Taylor Swift is reincarnated Gene Tierney and the unsung ten second brilliance of Kathleen Howard
Much like the January to March season in which every film released to theaters is a guaranteed pile of salted garbage (few exceptions), streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu seem to have periods of oscillation between critically acclaimed releases and Tori Spelling straight-to-DVD horrors -- not necessarily confined to a first quarter graveyard they can strike at any time and at Tara Reid levels of terrible.
We aren't in one now thank the digital gods, but we were fairly recently. And it was in that Segal-esque entertainment choke hold that I discovered a trove of wonderful old movies buried deep in the streaming hinterlands beneath the dead and rotting career of Kirk Cameron.
The first one I (re)discovered was "Twelve O'clock High" with Gregory Peck, a 1949 war flick that is an excellent candidate for reboot. Fodder for a later post.
The second, at the behest of my refined other half was the 1944 mystery, "Laura." In my slightly better than totally ignorant opinion, there are four casting choices which help this film remain timeless.
Gene Tierney. My wife seems convinced Taylor Swift is at least a partial Gene Tierney reincarnation. Which would totally be possible if Swift had been born just two years later. Tierney died in 1991. Swift was born in 1989. My Sanskrit is a little hazy but I have a feeling existential overlap is a deal breaker. I'm pretty sure that Model 1-A-1 Toastmaster had long been on the fritz before Shirley MacLaine absorbed its soul.
We are introduced to Tierney as the title character in that sing-songy delivery characteristic to leading ladies of that era, but she drops it later in the film as her influence and power over her male suitors grows. It's a subtle but specific character choice that serves Laura's story arc beautifully.
Clifton Webb. An accomplished ballroom dancer, Webb's command of Waldo Lydecker's body allows him to glide through each scene in complete control -- a physical trait that matches the fluidity of his wit, pouncing his way in and sacheting his way out of any situation. Par example, after having enough of a dinner party and desiring to lure Laura away from an interested Shelby Carpenter:
Waldo Lydecker: I cannot stand these morons any longer. If you don't come with me this instant, I shall run amok.
Webb is easily (and ironically) the most delightful of the ensemble.
Vincent Price. I would cast Price in any murder mystery because he's always suspected first given his general creepiness and an unmistakable voice that slinks in and out of the shadows of his aura. Seriously, any caricature of a back alley pervert is more often than not doing a Vincent Price impression. Even when Price's Shelby Carpenter is turning on the charm to woo Laura, you can't help but squirm.
Shelby Carpenter: No, it's not that - it's the next night. And what about three weeks from tonight? And all the nights in between?
"You can live in my dungeon lair, and I'll hand feed you stale saltines and tweeze your nose hairs one by one until our love is impenetrable!"
Tierney laughs and blushes at his advances and does her best to look interested, but no one in the wide world of sports believes he's taking a woman of her intelligence and wisdom home.
Kathleen Howard. Who the hell is that, you ask? Well if you IMDB her, you'll see that she plays a cook in a scene that lasts about ten seconds where she banters a bit with Vincent Price. I'm only pointing her out because the scene was so profoundly natural, I came away thinking what a great actor she was. Every once in a while, I'll come across an under-five in an old movie who's out acting every scenery chewer with more lines. Way ahead of her time.
Fun fact: apparently while filming "Ball of Fire" in 1941, Barbara Stanwyck accidentally clocked Howard with a stage punch gone awry. Broke her jaw. Stanwyck was mortified, given that Howard was 57 years old at the time. Remember, kids! Friends don't let friends method act.