“Murder is my favorite crime.”

I’ll go ahead and say it: Laura is the best mystery I’ve ever seen. Most mystery movies are needlessly cryptic, with the characters serving the plot in withholding key pieces of information until the very end. Not so with Laura, which allows each character to act naturally according to their own motivations while still maintaining suspense and unfolding into a masterful puzzle that keeps the viewer guessing until the very last minute. Directed by Otto Preminger and starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb, this 1944 film noir mystery holds up extremely well today.

The plot begins with detective Mark McPherson investigating the murder of Laura Hunt, a charismatic and successful young woman whom many men seem to fall in love with. Key suspects include Waldo Lydecker, an older mentor who helped her in her career, and Shelby Carpenter, her estranged fiance. In true film noir fashion, everyone has something to hide, and it’s hard to keep straight everyone’s stories. There’s also a major plot twist about halfway through that I didn’t see coming, and numerous other twists along the way.

I suspect nobody and everybody. I am strictly trying to get at the truth.

The suspense and mystery maintained throughout the movie are stellar. The mystery isn’t really solved until the final few minutes of the movie with the suspense going straight through the last seconds. The music and cinematography add to this moody atmosphere and create a real edge-of-your-seat experience that doesn’t rely on cheap tricks to throw the audience off. The lead investigator McPherson does a great job of staying completely objective as the twists come, making sure he doesn’t jump on a lead too soon. As I watched this, I mused to myself that all mystery movies should take notes from this one, and that says a lot.

Lydecker is interrogated in a bathtub in Laura
First mystery: why couldn’t he wait until Lydecker got out of the bathtub to conduct the investigation?

Though as a stylized film noir it presents some larger-than-life aspects, Laura feels very natural. Its characters are complex and unique, and each turn of the plot reveals more about them. The actors all had outstanding performances. I felt a real connection with each of the main characters, though they were not without their flaws. When the killer was finally revealed in the end, I was kind of sad because I didn’t want to see any of the characters in that light, although I knew it had to be one of them.

Laura is a classic mystery that holds up extremely well and has excellent pacing. There’s a reason this is one of the few films with a 100% rating on movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. Anyone who appreciates good mysteries, classic films, or unpredictable plots needs to see this movie. This is also a great introduction to the film noir genre, if you’re looking to get into that. I highly recommend checking this film out.

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 1:28
Director: Otto Preminger
Year: 1944
Genres: film noir, mystery
Rating: NR

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