Obsession and jealousy ring throughout the classic film noir-mystery “Laura” (1944).
Directed by Otto Preminger, the film features Gene Tierney as the murdered Laura shown in flashbacks throughout much of the film. All of the men in her life are in love with Laura, and jealous of one another. Her chaste mentor, played by Clifton Webb, is a mature and influential newspaper columnist who established and championed Laura on the social and business scenes.
While the film tacitly hints at his homosexuality, he and Laura share a close and familial relationship, one that increasingly erodes as her affections grow for a smarmy, Southern aristocrat (Vincent Price) who becomes her fiancée.
The police detective assigned to investigate her murder, played by Dana Andrews, increasingly falls in love with her, as well. Searching through the remains of her life, he becomes particularly enamored of a portrait of Laura hanging in her apartment that was painted by yet another of her lovers.
After filming was completed, Preminger brought in the noted composer David Raksin to write the film’s music. Raksin would complete over 100 film and 300 television scores in his long career as a Hollywood composer. For “Laura,” he fashioned ravishing, chromatic, and complex music that evokes the complicated and alluring character of Laura.
Rather than introducing many themes and types of music to heighten the film’s evolving drama, Raksin uses the opening Laura theme throughout the film to both underscore the growing love of the detective for the deceased Laura, as well as the possessive love of her mentor.
The Laura theme permeates the film, like Laura herself. It is even used in the film as "stage music" – music that the characters, themselves, hear – such as when it is heard by the detective on a recording playing in her apartment and by musicians performing background music in a restaurant.
Written on the day after his wife left him, Raksin’s musical theme for “Laura” evokes a "haunting romantic mood," in the words of jazz historian Ted Gioia. Fitted out with song lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer, “Laura” became the second most widely recorded popular song ever. Mercer claimed that his and Raksin’s masterwork, “Laura,” was one of the very best examples of how music and song lyrics can be perfectly and emotionally aligned.
“Laura” was performed and recorded by many of the major big bands of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as by innovative jazz saxophonists from the 1940s through today, including Charlie Parker, Gerry Mulligan, and Joe Lovano. Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck performed and recorded the song throughout his long career, and singers such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and many others also recorded hit versions of “Laura.”
Come this Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. to view one of Hollywood’s great film noir-mysteries, “Laura.” Come and hear the music that so many great performers played over the years. As in the words of the Raksin/Mercer song, it is Laura who "gave your very first kiss to you," yet it is "only a dream."