Laura Directed by Otto Preminger Essay

The narrative action in the film Laura occurs over a period of three days. It begins on a Sunday morning, two days after the murder takes place in Laura’s apartment. The narrative begins on this day because this is when Detective Mark McPherson begins his investigation of the case. Being the protagonist of the film, we follow him in his quest to solve the case and his pursuit of Laura. It is on Tuesday night that he succeeds in what he set out to do and therefore, the narrative ends here. Throughout these three days, the way in which the passage of time is communicated is sometimes unclear.

Only twice do we hear through dialogue the time and the day. This occurs in the beginning when Waldo tells us it is Sunday. It also happens when Laura returns home from the country and McPherson states that it is Monday night. Although we can see whether it is night or day, without these pieces of information it sees as though the film is taking place over one long, continuous day. Though the story occurs over the course of three days, the plot begins on the Friday of the murder. It is because of this incident the story even takes place. During the film, the viewer is given insight to information that happened many years ago.

While Waldo and McPherson are out having a drink, Waldo begins to talk about Laura. At this moment a series of flashbacks are shown starting five years ago when Waldo and Laura first met. We then see how Laura’s career progresses with the help of Waldo. We also see how Laura first met Shelby and how their relationship began. Waldo reveals how Shelby betrayed Laura by dining with her aunt and having relations with Diane. These events all lead up to the day of Laura’s alleged murder. It is during this series of flashbacks that Waldo paints a vivid picture of Laura, a character we have not met before this time.

He also establishes the relationships for us she has with each character. Here, we are also able to find motives each character would have for killing Laura. Since the story mainly follows McPherson on his investigation, it is with him the story begins and ends. Although time and day are not always clear during this period, maybe that is the intention. We never see the characters really do anything human such as eat or sleep which would break up the days. We only see them trying to solve the case and pin the murder on one another. The film could be organized this way to make the viewer as involved in the tory as the characters. Waldo’s flashbacks hold significance. Through this we establish relationships between characters as well as get to know them better. Though, these flashbacks are told from Waldo’s point of view. This makes the viewer question how much of what we saw was the truth. Could he fabricating this to make himself look innocent? SOUND Sounds serve many functions in this film. The score, properly titled “Laura”, composed by David Raksin is known to be “one of the film’s most durable legacies” (IMDB. com). The music is very powerful.

It sets the tone for the film as well as revealing information to us about the characters. The dialogue helps with this as well and expresses some of the major themes the film. Sound effects are also used to create feelings and move the story. One of the most versatile uses of sound in the film is the score. The score is very romantic yet haunting. It represents the psychological state of both Waldo and McPherson. Though they are two very different characters, they share a strong desire and obsession for Laura. Waldo loves her so much he is willing to kill her then let her be with anyone but him.

McPherson loves her even when he thinks she is dead. The score also represents Laura herself. In the scene when McPherson, Waldo, and Shelby are in Laura’s apartment, McPherson turns on her record player in which the music begins to play. Shelby recognizes this as Laura’s favorite song describing it as “not classical, but sweet”. We assume this quote refers to Laura’s attributes. Therefore, the music serves as a leitmotif for her character. When Laura is believed to be dead, we can hear the music more frequent then when she is alive.

It is heard throughout Waldo’s flashbacks of her and when McPherson is going through her apartment; though the music is not limited to these two instances. It represents her presence although she is not physically there. The way in which each character reacts when hearing it is significant to the story. When McPherson begins to play it, Waldo immediately asks him to turn it off. This represents how Waldo no longer wants Laura alive, which is revealed at the conclusion of the film. Therefore his reaction implies guilt. For McPherson, he is hearing this music for the first time.

While listening, it’s as if he is beginning to know Laura or meeting her for the first time although she is not actually there. During this scene he begins to develop feelings for her. During the final scene, Waldo enters Laura’s apartment with the intention of killing her. With no knowledge that he is there, Laura turns on her radio to listen to his broadcast at the same time he is taking out his gun. Waldo’s broadcast is used to narrate the scene during which he says, “Love is eternal. It has been the strongest motivation for human action throughout centuries. Love is stronger than life.

It reaches beyond the dark shadow of death”. This takes the viewer inside Waldo’s head and reveals his motives to us. He feels that if he cannot have Laura than no one can. This quote also expresses a theme of this film which is that of desire, obsession, and how far one will go for love. Though there are few, the sounds effects in the film are very effective. In the first scene, we can hear the clock in Waldo’s apartment chime. This sounds mark the beginning of the story. In the last scene, as Waldo enters Laura’s apartment, we can hear the clock start ticking.

This is the first time throughout the entire film the clock has made a noise. This lets us know that the noise serves a purpose. The ticking warns the viewer that the end is near. This technique also adds suspense to the scene. We know something is going happen but we do not know when and what it will be. As we learn in the conclusion, the ticking is counting down the moments until Waldo’s demise which then ends the film. Sounds function is various ways within the film. The romantic yet haunting score heard throughout is the most versatile use of sound.

Not only does it set the overall tone of the film but, also represents key characters and lets us into their minds. The music expresses major themes portrayed in the film such as passion and obsession. It is hard to imagine what the film would be like without it. Would it be as powerful? Dialogue is also a powerful use of film, especially during Waldo’s narration in the end. This is not the first time we hear Waldo narrate the film. He is heard in the opening as well saying, “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died…” This makes it seem as though Waldo is actually narrating the story and telling it from his perspective.

Although it would be hard to believe considering he is not present in all the scenes and would not be able to recall what happened when he was absent. Effects used throughout the film were also effective. MIS – EN – SCENE Mis-en-scene refers to all of the elements that make up a scene such as setting, props, blocking, etc. Although sometimes overlooked, these elements each hold significant meaning with relation to the film. In Laura, Laura’s apartment and some of the items held inside such as a portrait and a clock are very important.

Each element functions in their own way to help drive the story forward as well as tell us something about each character and the themes expressed in the film. Laura’s apartment building is a very important setting in this film. Not only is it the scene of the crime, but it is where most of the narrative action takes place. The apartment is also where McPherson begins to fall in love with Laura. Upon first entering her home, McPherson acts strictly like a detective by reenacting the murder scene at the door. He then walks further inside and spots a portrait of Laura above the fireplace.

It is at this moment he begins to fall in love with her. As he spends more time in her apartment, he is able to learn more and more about her. This only makes his feelings for her grow stronger. Waldo notes that he is there “often enough to pay rent”. In one scene, we can see McPherson in the apartment which his jacket off and tie loosened. He is drinking Laura’s alcohol and smoking cigarettes while rummaging through her personal belongings. This scene lets us know just how profound his feelings are for her. It seems as though he is obsessed with her. He even falls asleep while looking at her portrait.

The portrait of Laura hanging in her apartment is very significant. During the scenes in her apartment when she is still presumed dead, her portrait is scene looming over the characters in many of the shots. This is a way of showing that although she is not physically in the room, her presence is still there. The portrait is shown more frequently when Laura is believed to be dead than when she is alive. This is shown is the scene when she returns home from the country. When she walks in her home she sees McPherson asleep on the chair. When he wakes up and sees her, he gets up.

We then see a wide shot in which Laura and McPherson are standing at opposite ends of the frame with a distinguishable distance between them. Placed strategically in the middle of them is the portrait of Laura. At first he does not believe this woman could really be her. As she convinces him that she is who she says she is, the less prevalent the portrait becomes in each shot. Now that the “real” Laura is here, we no longer need the portrait to represent her. This portrait also signifies the desire both McPherson and Waldo have for Laura. In that portrait sits their ideal woman protected by a frame.

The clock in Laura’s apartment is not shown as often as her portrait but that does not mean it lacks importance. In the beginning of the film, Waldo notes that “[McPherson’s] attention was fixed upon my clock. There was only one other in existence and that was in Laura’s apartment in the very room she was murdered”. From this quote, we are able to form a connection between Laura and Waldo. More importantly, Preminger is telling the audience that, like McPherson, we should also pay close attention to this clock. It is here that Waldo hides the gun which is the key to solving the crime.

The clock also represents time pertaining to Waldo. It is only a matter of time before McPherson figures out he is the murderer. His gun hiding in the clock shows this. In the last shot of the film, after Waldo is shot, the camera zooms in on the clock and we see that it is broken. Therefore, the clock also represents the time leading up to his demise. The main use of mis-en scene in the film was to represent the character of Laura. We used materials found throughout the film and interpreted them to create a character by simply just looking. In a way, we acted like painters.

They too use materials to capture the essence of a person just by looking at them. From this we can conceive a sense of who that person is. From the beginning of the film through the end, Laura transforms from a two-dimensional character to a three-dimensional both literally and figuratively. After her character returns to New York alive, we see that see has a depth that we were not able to see before due to her interactions with the other characters. Mis-en-scene also displays the themes expressed in the film as well. Laura’s portrait represents McPherson and Waldo’s desires.

The way in which McPherson begins to fall in love with Laura deserves to be noticed. His feelings first develop when he sees her picture. This shows how men view women. They only see the surface at first and that is what they fall in love with. What is on the inside comes secondary to them. PROTAGONIST The protagonist in a film is usually the main character of the story. This character is usually very likeable and is sometimes known as the “hero” of the film. In Laura, detective Mark McPherson is the protagonist. THINK OF SOMETHING! We are first introduced to McPherson while he is seen thoroughly examining

Waldo’s apartment. We are able to tell from this first impression that he is a cold man who takes his job very seriously. His demeanor does not change very much throughout the film. Besides a story brought up by Waldo about McPherson bringing down a gangster on Long Island, the dialogue reveals almost nothing about his past. It’s as if he did not exist before this investigation began. The way in which the film lets us learn about McPherson is through a game he plays. When situations become hectic, he begins to play a handheld baseball game which is said to help him relax.

Baseball is considered America’s favorite past time. This shows that he is a regular, down to earth, hardworking American man; much unlike Waldo. In the beginning of the film while talking to Waldo, he says that this game “takes control”. From one of the first scenes McPherson is letting us know that he is in control. He will not let anyone manipulate him. He is the only one allowed to play games and will not tolerate other characters toying with him. Though we cannot connect with the character on a personal level, we can relate to him professionally. We meet McPherson in the opening scene.

It is at this time the investigation begins. Both McPherson and the viewer begin the film in the exact same place. We follow him as he meets and talks with each suspect. Like him, we are also meeting these characters for the first time. Therefore, we are given the same information as McPherson. We know everything he knows. Though we are watching at home, we are playing the part as the detective as well. By following him step by step through this investigation, we are trying to tell fact from fiction. We try to find motives and seek out who we can or cannot trust.

It in this this way we can relate to McPherson. We are both looking for a resolution. The protagonist of the film does not always have to be likeable. McPherson’s character is very neutral. We cannot really tell anything about him so we do not really know how we feel about him. Although. Waldo knows how he feels about him. He does not like McPherson. They are the exact opposite of one another. The baseball game shows this as well. McPherson is manly and into sports. Waldo does not understand the game and is always telling him to put it away.

Maybe he feels threatened that this is the type of man Laura desires and he can never be that. He could also feel that the closer McPherson comes to beating the game, the closer he will come to solving the murder which Waldo is guilty of. Though we never see him beat the game, McPherson does solve this case. As a result, he ends up saving Laura’s life. Therefore, this protagonist does turn out to be a hero. EDITING The last sequence in the film is one of the most powerful. During this scene, Waldo goes to Laura’s apartment with intentions of killing her. He is stopped by McPherson and his partner and is ultimately killed.

Not only do the actions make this sequence thrilling to watch, but the way in which it is constructed. Preminger uses editing techniques not used in the film prior to this scene. The spatial and temporal relations between each shot help make these scenes stand out from the rest of the film. It also makes the ending very exciting to watch. This scene begins with a long take of Laura shutting her door, turning off the lights and walking into her bedroom. The camera then pans to a door slowly opening, which reveals Waldo standing behind it. He walks out and kneels by the clock to open it which makes a small noise.

The film then cuts to a wide shot of Laura brushing her hair who hears a noise but does not pay attention to it. She then walks over to her radio and turns it on to hear Waldo’s broadcast. Another cut is made which shows Waldo opening the clock. His voice can be heard in the room he is occupying which startles him. His broadcast begins to narrate this scene. The film cuts to Laura again brushing her hair. Now, a low angle shot can be seen of Waldo as he rises and loads the gun. The film then shows the exterior of the building where McPherson and his partner are.

They realize that Waldo is in the building and run inside. During this time, the film focuses back on Waldo and Laura. In a wide shot we can see Laura brushing her hair. Silently, Waldo enter on screen left without Laura realizing until he speaks. As they exchange dialogue, McPherson and his partner can be seen in the hallway trying to get into the apartment. We then see a close up Waldo as he raises the gun and points it at Laura. She runs towards the door. Waldo shoots but she misdirects the shot and continues running. McPherson and his partner then open the other door leading into Laura’s apartment.

They run into the living room and McPherson’s partner quickly fires his gun at Waldo. This is followed by a medium shot of Waldo who shoots back but misses. Because he was hit, he falls to the ground. As he calls for Laura, the camera pans back to Laura and McPherson who run in his direction. Still in the same shot, the camera begins to zoom in on a destroyed and linger there for a time. It is in this moment, we can hear Waldo utter his last words, “Goodbye Laura, Goodbye, my love”. The film then dissolves into a shot of Laura’s portrait and the credits roll.

This is a very powerful scene. Preminger uses the technique of cross-cutting during this sequence which is not used at any other point in the film. This allows the viewer to see two different lines of action occurring simultaneously. This use of spatial editing heightens the drama and suspense we as the viewer’s feel when watching. While viewing these two separate lines of actions, we are always wondering if they will ever connect. For example when we see Waldo pointing a gun at Laura juxtaposed with McPherson trying to open the door, we are held in suspense.

If they never connect, Waldo would have probably been able to kill Laura because McPherson would not be there to stop him. Another way in which the sequence stood out was from the temporal relations between each shot. The shots began decreasing in size, some lasting only a few seconds. This speeds up the tempo of the film. The faster tempo emphasizes each action and heightens our excitement. All of these elements made this final scene of the film thrilling. These editing effects were not seen in the rest of the film. Prior to this, the tempo of the film seemed average.

It was not slow nor was it fast. It was moderate. The scenes were similar in length which added to this effect. Therefore, this sudden change of tempo in the last few minutes of the film was exciting to see. We never saw more than two line of action because all of the characters were usually together. McPherson was in most of the scenes, so we mainly followed him. It is interesting to think what the ending would be like had it stayed true to the rest of the film pertaining to editing style. I do not think it would be as powerful and effective as it was.