Friday, December 30, 2011

Film Pairing — Mystery Women, Are They Only A Dream?

Film critics generally agree these are two of the best films ever made — certainly in the mystery genre. The American Film Institute ranks Laura fourth in best all-time mystery movies. Vertigo is ranked number one. Laura, released in 1944, starred Gene Tierney, (no relation), one of the great, talented beauties of the era. Vertigo, released in 1958, starred Kim Novak, no doubt one of the most beautiful and most box office pleasing movie stars of hers. Both actresses portray illusive, mysterious women, pursued by investigators who fall in love with what is little more than an aura. Unlike standard noir, which Laura seems kin to and the usual Hitchcock approach to suspense, these have an added romantic dimension.

Last October, I listed my top nine crime films — a set of criteria that makes it different from “mystery” movies. If the list had just one slot more, Laura would have been on it. And if I had a vote on anyone’s list, I’d rank Laura higher than Vertigo. The film is based on the book of the same name by Vera Caspary Laura and was nominated for several Academy Awards, winning one for Best Black and White Cinematography. The film was directed by Otto Preminger and has a solid cast. In addition to Tierney as the title character, Dana Andrews plays the police investigator called in to solve Laura’s death, Vincent Price portrays her playboy lover and the incomparable Clifton Webb (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) plays her mentor. As the story begins we learn that the beautiful Laura has been found dead in her home, shot in the face with a shotgun. Andrews, as an NYC homicide detective, after seeing a portrait of the victim and finding out about her life, slowly falls in love with her. This is a pure mystery. We only know what the investigator knows and we can, in who-dunnit fashion, try to figure out who did it before he does. Though suspenseful, there is considerable wit and humor as well, thanks largely to Webb’s impeccable performance as Waldo Lydecker.

While Andrews becomes entranced with Tierney in Laura, former cop Jimmy Stewart becomes absolutely obsessed with Kim Novak in Vertigo, all the while dealing with guilt over the death of his partner and his increasingly paralyzing fear of heights. Though many film experts claim this is Alfred Hitchcock’s most accomplished film, Hitchcock himself didn’t care for it at the time of its release. In my mind Vertigo is not nearly as good as the more grounded Dial M For Murder. On the other hand it is far better than The Birds and it is a Hitchcock film. What makes it worthwhile for me are Novak, Jimmy Stewart and the rich, San Francisco setting. The film was based on D’entre Les Morts, a novel (The Living And The Dead) by French authors Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. According to the ever-helpful Wikipedia, Hitchcock had originally wanted to buy the rights to another novel by the French duo, which was later made into Les Diaboliques.

As far as accompanying libations, if you watch Vertigo first, maybe a dry red wine and then a switch to a nice dessert wine for Laura.

CAPTION: (Top) Gene Tierney with Vincent Price in Laura. (Bottom) Jimmy Stewart recues Kim Novak in Vertigo.

P.S. The New Yorker’s film critic Anthony Lane dabbles in film pairings in the January 2, 2012 issue of The New Yorker. He too picked Laura to exalt. But he paired it with Rebecca. Laura is playing now at the Film forum in NYC, he said.


Black Smart Business said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Teri-on-the-sandbar said...

I can't believe I missed this blog entry when it was originally posted. Many times we heralded the amazing Clifton Webb together. How nice to see you continue to honor him! And you're right...Vertigo is good; Laura is much better.