Watching Laura on TCM tonight… I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but… in the middle of the film, just before the big twist in the plot, Lieutenant McPherson (Dana Andrews) is in Laura’s apartment late at night, going through her personal items in what he wants to pretend is a search for clues to her murder, but really is an attempt to know more about the dead woman with whom he’s falling in love. He pours a glass of Pinch Scotch and sits in the armchair beneath her luminous, magnetic portrait. Soon, he falls asleep.
At this moment, director Otto Preminger trucks in on a close-up of the bottle and Andrews’ sleeping face, pauses there for just one beat, then trucks out again to show Andrews, unmoved—though by now the glass has vanished from his hand. (Presumably, he has dropped it… or has he?)
He wakes up, and… well, you know… spoilers.
But here’s the thing: in cinematic shorthand, that kind of camera move, so obviously showing the director’s hand when no other shot in the film is quite so arch, opening out to a scene where everything is exactly the same except for a few minor, almost imperceptible details, could be used to indicate the passage of time—or it could be used to connote the start of a dream sequence.
What I’m saying is—and this is something left unmentioned in TCM’s “Essentials” discussion of the film—maybe everything that happens after Lieutenant McPherson falls asleep in Laura’s apartment is a dream. Certainly the film ends (bit of a spoiler) with what I’d say is McPherson’s version of a happy ending.
Maybe it’s all in his head?
“Get some sleep. Forget the whole thing like a bad dream.” –Mark McPherson to Laura Hunt
“They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for while, then closes
Within a dream.” –Waldo Lydecker, quoting Ernest Dowson
Well, sure enough. According to at least one source, the original script called for it to all have been a dream. And of course, that’s part of what elevates this film above its B-movie-noir source material. To flatly state “it’s all a dream” would be crude and obvious. To leave all those clues in—the many references to dreams, that dolly shot—and then never even mention that it might be a dream: brilliant.