While I usually tend to think of 1950s monster movies as strictly cheesy, low-budget, pathetic B-movies, this film challenges that notion to some extent. It fits the formula and has many of the same aesthetic qualities as the usual 1950s B-film, but it actually has quality actors and a budget. Its writing is smart, and the forced happy ending gives away the fact that the studio execs had a close eye this film, which they never had on their B-films. This film is shot in Cinemascope and with vivid Technicolor, suggesting it was meant to fit into the same family as War of the Worlds from 1953. Still, it is, if we’re being honest, just a monster movie with weird effects designed to give some kids a cheap thrill. As much as I like the screenplay and some of the visuals, the structure of the film sucks out all the drama, and the famous “help me” scene towards the end is so cheesy, bizarre, uncanny, awkward, and outright stupid that it makes the whole film a lot harder for me to swallow. Thank heavens for the cool lighting and the great performances (who doesn’t love Vincent Price) that make this a fun horror classic.
MINOR SPOILER WARNING
While the exact list of what constitutes a “film noir” is always up for debate, I argue that one of the most under-recognized criteria is that weird and seemingly random moment that has the audience asking, “Where the heck did that come from?” This film clearly checks that box.
Structurally, Laura is not too unconventional, essentially relying on the three-act structure of most films, but to me it feels like two acts. This is because one twist in the story (which comes in around the 45-minute, placing it at the very middle of the film) is such a big game changer that it seems to suddenly turn the film in a totally different direction. It almost becomes a different kind of film, because the way I think about what the point of this movie is is determined by this twist. Perhaps more significantly, the first half of the film is just plain boring, whereas the second half is entirely captivating. I almost didn’t finish the film because, in spite of some great performances from this great cast, it wasn’t grabbing me after a half hour. Seeing as how this is now one of my favorite films in the mystery genre, I think it goes without saying that I’m awfully glad I stuck it out. (It’s also great to have one of the most famous films in the genre checked off my list, and to know the origins of the great David Raksin jazz song of the same name.)
What makes it an interesting movie, in my opinion, is the question of subjectivity. At this aforementioned turning point in the movie, the film grammar suggests that we’ve gone into a dream sequence. The problem is that we, the audience, don’t know for sure, so we’re spending the second half of the two movies trying to solve two mysteries at once: the murder mystery, and the question of whether or not the protagonist is dreaming. This makes the film an absolute joy from then on, with more twists and turns to up the hype, and an ending that offers great satisfaction for anyone with the patience to make it this far. Since this is one of the few famous films noir to have an almost permanent residence on Netflix (streaming), I highly suggest devoting 50 minutes to watching this movie – just 50 minutes – and anyone who isn’t hooked at that point can stop. On the other hand, anyone who does stick through the whole film gets to experience a great example of what one of the bigger-budget Hollywood films noir looks like, and that alone is worth the wait.
Ah, now this is a movie for Halloween season. It’s a classic tale of a man-made monster, and like most good monster stories, it shows us that the real monsters are always people. Naturally, I was very excited about seeing this movie, and I had high hopes because it’s a Tim Burton film. Burton was, visually speaking, the best director out there (until he abused his CG privileges), and Edward Scissorhands is as gorgeous as one could hope. Between the unique setting, the strong characters, the delightful soundtrack, and the perfect cast, it really has an atmosphere of its own, making it entirely unforgettable. I was pleased by the superb performance by Johnny Depp, and thrilled to see Vincent Price in the role he was born to play. Everything is just for the story being told.
If only the story itself were better, this would be an excellent motion picture. Alas, the story is almost entirely lacking in conflict or plot (a.k.a. “story”) for the first half. It takes a very long time to get going, and once it does, it’s rather cliché and predictable. The pace is absurdly slow for much of the film, with only some scenes toward the end feeling particularly exciting, and the ending is not entirely satisfactory. However, we do see the main villain defeated, and we do learn the lesson that we all knew from the get-go we were going to learn, so I suppose the movie offered everything it promised. Because of the issues with the screenplay, however, it just didn’t offer everything I would have wanted.