Basically, Laura is a murder mystery, complete with a series of suspects and a hard-edged police detective, with a little love story tossed in to make things interesting. The thing that makes this film stand out above all of the thousands of other murder mystery films is the direction. Laura is a first-rate example of Film Noir, a type of film in the 1940s and 1950s that grew to represent the dark, threatening era of World War II, the Blacklist, and the Cold War. Laura is one of the first film noir films and possibly one of the best. Director Otto Preminger masterly increases suspense and romance with the right combination of lighting and the camera angles. Preminger didn’t direct many Film Noir films after this one, but he should of since he was so superb at it.

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Director Otto Preminger really proved he was a filmmaker with clout by being able to make a film like this. Even in 1959, when Hollywood was actually THINKING first and making money second, this film was a risk. First, its dialogue gets pretty graphic (for the day). Secondly, much of the second half of the film is set ONLY in the courtroom, leaving the audience nothing to do than watch lawyers bickering and objecting. Preminger must have known what he was doing when he made this black and white, two-and-a-half-hour courtroom drama…because I dare you to take your eyes off this one for even a second. Yes, I said two-and-a-half-hours…much of it set in court with more dialogue than action. But, somehow, it works. It is a truly captivating film. James Stewart plays a quirky small-town lawyer who takes the case of an Army lieutenant who gets arrested for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife. We find this out right in the beginning and then the rest of the film is how Stewart goes about setting up his case and what steps he takes before and during trial. Sounds dull, right? Well, as I said, Preminger must have had magic up his sleeve for this one because this film is never is dull. It clips along through witness testimony and presented evidence, and all that legal fun stuff. And trust me, there is plenty of tension…I mean all along we’re wondering if Stewart is going to be able to achieve what he set out to achieve…getting Lt. Manion off for the murder…a murder Lt. Manion has NEVER denied he committed. But, it’s more than just a movie about suspense…it’s a movie about the process of the law…about how our justice system works and about how lawyers plug along and make their case. A fascinating film about a subject that could have been un-fascinating, if put in the wrong hands. Thankfully, Preminger’s hands were the right ones.

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When I saw Angel Face in a Film Noir class in college, I was stunned. How could a movie be this dark, yet still so appealing? But, that, as I learned more about film, is what Film Noir is all about. Noir movies do not always have happy endings (most of them do not) and they most definitely do not have to have everything throughout the movie be idyllic and cheery. After all, Noir is about life post-WWII…it’s dark and brooding, just like war. So, getting back to Preminger’s masterpiece Angel Face…I mean, this is the man who directed one of my favorite Noir titles (and often referred to as one of the first big titles of the genre), Laura. That film ends with a somewhat uplifting ending. I mean – only the “bad guy” gets it. In Angel Face, forget trying to figure out who’s bad and who’s good and what’s going to happen next because you never will. And the ending…well, let’s just say you will be shocked. Mitchum plays the perfect Film Noir wanderer…he’s searching for something and just might have found it with Jean Simmons, a very spoiled, EXTREMELY troubled young lady with a lazy father and a rich stepmother. Enter Mitchum who Simmons sets her sights and her clutches on. It’s a timeless tale of love gone wrong…with several major roadblocks set up along the way.

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