Laura appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While acceptable for a 60-year-old movie, the transfer of Laura presented a number of concerns.
Sharpness appeared moderately iffy at times. Most of the movie came across as reasonably concise and distinct, but a few exceptions occurred. At times, the image displayed somewhat mushy definition, and it could be somewhat loose and soft. Issues connected to jagged edges didn’t pop up, but I noticed some shimmering and mild to moderate edge enhancement periodically.
Print flaws cropped up through much of the film. I noticed examples of specks, marks, spots, and other small defects. These never became overwhelming, but they seemed heavier than I might expect. Black levels pretty deep and firm, and contrast usually worked fine except for a couple of exceptions. A few scenes displayed blown-out whites that showed flawed definition. Otherwise, low-light shots offered fairly good delineation, though they could be slightly flat at times. Overall, the image of Laura was fine for a movie of its era; it just didn’t excel.
Similar thoughts greeted the stereo soundtrack of Laura. Actually, I couldn’t detect a single difference between the remixed stereo audio and the original monaural version. The stereo track failed to demonstrate any broadening of the soundfield.
That was fine with me, as I think Fox’s stereo remixes are usually a waste of time. The quality of the audio was acceptable. Speech usually sounded somewhat hollow and a little flat, but the lines remained intelligible and lacked any brittleness. Music tended toward the shrill side of things, though not terribly so, as the score mostly came across with reasonable clarity. Effects also lacked heft or dimensionality, but they reproduced the material without distortion and seemed reasonably concise. No hiss or background noise marred the presentation. This was a decent soundtrack that held up fairly well over the years.
Packed with extras, the DVD starts with an extended version of the film. The package incorrectly refers to this as an “alternate opening”, but the added scene actually appears later in the first act. It shows Lydecker’s influence on a young Laura. It’s a good sequence since it adds to our understanding of both characters.
Next we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from composer David Raksin and film historian Jeanine Basinger. Both sit separately to provide their own running, screen-specific discussions. A veteran of many similar tracks, Basinger provides the lion’s share of the conversation. She goes over the basics such as notes about the cast and crew, film interpretation, and some specifics about the movie’s creation like script issues, editing, and the music.
Raksin chimes in periodically with details about his own work, some of which prove quite illuminating. For example, the composer tells us how personal heartache prompted some of his material. Occasional lulls mar the commentary and it never becomes terribly involving, but it gets into the basics well and becomes reasonably useful.
For the other commentary, we hear from film historian Rudy Behlmer. Another veteran of this sort of track, Behlmer offers his own running, screen-specific chat. Behlmer commentaries are money in the bank, and he provides another good one for Laura.
Behlmer starts at the beginning with the genesis of the book and notes about author Vera Caspary. He talks about her writing, attempts to create a stage version, and eventual move toward the big screen. We then learn the story’s slow progress in that direction, various attempts to get a director as well as the failed use of Rouben Mamoulian and the hiring of Otto Preminger. Behlmer follows the casting and various production issues like set design and score. He tosses out many notes about the film’s creation along with occasional biographical information about participants.
I worried that Behlmer’s track would become redundant after Basinger’s chat. Although he does repeat a few tidbits, the vast majority of his information is unique to his commentary. As always, Behlmer keeps things tight and involving. Despite a few lulls, the track usually moves at a good pace, and Behlmer tells us many valuable notes. This is a fine commentary that proves extremely useful.
After this we discover two separate episodes of A&E’s Biography series. Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait goes for 44 minutes and 20 seconds and includes the usual mix of film clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Basinger, Raksin, sister Pat Byrne, daughter Christina Cassini, actor Richard Widmark, stand-in Kay Adell Stork, and former husband Oleg Cassini. The show follows Tierney’s early life and family problems, her quick path to success on Broadway and in Hollywood, romances and personal concerns, career highs and lows, family tragedies and her own mental problems,
Like all of the Biography episodes, “Angel” follows its subject’s ups and downs. Sometimes it feels like the series’ producers stress the negatives too strongly in an attempt to “spice up” the proceedings. In this case, however, the dark moments don’t seem forced, as Tierney clearly went through many bad times. We learn of all the pressure put on the actress by her father. Mental illness mars her career and other negatives dominate much of her life. The program balances the good and bad sides well and offers a solid portrait of the actress.
Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain runs 44 minutes and 13 seconds and uses the same format as “Portrait”. Here we get remarks from biographer Lucy Chase Williams, daughter Victoria Price, director Roger Corman, and actors Norman Lloyd, Hazel Court, Roddy McDowall, Jane Russell and Dennis Hopper. The program covers Price’s early life and interests in art and travel as well as acting, his progression in his chosen career and his personal life, successes on the screen and his lifelong pursuit of fine art, and the development of various areas.
Unlike the Tierney program, “Villain” comes with virtually no scandal or dirt. Apparently, Price’s two divorces were as scandalous as things got, and neither offered any intrigue. This comes as a relief after the rollercoaster of “Angel”, as it’s nice to see a big star with a relentlessly normal life. Granted, it does make “Villain” a little dull at times; I hate to admit it, but a star’s mental illness is a lot more interesting than his art collection. Still, this offers a nice take on Price’s life and career, and it’s fun to see clips from his commercials and other non-film efforts.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get one deleted scene. As I mentioned earlier, this 97-second clip also appears in the extended version of the movie. I like that we have the option to view it in either place. We can listen to it with or without commentary from Behlmer, as he briefly tells us why Fox insisted the filmmakers cut the sequence. Note that Behlmer only speaks at the start of the clip, so don’t expect to hear much from him.
A sterling example of a film noir, Laura continues to sparkle 60 years after its creation. With rich, involving characters and a plot that features terrific twists and turns, it becomes a lively little murder mystery. The DVD offers fairly average picture and audio along with a solid roster of extras. A classic film that looks and sounds fine and comes with two audio commentaries as well as two documentaries for a list price of less than $15? Laura may be the best bargain of the year.