Thursday, January 16, 2014

We Can't Have A Murder If The Victim Won't Stay Dead

As soon as we finished The 39 Steps, we moved onto Laura. The first movie had been meant to illustrate some point my dad was trying to make in response to my comments about the odd lack of tension in The Watcher in Shadows. A point I'm still lost on, because the book didn't seem meant to be funny, while The 39 Steps doesn't take itself entirely seriously. I'll have to get around to asking him what he was driving at eventually.

Anyway, we watched Laura, because he knows I'm curious to see Vincent Price in non-horror roles. Here, he plays the ne'er do well fiance of the title character. He's big, handsome, sort of charming in a goofy, almost Hugh Grantesque way. But it's all a facade. He's got himself a sugar mama he's stringing along, while whispering sweet nothings in Gene Tierney's (she's Laura) ear. He's also a pitiful liar. Nearly every time he tries to be clever or sneaky, it blows up in his face within a minute. But he keeps doing it, so I can only assume he's been allowed to get away with it enough in the past he thinks he's good at it. Either that or he has nothing to lose.

Through the first half of the movie, we're operating under the assumption Laura's been murdered, and so Detective McPherson is trying to find the killer. I thought this was going to be one of those movies where the character who seemed all sweetness and light, but it gradually comes out they were not what they seemed. Then they introduce this thread that McPherson is slowly falling in love with Laura - who is, you know, dead - and he passes out drunk in her apartment while reading through her letters and such. I thought that came on abruptly, he's been on the case three days, tops, but there wasn't time to reflect on it, because that's when Laura comes walking through the front door.

Now my first reaction was Dana Andrews had lost his damn mind, hallucinating the dead woman returning, but no, it's really Laura. Which means she isn't the victim, which means they have to figure out who is, and there's still the question of who killed her, and why. And everyone is still lying constantly.

I didn't spend too much time trying to figure out who the killer was. There only seemed to be two real possibilities, and Vincent Price's character was too much of a goober to kill someone without giving himself away five minutes later. The film was more interesting for the odd contortions the characters go through, the strange and stupid things they do out of love or selfishness. Waldo trying to "protect" Laura, Laura believing she can "fix" Shelby, Ann wanting Shelby with her because she thinks they're the same. I'd disagree with her on that score, since I'm not convinced Shelby has sufficient self-awareness to recognize the sort of useless person he is.

So this was a different sort of role for Price from what I'm used to. He's not scary, but unlikeable. Scheming, but not clever enough to do it well. Charm has enabled him to skate by in the past, and so that's all he has to rely on, and so he's up the creek with McPherson. He tries for self-deprecating, but it's so obviously an act it becomes one more thing to despise about him. Especially since he ought to have a much lower opinion of himself than he does.

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