Fingered by French film critic Nino Frank as one of the films that gave rise to the term film noir, I don’t see any noir elements in it. If there is some layered meaning hinted at but not stated explicitly, it is the possible homosexuality of Waldo Lydecker, played convincingly by Clifton Webb.
But the film is no more than a brooding whodunnit.
Despite the subject matter, the film oozes optimism and borrows heavily from the Pygmalion theme of artless girl turned into society sophisticate.
Dana Andrews gives a nicely understated performance as the detective uncovering the mystery by the Wittgensteinian, non-linear, intuitive approach of eliminating the confusing elements of the story to expose what is left, as mentioned by Keith Dromm (‘The facts before our eyes: Wittgenstein and the film noir’ in Film-Philosophy Journal, volume 17, number 1, 2013, pages 1-18).
Nevertheless, the process of elimination leads to a deus ex machina solution: there aren’t enough clues to lead the audience to a solution, even if the oily Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) is so obviously presented as a reprehensible opportunist that he can’t be the villain.
As a matter of opinion, I thought Gene Tierney’s performance just didn’t meet the long build-up to the sophisticated and professional career woman that makes up the early part of the film.
Without my focus on film noir in watching this movie, I would have been tempted to classify it as mild murder mystery with strong elements of romantic melodrama. It’s not that it is a bad film, but that it doesn’t fit the bill as either a straight crime drama or a film noir.
If there were any political overtones to this story, such as those in many of Preminger’s later films, I missed them.
20th Century Fox, 88 minutes, black and white.
Directed and produced by Otto Preminger. Written by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt, based on the novel by Vera Caspary. Cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. Music by David Raksin.
Featuring Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt, Dana Andrews as Det Lt Mark McPherson, Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker, Vincent Price as Shelby Carpenter, Judith Anderson as Ann Treadwell.