of Laura to arrive to complete the first wave.

I really hope this first wave sells well. Fox has priced them quite attractively and their vaults are deep with many other quality noirs waiting to be released… here’s hoping to the success of many others to follow!

Thank you Fox.
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#8 of 43 OFFLINE   Mike_S

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Posted March 07 2005 - 06:08 AM

Is Laura available with Panic In The Streets and Call Northside 777 as a box set as well? -Mike
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#9 of 43 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted March 07 2005 - 06:25 AM

can't wait to watch Laura

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#10 of 43 OFFLINE   Doug Wallen

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Posted March 07 2005 - 07:37 AM

Have not seen Laura in several years. Am eagerly awaiting this and Call Northside 777.

Thanks Fox.Posted Image
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#11 of 43 OFFLINE   Rob Willey

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Posted March 07 2005 - 07:46 AM

I've never seen Laura but I'm tempted to make a very rare (for me) blind purchase. The first five minutes that Fox screened for us last Sept. really hooked me. And the transfer was absolutely gorgeous! Rob
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#12 of 43 OFFLINE   Dana Fillhart

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Posted March 07 2005 - 11:08 AM

Y'know, seeing this thread must be a sign. I was talking with a woman this weekend about films starring the man who my parents named me after (my middle name is Andrew). I've never actually seen a single one of his films, and this woman suggested this title as one she remembers well. Hmm, I think a DVD purchase is staring me in the face...
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#13 of 43 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted March 07 2005 - 01:12 PM

I second that, Rob! When Fox screened the first few minutes for us, the whole crowd let out an, "Awwww..." when they cut it off. I have never seen this picture (but heard so much about it) and I was hooked immediately. Can't wait to see the whole thing. Now maybe I'll finally get all those allusions from Twin Peaks.
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#14 of 43 OFFLINE   Joe Cortez

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Posted March 07 2005 - 04:17 PM

Glad to hear this flick turned out so well on DVD. I've heard a lot about "Laura" and have even seen good portions of it on FMC, but I can never seem to catch the flick in its entirety. I can't wait to pick up this disc and watch it from start to finish finally!

#15 of 43 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted March 08 2005 - 03:17 AM

Looking forward to this one a lot. I remember the endless waiting for the rights issues to be sorted out on VHS---it was one of the very last classics to ever come out on that format--and feared that might repeat itself on DVD. Well, it took 8 years, but that's better than the 15 or so it took for videotape.

#16 of 43 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted March 08 2005 - 08:21 AM

Michael, You're noted "wibbling" appears to be shrinkage in a pre-print element which causes a distortion as the frame advances. In addition you probably noted the bromide drag, which will be covered in a column arriving shortly. RAH

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#17 of 43 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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Posted March 08 2005 - 03:49 PM

Thank you Robert for that information. I'll be looking forward to your upcoming column. Michael

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#18 of 43 OFFLINE   Tommy G

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Posted March 09 2005 - 09:03 AM

Great review Michael. This is my most anticipated release this year. Just received shipping notice from DDD today and I can't wait for it to arrive.
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#19 of 43 OFFLINE   Joel Vardy

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Posted March 09 2005 - 05:16 PM



Same here for a 'blind buy'. Looks like I'm in for a treat Posted Image .

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#20 of 43 OFFLINE   ArthurMy

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Posted March 10 2005 - 05:27 PM

It's a GREAT transfer, that's all I have to say. And I don't know what this comment about sepia is but this film was not shown with any sort of sepia balance in the theaters, as is implied in this review. To add any sort of even minor sepia tint is completely wrong. This film is wonderful black-and-white and what you people call the gray scale is fantastic in this film. It's sharp as a tack and I have not seen Laura look this good since I saw it in 35mm in the sixties.





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