Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Laura, or: Unintentional Smoking Month

Can we agree that last week was awful and never to speak of it again?  This week has to be better.  Has to if only by virtue of this week’s film:  Laura.

Incidentally, this month’s edition of Blog Free or Die Hard has morphed into a month of women who look insanely good smoking (to be clear, it’s gross IRL and will make you smell like a sad 1970s couch in a motel room).

As always, Christa’s thoughts about this film are greater in number than all of the cigarettes smoked in all of the films we’ve watched this month.  (That’s a lot.)

The Film:


Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

A 1940s detective tries to solve the murder case of a young woman, seemingly by staring at her portrait and smoking a lot.

The Uncondensed Version:

As soon as the credits started rolling, I realized what an unfair pick this was.  First, it’s almost impossible to review this one without ruining absolutely everything.  Secondly, this is one of my absolute favorite films, and it’s beautiful and perfect.  I have watched this film, uh, a lot.  It’s like wrapping a blanket around myself.  So obv the following review is not the most objective post I’ve ever penned (typed).

If it hasn’t become abundantly clear from this blog, I love classics, film noir, and pretty 1940s dudes.  All bases covered with this one.

Our narrator, Waldo Lydecker, is an extremely ambiguous newspaper columnist.  He is charming, sarcastic, witty, and incredibly sketchy.  But this is noir, so literally everyone in this film is sketchy as fuck.

A man wearing a trench coat and fedora faces away from a man wearing a suit.
Everyone except you, Dana Andrews, 1940s man of my dreams.

Lydecker is about to reveal us the events of the weekend the titular Laura died.  To begin with, the obnoxiously good-looking detective, Mark McPherson, arrives to question Lydecker.  Mark is the archetypal 1940s detective:  silent, constantly smoking, and dropping sarcastic one-liners like it’s his job.  With the bonus interests of solving those ball bearing balance puzzles and taking fragile objects out of display cabinets.

When Mark arrives, Lydecker is just sort of chilling and taking a bubble bath.  He makes absolutely no move to get out of the bath and put on a robe during their conversation—he just keeps hanging out in the bath.  Neither man is particularly fazed.  Maybe 1940s dudes were just used to having conversations over the tub.

A man in a fedora smokes a cigarette, facing a man in a bathtub who is using a typewriter.
I probably would never leave that tub either, though.

As both a columnist and former friend/mentor to Laura, Lydecker has a keen interest in the investigation.  Because it’s the ‘40s and basically anything goes, Lydecker tags along with Mark even though HE IS A SUSPECT.  I know very little about police work, but even I know that is really unethical.

Our next suspect is Laura’s aunt, aka her fiancé’s benefactor.  It seems Aunt Ann has been making large cash withdrawals around the same time the fiancé, Shelby, has been making large cash deposits.  Suspicious.  On a side note, Shelby is played by a suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper young Vincent Price, and it’s somewhat jarring to realize that VP was both really young and incredibly attractive at one point.  I mean, he was always attractive, but in a rather pretty way.

At a party, a woman smiles at a man who is making a funny facial expression.
Also the king of goofy facial expressions.

So anyway…Shelby is yet another suspect, especially when it comes to light that Laura was planning to go to the country to think their relationship over.  Apparently it’s cool for both Lydecker and Shelby to join Mark as he investigates Laura’s apartment, though.  Because if detective work has a motto, it’s “The more, the merrier.”

So it’s clear that everyone is a suspect, right?  Hold on because we’re about to get some backstory.  According to Lydecker, he celebrated Laura’s 22nd birthday with her, but had met her 5 years earlier?!?!  Which means she was SEVENTEEN.  PLEASE let that be incorrect.  That’s way too young to have an allegedly platonic relationship with a MUCH older newspaper columnist.  Let’s just ignore that math, ok?

As it turns out, Laura, novice in business and social finesse, approached Lydecker in an effort to gain his endorsement for her company’s pen advertisement.  Lydecker initially behaved like an insensitive ass, but changed his mind because of Laura’s natural charm, sincerity, and, I mean, probably at least a bit because she was super young.

Lydecker does this whole My Fair Lady thing in which he introduces her to all of the important society people, tells her how to wear her hair, and what clothes to choose.  It veers into creepy territory pretty quickly, but Laura is not at all interested in a romantic relationship with Lydecker.

Since he’s a reasonably creepy dude, Lydecker takes the totally reasonable approach along the lines of “If I can’t have her, no one will,” and proceeds to sabotage all of her relationships.

A woman wearing a striped suit stands behind a seated man.
That striped power suit:  number one reason the ’40s should make a comeback.

Back to the present:  Mark has sort of moved into Laura’s apartment given the amount of time he’s spent there trying to crack the case.  As Lydecker points out, A LOT of this time has been eaten up staring at the portrait of Laura painted by one of her former lovers.  Lydecker tells Mark to get a life or he’ll end up in a psych ward as the first man in love with a corpse.  Pretty sure he wouldn’t be the first, but ok…we get it, Lydecker.

This is all leading up to an EXTREMELY DRAMATIC PLOT TWIST THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING.  I would really hate to ruin the fun of this film, so just watch it, ok?

Also you’ll get to see propaganda for war bonds at the very end, which I consider pretty exciting.

The Rating:

5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I think the only film noir I like better is Out of the Past.

I find the commentary on how incredibly twisted people’s ideas about what love is to be absolutely perfect.  Almost all of the characters have foggy motives, and the mystery will keep you guessing.  Unless you’re really fucking good at Clue.  The real power of this film, however, is the story of Laura’s search for independence and assertiveness.  Not that I’d know anything about that.

See if Christa agrees in her review here!  She might even get out of the tub before you visit, but no promises.

Film Reviews

The Abominable Dr. Phibes, or: The Price of Revenge

The Film:

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Where to Watch:

Youtube or your local library

The Premise:

Vincent Price plays Dr. Phibes, a man seeking revenge on the medical staff he blames for his wife’s death.

The Trailer:

The Uncondensed Version:

The beginning of this movie is a really long shot of Vincent Price in a dark cloak playing the organ rather sinisterly (can you really play the organ any other way?). His accompaniment is a wind-up band and, eventually, a woman dressed in white. They dance for an unnecessary amount of time, though perhaps I’m just biased. Extended dance scenes are a movie pet peeve of mine (I’m looking at you, Pride & Prejudice).

Since this is a Vincent Price movie, there is a murder within the first 10 minutes. Dr. Phibes lowers a cage into the room of a sleeping man and unleashes (the horror) A FRUIT BAT. The next morning, the police arrive to discover the man SURROUNDED by fruit bats, who have presumably shredded him to DEATH.

a fruit bat crouches on the chest of a sleeping man

Phibes, having successfully completed this murder, puts a necklace with a strange po-mo symbol on a wax effigy of the guy and burns it. This movie is rapidly becoming House of Wax.

The next murder occurs at some kind of weird masquerade ball. Phibes is, of course, wearing an eagle mask. It becomes apparent at this point that the movie is set in early 20th century London as an actual line one of the partygoers utters is “Jolly fine party, what?” Moments later, Phibes kills this man using a deadly FROG MASK.

a man in a golden mask adjusts a frog mask on another man

Victim number 3 is this old guy projecting footage of belly dancers onto a screen and drinking port, the early 20th century equivalent of looking at porn on the internet. Suddenly, Dr. Phibes appears, to this oddly warm, happy music. Obviously the director knows the audience doesn’t care about this guy; we just want to see Vincent Price kill people. Phibes puts this man’s blood into little vials while the woman in white PLAYS THE VIOLIN. Unfortunately, it becomes obvious that Phibes is slipping; he drops one of his po-mo necklaces.

The police are able to use the necklace to figure out that the po-mo symbol is, in fact, a Hebrew symbol. All of the murders so far have mirrored the 10 plagues of Egypt. So THAT’S why Phibes murdered someone with a frog mask. Right now, my biggest question is if Phibes is going to make the sky rain fire or make the freaky death cloud from Prince of Egypt appear. The police also discover the connection between the victims: they all worked for Dr. Vesalius at some point.

We also discover more about Phibes’s personal motivations now; in a move that rivals Helga (from Hey Arnold) in terms of creepiness, he has built a shrine to his dead wife, who looks remarkably similar to the woman in white. After a terrible car accident in which Phibes reportedly died, doctors tried and failed to revive Phibes’s wife…which means revenge is called for. As a result of the accident, Phibes can’t talk, but he seems to somehow project his voice using bolts, wires, and a phonograph.

A man kneels by a shrine, looking at a picture of a woman with a 1960s style haricut

The next four deaths:

Phibes kills this rich guy by basically turning his car into a freezer, which I guess counts as the hail plague.

Plane filled with rats. Now you know Snakes on a Plane is a Dr. Phibes spin-off. The police try (and fail) to prevent this death by engaging in a very low-speed chase with the plane. Meanwhile, Vincent Price is lying in a nearby field smelling flowers. SERIOUSLY.

A man with gray hair and a moustache crouches in a field, holding a flower up to his face
I need this as a poster.

BRASS UNICORN catapulted into a guy’s chest, prompting the line “A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon.”  If you watch the trailer, you’ll get to see this beautiful moment.

Locusts. Phibes drips this green goo on to this lady’s face while she’s sleeping (this is pretty much exactly what happens in You Only Live Twice). He then releases locusts into the room, which stick to her and eat her face.

The last intended victim is Dr. Vesalius himself (played by Joseph Cotten!), who is supposed to suffer the death of his firstborn. Vesalius will have to operate on his son to remove a key lodged by his heart. This key will free his son from the operating table; if Vesalius fails to do this, acid will pour down and burn through his son’s face.

At this point, it is revealed that Phibes did, in fact, die in the car accident but reassembled his own body somehow. His TRUE FACE is revealed, which just kind of looks like a plaster skull. The horror, the horror.

Vesalius manages to free his son, which is somewhat disappointing as I spent most of the film with the irrational urge to punch that kid in the face. Meanwhile, Phibes gets into a coffin with his wife and embalms them both. By the time the police arrive, Phibes is nowhere to be found.

The Critique:

This movie is over-the-top and insane in the way the best Vincent Price movies are. Definitely recommended if you enjoy the films of Vincent Price and/or ‘70s B horror movies.  There’s apparently a sequel, which I will be tracking down in the near future.

The Rating:

Small Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink PantherSmall Pink Panther 4/5 Pink Panther heads

I may be a teensy bit biased because I would probably give footage of Vincent Price waiting in line to buy stamps the same rating.

Deducted one Pink Panther head because FRUIT BATS were apparently responsible for a murder. Also this movie is not quite as great as The Raven, House of Wax, or The Fly.