Admirers of cool beauty, catty putdowns and cunning narrative cul-de-sacs should swoon for this restoration of Otto Preminger’s stylish 1944 noir, which is less a crime mystery and more a succession of vivid character portraits – one of which, the murdered woman of the title, can be viewed from myriad different angles. The mystery itself emerges in a fairly straightforward fashion, with the discovery of a body prompting a police investigation and a series of flashbacks, but more compelling is the gallery of personalities Preminger gives us and the gorgeous reverence with which this Austro-Hungarian emigré and his collaborators shoot the film’s alluring femme fatale.
Gene Tierney is Laura, a young advertising exec found dead in her Manhattan apartment. Two men catch our eye and that of a no-nonsense detective, Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews): Laura’s older, possessive friend, the bitchy, urbane journalist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb, the most entertaining performance) and her softly macho fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (a young Vincent Price). Equally intriguing as wondering who shot Laura is charting the film’s ambiguous, even teasing, attitude to these two male types, especially if we assume that the film is barely veiling Lydecker’s homosexuality. If anyone emerges as above the superficial fray it’s McPherson, the unimpressionable cop. A late twist also hints that Laura herself is more uneasy and adrift in her own world than we first thought.