Tag Archives: Clifton Webb

Laura (1944, Otto Preminger)

Laura is a film with multiple twists and a brilliant screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt but none of it would work without Preminger’s direction of his cast. Preminger’s direction, in terms of composition, is fantastic. Thanks in no small part to cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, every moment of Laura looks wonderful. Preminger has a fabulous way of positioning his actors, particularly Dana Andrews in the first half of the film, to enhance the performance. It’s not quite a trick, though it is separate from the other way Preminger directs the cast.

The film is able to get through its twists and turns, which–with a major exception–are entirely about the characters, not just because of how the actors succeed in those scenes but because of how they, and Preminger, have established their characters throughout. It’s also where the script comes in–for example, Laura works because Andrews and Clifton Webb bond. With the beautifully cut flashback sequence introducing the viewer (and Andrews) to Gene Tierney’s eponymous character, through Webb’s perspective–Louis R. Loeffler is the editor; don’t want to forget him–Preminger is able to sublimely arrange the characters for later revelations. Webb and Andrews play wonderfully off one another. Webb’s erudite snob and Andrews’s mildly laconic police detective are great together. The script goes for gimmicky dialogue; Preminger and the actors sell it thanks to a self-awareness.

Because, even though it’s a mystery, Laura needs a certain amount of melodramatic flair to succeed. David Raksin’s lush, emotional score, along with rainswept New York streets–not to mention the wonderful sets–Laura is far from realistic. Preminger never lets it go too far though. The film runs less than ninety minutes, with it changing tone fifty minutes in; that second half, very different from the first, still occupies the same spaces. The film’s exquisitely constructed.

The film’s major twist is incredibly melodramatic in its plot implications. All that careful construction is what makes it work so well.

And, like I said, that careful construction has to do with the actors as well. Like when Tierney and Andrews get together, their chemistry is perfect. Scene after scene, even as their relationship develops, the chemistry is precise. It’s a little more obvious–as Andrews moons over her–but it’s the same careful way Preminger established Andrews and Webb’s relationship.

All the acting in the film is excellent. Webb’s the best, just because. Andrews and Tierney are both great. Andrews gets to have more fun at the beginning of the film, but it’s only fair because co-star Vincent Price doesn’t get to have much fun until near the end of the film. Price’s good, Judith Anderson’s good. No one else got billed, but Dorothy Adams deserved it as Tierney’s maid.

Laura’s a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Otto Preminger; screenplay by Jay Drawler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt, based on the novel by Vera Caspary; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by David Raksin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dana Andrews (Det. Lt. Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell) and Dorothy Adams (Bessie).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE GENE TIERNEY 95TH BIRTHDAY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY SIMOA OF THE ELLIE BADGE.


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The Razor's Edge (1946, Edmund Goulding)

While home video did wonders for increasing film appreciation, I have to wonder if MGM’s embracing of the format for their old catalogue didn’t greatly hinder young people in the 1980s from learning about film. As a child, I had seen MGM, I had seen RKO, I had seen Warner Bros. But I never saw any Columbia (that I remember) and I’m pretty sure I never saw any 20th Century Fox films, because when I did start seeing them in the mid-1990s (on AMC), I was surprised. I had no idea they’d been around and done so much. It’s a laziness, I suppose, but film interest tends to start as a hobby. I guess it got better with cable (my AMC experience) and today, with DVD, it’s probably about even… Fox does have a good classics series, though their box set is rather crappy and doesn’t inspire much interest (just like their VHS box art). Fox didn’t originally release their VHS titles–they licensed them through Key Video–so each title was doubly selected for profitability.

The Razor’s Edge fell through the cracks. It won Anne Baxter an Academy Award (she’s great, but certainly not the best performance in the film, which has five excellent performances), and lost to The Best Years of Our Lives, which is fine. But, it was a big hit. It was Fox’s biggest hit… and it disappeared. I’d never heard of it when I first saw it in 1997 or 1998–and I had worked at a video store with a significant classics section. Watching it today, I’m upset the film doesn’t have the level of respect it deserves. It’s an amazing film; it runs 145 minutes and never feels like it, compressing 9 years into the first hour, then exploring the effects of those nine years in the second. There’s another bit of compression in there too, but the characters manage to grow beautifully over this time. The make-up crew “de-aged” the cast (particularly Clifton Webb), then gradually caught them up and beyond. The make-up and the handling of the timeline work beautifully. I can’t think of a better handling of such a long stretch than in this film.

It’d be easy credit the book the whole way, but Lamar Trotti does an incredible job adapting it, focusing it–The Razor’s Edge features its author, W. Somerset Maugham, in an instrumental role. I can’t believe Herbert Marshall didn’t get nominated for it (I’m looking at Edge’s Oscar competition right now at IMDb), but neither did Trotti so I guess I should. Not even Edmund Goulding got a nomination for directing and he’s fantastic. He’s got these long sweeps of the camera, beautiful movement, but my favorite is his lack of reaction shots. Someone will talk, as familiar viewers, we expect a reaction–we get none. Instead, we get the actor continuing, not breaking. It adds an particular realism–in this hugely produced film–a kind not many films have. It involves the viewer in the situation, which spans ten years and three or four continents.

Obviously (I already said it), all the acting is great. Tyrone Power is great in this incredibly difficult role–the film is somewhat from Maugham’s perspective, but also from Maugham’s reader’s perspective–so Power is the protagonist, but also the subject and it never separates that duality. For the first twenty minutes, it’s Gene Tierney’s movie, it’s not Power’s. It appear it ever will be Power’s movie. It’s an odd situation–there are other examples (Barry Lyndon, I suppose), but no one else has ever done such a good job I don’t think. As for Tierney, someone else who is overlooked for her acting ability… Tierney turns an amazing performance. I was going to say exactly what’s so amazing about it, but that description would spoil the film if one didn’t know the story. She’s fantastic. I already mentioned how good Baxter is in the film (Tierney’s better–Baxter has a few scenes, Tierney has ninety-five minutes) and Marshall, but Clifton Webb is great too. The film has incredibly complicated characters–so incredibly complicated it’s impossible to judge any of them, even at the end. Maugham–the writer, not the character–was quite good at delaying the readers judgement and I assume, in The Razor’s Edge, it’s just faithful adaptation, because studio films with big stars were never about reserving judgement.

Not since… well, last week, I watch a lot of movies, you know… This film’s level of excellence is rare. Even more, the lack of recognition for this film’s excellence is an unbelievable blemish to film history.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Edmund Goulding; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by J. Watson Webb Jr.; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tyrone Power (Larry Darrell), Gene Tierney (Isabel Bradley), John Payne (Gray Maturin), Anne Baxter (Sophie Nelson Macdonald), Clifton Webb (Elliott Templeton), Herbert Marshall (W. Somerset Maugham), Lucile Watson (Louisa Bradley), Frank Latimore (Bob Macdonald), Elsa Lanchester (Miss Keith), Fritz Kortner (Kosti), John Wengraf (Joseph), Cecil Humphreys (Holy Man) and Cobina Wright Sr. (Princess Novemali).


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