LAURA (Otto Preminger, 1944)

“They sent me the script, not the score.” — Hedy Lamarr, explaining why she turned down the role of Laura Hunt

David Raksin’s haunting score conveys melancholy obsessiveness and inconsolable regret. It is keyed to two events in the dreamy whodunit Laura: the apparent murder of Laura Hunt (beautiful Gene Tierney, the future love of John Kennedy’s life); the unexpected situation in which police detective Mark McPherson finds himself in the course of investigating the case. The more Mark learns about the victim, the more he falls for her, all the while believing she is lost to him forever. One night, alone in her apartment, he falls asleep in a chair beneath a gigantic portrait of her. A key turns in the door, waking him, and there she is in front of him. They speak in hushed tones. Laura: “What are you doing here? . . . I’m going to call the police.” Mark: “I am the police.” Laura is a highly successful ad designer, someone, that is, committed to superficiality for a living; she had let one of her models use her apartment, and it is this girl who took the close-range shotgun blast in the face that had been meant for her. Laura is alive; Mark’s dream has come true.
     Or has it? At the end of the original script it is revealed that Laura’s “resurrection” is McPherson’s dream; but when Otto Preminger took over the film’s direction from Rouben Mamoulian he excised that revelation while retaining all the script’s dream elements. Indeed, his use of the camera throughout, as well as Joseph LaShelle’s Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography, suggests a dream.
     Ernest Dowson: “They are not long, the days of wine and roses;/ Out of a misty dream/ Our path emerges for a while, then closes/ Within a dream.”

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