I was watching the classic Otto Preminger noir picture, Laura (1944) starring the gorgeous Gene Tierney last night. Every time I watch it I’m reminded what a beautiful film it is. It’s hard to believe it’s shot in black and white, color almost seems like a disappointment after seeing it. Such is the strange magic of old films.
Laura is the story of a common, albeit beautiful, working girl who crosses paths with a powerful, older man in the form of Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydeker. Lydeker transforms her, Pygmalion-like, into his own personal icon of beauty and style. Wait a minute… wasn’t that the same premise as Alfred Hitchcock’s, Vertigo? Universally recognized as the director’s most personal film.
In Vertigo it’s Jimmy Stewart’s older man and detective, Scotty, that transforms the common working girl Kim Novak aka Judy (this time in desperate need of a makeover) into his dream lover, Madeline. But shop girl Judy doesn’t want to continue her charade as elegant Madeline. She resists her suitor where Gene Tierney’s Laura was a willing accomplice. Understandably. Laura’s mentor, Lydeker, is obviously gay, and enthralled with her, ‘listening abilities.’ Whereas Scotty is obsessed with Madeline/Judy for more than just window dressing. Laura has more to gain from Waldo, and Judy has less to gain from Scotty
Years later Hitchcock would admit his disappointment in casting Jimmy Stewart as Scotty. Confessing Stewart no longer was the handsome leading man Hitchcock had hoped for. So strangely enough both films have beautiful young women contending with older, asexual men. Webb’s by orientation, Stewart’s by work related accident ie. vertigo. Code for impotence I believe.
Made in 1958 Vertigo is past Hollywood’s noir period, but, is usually labeled noir-like. Both films revolve around a murder (though in both cases it’s almost a moot point). Both have a dream-like quality. The glossy, muted tones of Laura’s apartment vs. the foggy aura of Scotty’s San Francisco Bay. And now that I think of it, both leading ladies have doubles who are mistakenly, or accidentally killed. Leading their detective boyfriends to wonder, who-dunnit?
Which leads to the question, was Laura Hitchcock’s Pygmalion?