An Easy Picture To Live In
Movies good enough can immerse us to where it's like real people up there instead of just characters for what time a story takes to unfold. Here's how wrapped up I got revisiting Laura: Waldo's clock ... the one Dana Andrews kicks in after he breaks into Lydecker's apartment ... did the latter's estate file a claim against police for damage to one of two such clocks in existence, as Waldo described his treasure during opening narration? And who are his descendents --- nieces, a nephew in the service? Maybe Waldo had a sister he hadn't seen in years, and she looked forward to one day owning that clock. Many nits are in Laura to pick. A killer retrieving his concealed murder weapon should notice shells removed, but Waldo hardly reacts --- it's enough that there are two more in his pocket. I kept thinking how fun it would be listening to Lydecker radio broadcasts, or maybe peruse columns he wrote in NYT online archives. But wait, there was no Waldo Lydecker in real life, at least for all we know. Can great films generate their own parallel universe for fans to occupy? If so, then Laura should be among first to declare vacancies.
The casting turned out right, to my mind, whatever complication there was getting there. Gene Tierney might have been Jennifer Jones instead. Would that have worked? Probably about as well, I'd like to think. They shared the same height (5'7"), a thing that surprised me for having assumed Jones was lots taller. I wonder how much it bothered actresses to have turned down a role that turned out to be a career-definer for someone else. Did Jennifer Jones regret the Laura pass for the rest of her very long life? The character represents perfection, but Gene Tierney lends Laura humanity in odd and endearing ways she addresses ... Mr. Lydecka ... I don't get a newspapa ... I might as well have pulled the trigga. I'll need to check more of this actress to see if she drops R's similarly elsewhere. Then there's Dana Andrews' technique of breaking up a line --- was this his invention or Preminger's? I know that you went away to make up your mind (pause) whether you would marry Shelby Carpenter (longer pause) or not. Repeat viewings thrive on pearls like this.
Andrews, in fact, might be the show's best performance, never mind his being less showy than Clifton Webb and others. The man's a whiz with props. Notice what he does with keys --- doesn't twirl, sort of jiggles, and never a same way twice. When DA shows Tierney a newspaper, meant to startle, he jerks the front page for emphasis as he puts it before her face. What Andrews does with his baseball game-toy is Best Actor worthy in itself --- was a prop before or since put to such clever use? I'm glad this actor is finally getting props too long withheld, latter day appreciation a result of noirs and other career worthies being rediscovered. One more question, though ... what's a sashweight? A counterweight to a vertically sliding window sash is how Google defines the word, but how could that have been weapon used in the Harrington murder case Dana Andrews references in Laura's opening scene? Maybe I'm spelling the word wrong, or just haven't read enough hard-boiled mystery novels to recognize a thing familiar to those who have. Paging an expert here!
There's always mention in any Laura discussion of Mark's meet with Waldo as the latter soaks in a tub. What I notice is Clifton Webb visibly clothed in boxer shorts beneath the surface. It's plain in the still above as well. Funny how a good print can smooth kink out of a scene you've spent years reading a particular way. And what of Webb's performance in general? Did 1944 audiences view his waspish as gay? I wonder if they were as vigilant to so-called "coding" as we've become. If everyone insists that Waldo is gay, then what about George Sanders' Addison DeWitt in All About Eve? I haven't heard such speculated about that personage. Was it Sanders coming across more virile in whatever parts he took? I'd not label Waldo homosexual for offscreen lifestyle Clifton Webb maintained, though it would seem many writers think otherwise. CW could play straight convincingly when occasion required, as in Titanic. Imagine our take on Laura if originally cast Laird Cregar had played Waldo!
I used to drop into a Holiday Inn for lunch buffet during Wake Forest mid-70's years. There was a pianist that did standards, including (often) the theme from Laura. I mentioned it one day and he told me of having played in South America with an orchestra during World War II. There was an occasion when Gene Tierney and husband Oleg Cassini showed up and requested Laura (I had no reason to doubt truth of this, as he also mentioned seeing Walt Disney several times during the latter's wartime Pan-American tour). Such was popularity of David Raksin's music. What if they had used Sophisticated Lady as Laura's theme per initial plan? Doubt if the show would be on my favorites list in that event. Variations on Raksin's title tune is what we mostly hear in Laura, dance and restaurant scenes with other songs backgrounded having to be removed from 50's television prints, this resolved in the 80's when music rights were cleared and the film finally shown complete again.
One last question: Did Waldo ever get his $5000 for endorsing the Wallace pen?