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‘Jackie Brown’— Character Development Done Right

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Jackie Brown character development

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown: A Retrospective

There is a lot to be said about writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s success as a filmmaker. His films have all been met with some degree of critical appreciation and have all made some decent money at the box office. What’s more, and this might be his true legacy, his projects have sparked the imaginations of fellow filmmakers and film fans the world over. Truth be told, this last aspect may not be viewed solely in positive light considering how, especially in the 1990s, a multitude of so-called imitators created their own versions of Tarantino flicks. However, few were those who captured the real spirit of cinema’s new darling. In fact, the style of the pictures is what got to people most: the clothing (which often looks great), the soundtracks (which often sound great) and the snappy dialogue (which many wish they could come up with) are what impressed most. They are, obviously, critical elements to the success of his films, including this movie fan’s personal favourite, Jackie Brown. That being said, Jackie Brown feels like the film for which the character development is the most sophisticated and most important for the evolution of the story. That is not a pejorative backhanded comment about the character development in Tarantino’s other stories, only that in Jackie Brown the evolution of the protagonists and antagonists is exceptionally well-realized and follows the flow of the story perfectly. Let us take a closer look at what Tarantino does with the characters created by Elmore Leonard.

It should be stated, for clarity’s sake, that it specifically is the characters in the film, their behavioural patterns and interactions with the world around them that shall be looked at rather than the performances. This being a favourite film, it should seem obvious the acting earns top marks. Each performer either plays to his or her strengths and, in the case of Robert De Niro, goes against the grain in a wonderfully understated performance. The acting earns an A +, just to make that clear for the readers. However, some comments on the casting choices may be shared.

Jackie Brown

Naturally, it all starts with the character at the center of all the attention, Jackie Brown herself, here played by the iconic Pam Grier. On the surface level, hers is the story of a woman who outmaneuvers a dangerous man, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) who wants to ‘take her out’ out of fear that she may reveal to the authorities the details of his many illegal activities. That much is true, but it does not tell the entire story. Some of the elements are based in the text of the screenplay, others are of Tarantino’s doing outside the confines of just the script. For one, straight from the opening few scenes, it is made clear as daylight that Jackie Brown’s life has taken a considerable downturn in recent years. Her job as an air hostess may take her around the world but the pay is minimal. Her previous husband found himself legal troubles, which consequently almost saw Jackie herself face the long arm of the law in the worst way. The result of all this is a difficult, tiring job for a low-level airline. As she says to Max Cherry (Robert Forster), she cannot afford to start over at her age. She must either keep this pathetic job or somehow rid herself from Ordell’s slimy clutches.

Part of what makes this so fascinating is the casting of Pam Grier, who made a name for herself by playing supremely strong lead female characters in blaxploitation films in the 1970s. Afterwards and for several years she more or less disappeared from the film scene, only to suddenly return in Tarantino’s 1997 film, this time as a desperate, down to her luck and wits woman stuck in an uncomfortably precarious situation. The second, more important element is how she goes about saving her own behind, more particularly the duplicitous odds she faces. Here is a woman who, due to her history and current socio-economic status, does not seem like a plausible candidate to emerge the victor. After all, she is caught for smuggling money and drugs rather sloppily at the start of the picture by two officers at the airport (Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen). As they say, looks can be deceiving, and never has it been more the case than here in Jackie Brown. After years of struggle and strife, some of which had to do with a lousy job, some of which was the result of pressure from Ordell, some of which was the result of poor decision making, Jackie concocts a plan to escape scot-free, with Ordell’s money if she can help it. What transpires during the remainder of the film is the demonstration of Jackie’s intelligence, her capacity to be as strategic as possible, to think quickly on her feet and to hold her own against people who at one point in time might have intimidated her, like the authorities and Ordell. In essence, the film is not strictly about a tough cookie winning her bet against a villain, although that is one way to see, it is about a really smart, ultimately decent person finally smashing through the walls that figuratively imprisoned her for years. It is Jackie Brown’s breaking out party. She has the potential to be great, to find her own path in life and now she finally shows it off in her own, modest way. She paves her own road to freedom and those standing in her way won’t see what hit them.

Jackie Brown Pam Grier

Her partner, so to speak, is Max Cherry, the bail bondsman who quickly takes an interest in Jackie Brown. His arc is not quite as complex as Jackie’s, but it is no less emotionally rich or rewarding. While it takes time to understand how decent Jackie is (the fact that she is assisting a smuggler at the start of the picture is enough to plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of the viewers), there is essentially no mistaking that Max is an okay fellow. His affable demeanour, the manner in which he approaches situations, his quiet confidence, all these help set him up as a character a viewer can easily and comfortably side with. However, there are hints that he is bored with his lot in life. The film reveals close to nothing about his past, but one gets the sense that his story is not the brightest. He himself admits to having reached the point of boredom with the bail bondsman business, dreaming about something new in life. In essence, he is stuck in a very specifically mundane spot in life. There is no change, only the endurance against stagnation. His chance encounter with Ordell leads to his discovery of Jackie Brown, whose predicament he finds fascinating, although not as fascinating as Jackie!

Both Jackie and her dilemma provide a release from the daily mundane. It is only one adventure, one that will come to an end at some point, either positively or negatively, yet it serves as a thrill of sorts for Max, who in his own special way preserves his cool throughout. Jackie Brown is reason enough to take a chance, to risk the odds against Ordell and do something that actually holds meaning, both to him and to Jackie. By fighting for a cause, he is therefore also breaking out of a figurative prison, this one being boredom. His personality does not indicate that he might be someone who really goes after big things in life to shake things up, however, Jackie (her strength of character, her beauty and, it cannot be avoided, her different cultural background) convince him to go on this unexpected adventure. Max, therefore, does experience as great a change as Jackie Brown. Nevertheless, his much more muted, subdued traits make for an incredibly compelling presence precisely because he has opted to go along for the ride in helping Jackie out. Max might not change very much from the start of the picture to the end, but the viewer as a much greater appreciation of who he is when the story concludes.

Jackie Brown Retrospective

Then there is Ordell and his two closest associates, Lewis and Melanie (Bridget Fonda). Each, in their way, is painted in certain light at the beginning of the movie, only for the many twists and turns to reveal a bit more about all three, and not always in the most glorious ways. Take Ordell, whom the viewer first meets in his beach house with the two aforementioned partners. He and Lewis are watching some cheesy video on the television, a promotional film depicting voluptuous, big breasted and scantily dressed woman firing off heavy weapons, from semi-automatics to AK-47s. The footage may be informative to a minimal degree, yet it is over the top, preposterous, pathetic even. Despite this, Ordell apparently accumulates as much information as he can from such videos for his gun smuggling business. He takes tremendous pride and pleasure in sharing his knowledge of firearms with Lewis as each subsequent babe in the video appears to show off her…assets. It sounds ridiculous, funny even, yet Ordell reportedly makes significant dividends off of his sales. However, he does not hide the fact that those to whom he sells are lowlife scum, lower than himself even. He might garner education from over-sexed obnoxious promotional videos, those with whom he does business are apparently a whole lot dumber. He often has something snappy to say, presents himself in a ‘too cool for school’ way which is hard to resist. He is a bad guy, but he is a very charismatic bad guy, no question about it. He looks to be in control of everything.

There is a very pertinent exchange later on between Lewis and Melanie when the two are smoking a bong during Ordell’s absence wherein the young blonde claims that while Ordell has indeed made some interesting gains, he really is not as smart, sharp or educated as advertises himself to be. Of course, this comes from the constantly ‘high as a kite’, visibly lazy Melanie, so why put so much stock into what she claims? Well, recall what has already been established regarding the film’s hero, Jackie Brown. She, for far too long, has lived under the strain of unfairness and circumstances that beat down on her. Now she is taking charge and showing that she can be smarter than just about anybody in the room. The viewer has the pleasure of witnessing her outplay not only the authorities, but Ordell as well. Granted, it is only by the end of the picture when Jackie successfully wins the day that the viewer can be sure that she was in fact ahead of everyone else, yet that is the benefice of hindsight. She was better than Ordell all along. He had nothing on her when it came to strategically overcome the opposition. Ordell preyed on the fearful and the weak (another example being the poor southern black girl, Sheronda, he sucks into his web. In contrast, the much livelier, brighter Simone quits midway through the picture). When up against foe previously believed to be subservient, Jackie Brown, he gets blown out of the water.

Pam Grier Jackie Brown Film Review

Another one of Ordell’s weaknesses is his trust in the Lewis-Melanie duo. Lewis is quite the fascinating specimen. It is somewhat difficult to discern what exactly the viewer should make of him at the start of the picture. Robert De Niro looks both frightening and, in an odd way, harmless. He has just left prison, his arms are graced with tattoos, he looks tough, yet his quiet, almost nervous disposition hints that he might not be so intimidating after all. There is, of course, the fact that he is an ally of Ordell, and, as previously established, at the start of the picture the viewer is led to believe that Ordell knows what he is doing, so if he believes in Lewis, then the latter must have some formidable qualities. On the flip side, Melanie comes off as lazy, uncooperative and obnoxious. Her attitude is deplorable for the most part, and apart from a nice screw, one wonders what purpose she serves. And yet, then comes that aforementioned exchange when she tells Lewis that he should not be so impressed with Ordell’s so-called accomplishments. Suddenly, Melanie might not be so dumb after all. She can discern a weakness in others, indicating that she is more perceptive and analytical than originally established. Eventually, the two are paired up to perform the critical package exchange with Jackie at the clothing store in the mall. It is at this point when their true colours are revealed: Melanie, annoying perhaps, is quicker witted and efficient than Lewis. She immediately recognizes that Lewis is a sweaty, nervous wreck and makes a swift and correct judgement call to head into the ladies dressing room and exchange parcels with Jackie when the clerk is distracted by a phone call. Lewis, on the other hand, is atrociously uncomfortable in his current position, cannot remember where they parked the darn vehicle and, lastly, rather than keeping his cool against Melanie taunts, shoots her twice no less. Outside. In broad daylight. Without verifying if she really is dead or not before leaving. Basically, Lewis is none too bright, nor a very composed fellow and thus not the best right-hand man for operations of this nature. Melanie, for all her faults, was unexpectedly competent, but because Lewis was not, she paid the price. Their collective ineptitude makes Ordell seem all the more incompetent for having out his faith in them in the first place.

Samuel L Jackson Jackie Brown Ordell

Jackie Brown represents arguably some of the best character development to be found in a Tarantino film. There are wonderful exchanges and memorable individuals in each of his pictures, yet the people viewers discover in Jackie Brown feel all the more complete and three dimensional. There are different aspects to each and depending on the scene at hand these characters can show very different sides of themselves. Most importantly, they feel refreshingly real.

-Edgar Chaput

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our spotlight on blaxploitation cinema.

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar has been writing about film since 2008. At first relegated to a personal blog back when those things were all the rage, he eventually became a Sound on Sight staff member in late 2011, a site managed by non-other than Ricky D himself. Theatrical reviews, festival coverage, film noir and martial arts flicks columns, he even co-hosted a podcast for a couple of years from 2012 to 2014 with Ricky and Simon Howell. His true cinematic love however, his unshakable obsession, is the 007 franchise. In late 2017, together with another 00 agent stationed in Montreal, he helped create The James Bond Complex podcast (alas, not part of the Goombastomp network) in which they discuss the James Bond phenomenon, from Fleming to the films and everything in between. After all, nobody does it better.

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Netflix’s ‘Enola Holmes’ is Neither Afoot of Her Older Brother or Her Own Genre

It is neither brilliant nor absolutely rotten, but it is rubbish, to say the least. Enola’s first outing is not afoot of her older brother’s lineup of thrilling interpretations or the film’s broad genre in any way…

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Netflix Enola Holmes

Netflix’s Enola Holmes Review

Despite what you may have already heard, the game is not quite afoot with this one. Netflix’s Enola Holmes is the streaming giant’s latest mystery film based on Nancy Springer’s series of young adult fiction novels starring the younger sister of London’s finest consulting detective Sherlock Holmes- more specifically The Case of the Missing Marquess, the first book in the author’s franchise. For those expecting a mind-bending mystery comparable to BBC’s excellent Sherlock or the exciting Robert Downey Jr. films, you best grab a cabbie and leave before touching this one. Enola Holmes will without a doubt be a fun family film for kids captivated by its promising cast of actors, but any true crime solver will be scurrying from the scene faster than you can say “The Hounds of Baskerville” by the time the second act even hits.

Enola Holmes seems to initially build towards the story of the title character finding her missing mother after she seemingly disappears one morning, but in reality, this story quickly takes a hard turn after its introduction. It manages to become a tale of conquering a characteristic the title character’s name spells backward (alone) all while untangling another family conspiracy that is beyond anticlimactic. There is certainly a mystery to be solved within this flick, but not one you are expecting to find on the surface as Enola Holmes has no idea where exactly its focus should lie. It is constantly jumping between ideas and never manages to find a footing until the third act is in session. Millie Bobby Brown is arguably the main reason Netflix audiences will be flooding to see Enola Holmes and they certainly will not be disappointed by the young Stranger Things actor’s witty performance. However, it might as well be the only aspect worth sitting through in this disrespectful misfortune of an adaptation.

While the actor is certainly flaunting her accent and enjoying her eighteenth-century mishaps, it is just a shame Brown did not get a stronger script to work with. Enola is spunky and clever, but acts like a Deadpool or more so Harley Quinn as she constantly communicates with the audience through wall-breaks- a creative choice that is never properly utilized and results in the movie having to close on an odd note that does not properly bookend the character’s story. The character has no compelling flaws or established reasons as to why her quest is supposed to come off as a challenge for her. Outside of Enola and the young Marquess heir she encounters, the only other interesting talent holding up this story that is worthy of a mention is of course Sherlock Holmes, but he rarely ever appears in the movie or has any importance.

Henry Cavil plays a great Sherlock Holmes except he never receives any moments to truly shine by showing off his masterclass detective skills everyone is constantly on about during the whole film’s two-hour runtime. In fact, by the end of the movie, the character somewhat falls off the high horse as what honestly seems like a simple case flies overtime for him- somehow young Enola can outsmart a veteran Sherlock Holmes? While I am glad they kept Sherlock out of the spotlight as the focus should be on his younger sister, it is hard not to acknowledge the genius consulting detective audiences are accustomed to is just not as quick or clever as he should be. As for the other mainstay characters, Mycroft Holmes (Sam Claflin) plays a key role yet there is nothing striking to say about Sherlock’s brother who only appears to really throw a wrench into Enola’s plans and generally is portrayed as an idiot rather than the arrogant mastermind that he is supposed to be.

It may seem packed with problems so far- especially when it comes to keeping up with or respecting the source material, but the largest issue Enola Holmes helms is the way in which its mystery unfolds and how it unsuccessfully incorporates its forced theme. In comparison to previous on-screen interpretations of Sherlock Holmes- or even the Enola Holmes novels for that matter if you are the type of reader so keen on not comparing the two characters- the mystery being explored lacks much depth or development from beginning to end. Sure it builds upon the character of Enola in tons of great ways as it shows off her personality and skills adopted from her childhood, but it never truly does what a good mystery story is out to accomplish. Here we have two different stories intertwining, the search for Enola’s mother and the whereabouts of her male friend.

Both are without a doubt compelling ideas except for the fact that the latter abruptly becomes the focus at around the halfway point for what is seemingly going to be a few minutes but ends up being the entire film. On top of this, we have a consistent theme being thrown around that “girls can do anything” which is completely fine, except for the fact that its female lead is, as previously stated, practically flawless and is often played out as superior to everyone else by one-upping her older brothers or being better than the pretty boy who has little character development. The movie takes place during the perfect time period to use feminism as a theme and while it does mention the world’s current politics multiple times it never actually draws a focus towards those enticing problems. The film leaps over so many possible compelling character points and plotlines as it treads around a mystery that is not all that much of an enigma.

Without taking into account the other various pieces of Sherlock Holmes media available- including BBC’s terrific modern take on the franchise which is streaming on the same platform, Enola Holmes is a substandard film that younger audiences will likely more so enjoy than the older folks accustomed to London’s greatest detective. For those completely unaware of the lore behind Sherlock Holmes and are here for the recognizable actors being marketed at the forefront, the cast will without a doubt help end your viewing party on a less than sour note as Brown provides one of her best performances yet in a somewhat fun though messy detective flick. It is neither brilliant nor absolutely rotten, but it is rubbish, to say the least. Enola’s first outing is not afoot of her older brother’s lineup of thrilling interpretations or the film’s broad genre in any way.

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Shaw Bros. Spotlight

‘The Boxer from Shantung’ Does Not Aim High Enough

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The Boxer from Shantung

Anyone who has seen just a few Shaw martial arts films has noticed a trend: all of the stories transpire centuries ago, during the era of the many Chinese dynasties. The beautiful costumes, the intricate set designs, the legendary figures upon which writers and directors can find inspiration, the admiration of tactical warfare during the times, all of these and much more are reasons why the studio chose to set its stories in the distant past. As with all rules, there are exceptions. Just as not every single Shaw film is martial arts-based, not everyone is a period piece either. This week, the column takes a look at yet another Chang Cheh picture, The Boxer From Shantung, although this one is set in the 20th century in the city of Shanghai.

Ma Yung Chen (Chen Kuan-Tai) and Hsiao Chiang Pei (Cheng Kang-Yeh) are two friends working blue-collar shifts making water pipes for the city of Shanghai. The pay is as small as their landlord’s attitude is deplorable. While Chiang Pei is a rather fun-loving character, honest, friendly, uninterested in creating mischief, Yung Chen is cut from an altogether different cloth. His desire to leave their lifestyle far behind is far more ferocious. Determined to make a name for himself and his friends, along with earning tons of cash, Yung Chen’s rambunctious attitude almost gets him in deep trouble when stumbling upon the evil doings of a local mob, ‘The Four Champions’, whose leader, Boss Yang (Chiang Nan), does not take kindly to intruders. Lucky for Yung Chen, he knows a near-impenetrable style of boxing studied back home in Shantung. The volatile and cocky young man beats the living daylights out en entire hoard of Yang’ men. On that same day, he earns the favourable opinion of another, more benevolent boss, Tan Si (Chang Cheh regular David Chiang). With plenty of friends to help him out and a powerful, newly found ally in Boss Tan Si, Ying Chen makes his way up in the world as an enforcer, a protector, and finally a boss.

The Boxer from Shantung

The Boxer from Shantung may appear as a unique experience for its setting but said uniqueness is mostly a deception. Yes, a tale of gangsters in a much more modern setting does make for a fresh change of pace. The greater truth of the matter is that the screenwriter and directors (two principle directors for a single film being a first so far as this column is concerned) emulate the exact type of story familiar to fans of gangster flicks. Boxer is, at its core, a ‘rise and fall’ story, with the central character, the charismatic Yung Chen, works his way through the concrete jungle of gang warfare amongst heated rivals in order to make a living for himself, as well as gain increasing wealth and influence over local businesses and prominent individuals. Hence, the general story arc reserves few surprises for the audience, following the genre’s blueprints to near perfection, which is a bit of a shame given that one hopes that with an entirely new setting would liberate the filmmakers from the some of the tropes. Instead, they opt to follow the predictable plot points beat for beat, with only precious little signs of deviation, one example being the development of the love angle. There are not too many false notes per se, but the lack of chances taken is unfortunate.

The Boxer from Shantung somehow goes for something new, yet lacks originality…

It is a little strange to be watching a Chang Cheh (partially) directed film which features David Chiang playing only a supporting role. Chiang is a loveable type of actor, who can win an audience thanks to his easy charm and wit, and therefore the actor taking center stage has some rather big shoes to fill. In the case of Boxer, that actor is Chen Kuan-Tai, who fills is a perfect fit for said shoes, bringing his own brand of energy to the fold. It is always reassuring to see young, up and coming actors bring the best they have to offer right off the bat. Chen Kuan-Tai is definitely the sort of performer who adds barrels of life to a scene. It helps that the character he plays is cocky, street smart, ambitious, and remarkably gifted in the martial arts of his home province. It may be guessed that since the script treks a familiar path, the film could be used as a vehicle of sorts for young Chen Kuan-Tai. It does not necessarily make the film better, but the film’s star is now someone readers may want to peel their eyes for from now on. A little bit of credit should be shared with his co-star, Cheng Kang-Yeh. While he does play the supporting role, serving mostly as comic relief more than anything else, the performance is a fun one, if a little bit on the cheesy side.

The Boxer from Shantung

The necessity for not one but two directors is one to cause perplexity. As has already been written in this review, the story is easy to follow due to its familiarity, therefore causing one to wonder how exactly Chang Cheh and Pao Hsueh Lieh collaborated on the project. There are few tonal inconsistencies and it is fair to wonder if their dual participation has anything to do with it. Some scenes are filled to the brim with energy and spunk, whereas others fall incredibly flat, lacking any momentum whatsoever. Oddly enough, the scene introducing David Chiang’s mob boss character is one such scene, in which he playfully taunts Ma Yung Chen, who at that point is just a nobody in the underworld, wandering the streets looking for a job opportunity. The scene is abnormally long, with each subsequent character reaction delayed for some unexplained reason, not to mention that there is no music, thus making it seem all the more hollow. This happens on a few occasions throughout the film and every time it plays out very strangely.

The action, when it erupts, is not of the most imaginative variety (nor is star Chen Kuan-Tai the most impressive fighter, moving a little bit slowly all things considered, even though he does give it is all), but what it lacks in creativity it makes up for in scale. Almost every single action scene involves the protagonist, sided with perhaps a couple of allies, fending off armies of Boss Yang’s men, many of whom enjoy attacking with little hatchets. These brawls en up being rather fun romps, wit plenty of bodies running, flipping, and falling all over the place. The best is saved for last, as Chen Kuan-Tai finds himself all alone against Yang, his strongest enforcers, and tons of other hoodlums inside a tea shop, fighting on both the second and first floors. To top it off, he receives a hatchet to the stomach, but of course, refuses to back down and takes out as many villains as he can anyhow.

There are a few significant opportunities that are lost in Boxer. Providing the film which a context so vastly different from the majority of other Shaw productions, in addition to favouring a lesser-known actor in the lead role with the more accomplished ones serving the secondary participation brought with it plenty of potential. Admittedly, upon learning that Chang Cheh had in fact directed a more contemporary action film, this martial arts fan’s curiosity was very much aroused. Ultimately, it gets the job done, which still means something at the very least. It is a competently made production. The problem is that it does not aim high enough.

-Edgar Chaput

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Friday Film Noir

‘Laura’— More than Enough to Satisfy Fans of Film Noir

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Larua 1944 Film Noir

Friday Film Noir

A detective’s work is challenging enough already without the complications that arise when he or she is involved with one of the suspects of a crime. Determining the innocence or guilt of an individual or party would be a lot simpler were it not for the mind games suspects so often play with investigators, evading conviction with lies and half-truths. The sudden emotional attachment to one of the targets of police suspicion could send everything into a tailspin, provided the assigned investigator is capable of keeping a lid on his or her emotions. However, what if a detective grew attached to a person he could not physically relate to, such as the victim of a murder? What if, after believing the object of one’s desire was unattainable, a new reality suddenly set itself in which made the impossible possible?

Laura, directed by Otto Preminger, starts with a newspaper columnist, the unforgivably snarky Waldo (Clifton Webb), explaining to the viewer the circumstances under which detective Markk McPherson (Dana Andrews) arrived at his lush Manhattan condo: the shocking murder of his beautiful protégé Laura (Gene Tierny), shot in the face with a pistol filled with buckshot. From there the film follows Mark as he jumps down the rabbit hole of excuses, evasive answers, and the like provided by Waldo, Shelby (Vincent Price), another man vying for Laura’s heart, her housemaid Bessie (Dorothy Adams), and her aunt Ann (Judith Anderson), also a rival for Shelby’s affections. More than anything, it is the portrait of Laura herself that hangs above the fireplace in her living room that fascinates Mark the most. Everyone’s description of her makes the victim seem quite the extraordinary woman, and judging by the painting, she was especially alluring. One cannot fall for a painting, however…

Laura is much ado about love, much of it quite evil in fact…

It might feel somewhat odd to include this Preminger effort in the noir category. On the whole, the movie masquerades as a romance story stuck in a murder mystery. It is indeed both of those things, unmistakably so even. That said, noir has a funny way of continuously shape-shifting itself to conform with other genre staples. Sometimes one stumbles onto a noir without even knowing it, the familiar traits seeping their way into the fabric of a picture like black ink sinks into a white dress. Romance, in the case of Laura, enables the picture to take on an altogether different identity than originally anticipated, playing into the hands of noir’s more gloomy aspects. Whereas by and large antagonists make their presence known quite clearly in films of this nature, here the villains are, in many ways, decent folk at their core, compelled to act out against their better instincts for love’s sake. There is no big cash prize to snatch after knocking off rivals, no criminal dynasty to control, no great escape from gangsters to perform. Nay, everything almost every character does in this film is out of some form of love for the titular victim. Director Preminger, working with a script ripe with potential, exquisitely plays on this idea of love perverting people’s behaviours. Laura herself is provided some scenes via flashbacks to flesh her out somewhat, yet she represents more a symbol of love in the early stage of the film than a three-dimensional person. She is what corrupts those around her but only despite herself. Laura is a perfectly good person by and large (she is also by far a more engaging personality than Waldo) and to think that the picture is sexist in any overt way because of her role as a concept, so to speak, is off the mark. People do silly, regrettable, and even awful things to obtain and retain love, something money cannot buy. The mistakes and lies the suspects engage in are not the result of who she is in the traditional sense, but because of what they think they can get from her.

As was the case with the film reviewed two weeks ago (The Chase), there is not much else that can be written without revealing the film’s big secret. In a dreamy scene about 40 minutes into the film, detective McPherson, at this stage clearly in love with the victim and having decided to stay the night in Laura’s Laura’s condo, takes a few stiff drinks before slumping into a chair in the living room. Moments later, whom other but Laura herself walks in. She had gone away for the weekend and a classic case of mistaken identity has led to the death of another person!

In what is perhaps the director Preminger’s most interesting coup, Laura‘s narrative does not make a dramatic shift after this startling revelation. Suspects continue to either tell lies or the truth depending on what will have them gain the upper hand over McPherson’s sharp skills as he tries to unravel the new identity of the victim and the killer. The only major added level of tension is that the detective has fallen for Laura, placing him in the most awkward position possible. Yet another curious aspect to this portion of the film is the relative ease with which the love between Mark and Laura blossoms. The lack of time to fully develop their relationship, not to mention that their bond only adds to the two romances already boiling feverishly, partially explains this. That is but one way to interpret the situation, however. Another, more thematically rich understanding is that Laura and Mark are falling prone to the same mistakes witnessed up until then. Just as Waldo and Shelby craved for Laura, the latter who sought after her like a true playboy with only limited knowledge of who she was, so is Mark. It is a little bit of history repeating in a perverse way. To make matters even more interesting, knowing how Laura has behaved in the past, there is no guarantee that she and Mark will live happily together. She had quickly responded to Waldo’s advances once he began to promote her career in advertising and was easily swayed by Shelby once he began to woo her. This is not to argue that Laura is a tramp or anything along those lines, only that her idea of what sort of man would best suit her as a companion is not well defined as of yet. A possible case in point is the movie’s final shot, a broken clock that was a gift to Laura from Waldo, obviously a symbol of their no longer existent relationship. The viewer is not even given the satisfaction of a shot with Mark and Laura in a loving embrace.

On the topic of Mark and Laura, Dana Andres and Gene Tierny are extremely captivating in their respective roles. Tierny carries the heaviest responsibilities as the center of attention. She has to convey the attraction, sweetness, and confidence for which Waldo, Shelby and Mark think so highly of her for and she is aces in all three respects. Stevens is convincing as the no-nonsense, tough as nails detective who asks the hard questions, even when the suspects take offense to his lines of inquiry, yet it is in the brief, subtler moments when he lets his police detective guard down that the viewer recognizes a softer, emotionally driven person behind the stern mask. Such moments stand out much more than those emphasizing the hard-edged persona. The same comments are applicable to Clifton Webb, whose performance is showy for the most part, in an amusing way, but really shines when his recollections of Laura reveal his genuine affections for her. As self-aggrandizing and antagonistic as he can be, there definitely exists a beating heart somewhere inside. His own relationship with Laura was complex, never reaching the level of true love, if only because the latter never reciprocated. That lack of fulfillment goes a long way in explaining the sense of loss. There is so much great acting on display that the iconic Vincent Price comes off as rather ordinary by comparison. Seeing him a meeker character than usual is a bit strange, especially considering his gigantic figure. Price is fine, although the panache and charisma he is mostly known for are missing.

Laura has built itself a tremendous reputation throughout the years and it is easy enough to understand why. Under Otto Preminger’s guidance, the film has more than enough to satisfy many pallets, from a unique romance story to a depiction of the desperation of men when love is at stake.

-Edgar Chaput

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