воскресенье, 8 ноября 2009 г.

Citizen Kane (1941): Overinterpreting Orson’s Messages and Intentions




And close your eyes with holy dread,

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Kubla Khan



I rewatched “Citizen Kane” for a third (and soon after, a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth) time over the last three weeks, and it was for the first time that I watched it with, shall we say, expert eyes, paying attention to the things that tend to escape the casual observer on a first or even second viewing. The first time I watched because I was curious, the second — because I wanted to understand what is so great about this movie (but I was too ignorant at the time). And only now I watched it with real interest, as a piece of art.

This time I was completely knocked out by the stunning photography and camera work. Gregg Toland was a genius, to be sure (I have watched other movies he made). It was a friend of mine who told me what to pay attention to when watching “Citizen Kane,” i.e. meaning the camera work, at least in some shots. I need to ask her some more questions. And Orson did appreciate Mr. Toland’s work, and even put his name at the very end of the credits, giving him the place usually occupied by the director.

Now, what I think about the main character, which is by far the most interesting part of the movie. To a great measure, this is due to Orson’s skills as an actor. I appreciated them even the first time I watched. Orson was TREMENDOUSLY good in his film debut as a leading man. And although I have thought for a long time it was absolutely fair that Gary Cooper won an Oscar for “Sergeant York” (1941), and, thus, beat Orson who portrayed Charles Foster Kane and also was nominated, now I don’t know (though I still adore Gary Cooper). Now, to the character. I have always found it slightly annoying that movies (old movies, in particular) tend to explore the depth of a female soul, and movie after movie we see the torment and anguish of Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. Yeah, they were great, to be sure, and I love them all, and I watch them with immense pleasure. But with an equal or, perhaps, even greater interest I like to watch the sufferings of characters portrayed by my favorite leading men. Yes, how about that? And these must not be the sufferings (or, in a more general way, development) of some squirming critter, or some contemptible worm, or some worthless good-for-nothing (like in many, TOO MANY old Russian novels which I hate), but of a man worthy by himself, i.e. a man who achieved something in life. Only a character like that interests me, only such a character deserves to be analyzed. Of course, we have “Vertigo” (1958), and, boy, am I grateful to Mr. Hitchcock for this wonderful picture!, and, thank heaven, we have “High Noon” (1952), and “Casablanca” (1943), and “Act of Violence” (1948), and “The Razor’s Edge” (1946), and “Gentlemen’s Agreement” (1947), and “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), and other Dana Andrews flicks, and many films noirs, and some other great films where we follow the workings of the male soul, but overall those are by far outnumbered by movies concentrating on women, or at least this is my impression. So, every film where we have an interesting (in the sense specified above) and complicated male protagonist is welcome. And definitely Charles Foster Kane is such a protagonist.


About Love


And if I <...> know all mysteries and all knowledge;
<...> but have not love, I am nothing.
And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor <...>
it profiteth me nothing
(1 Cor. 13: 2—3, American Standard Version). 


Kane’s story reminds me of the life of another great man — William Beckford of Fonthill (1760—1844), “England’s wealthiest son” (as Lord Byron called him). Parallels are astounding:
= Kane was abandoned by his parents and raised by trustees; Beckford also had parents issues: his father died when the boy was 10, his mother was of a despotic disposition, and the boy-wonder was raised by tutors;
= both had immense wealth;
= Kane built an enormous Xanadu, imitating Kubla Khan; Beckford built an enormous Fonthill Abbey, imitating another Oriental potentate (and his own literary creation), Calif Vathek;
= both displayed propensity for solitude in their huge dwellings;
= both never finished anything (in Beckford’s case it means his early failure with publishing his literary works led to his unwillingness to pursue literary career any further); and
= both used money “to buy things... to buy things.”
Things for them meant everything, including love. Yes! Beckford, with his good looks, talents, wit, could have easily won as many hearts as he wanted. But he preferred to pay for affections. So, obviously, did Kane. That was their way of “ingratiating” (as Beckford would say) themselves with the world. They did not know any other means. How could they? Raised without parental love, where would they have learned to love? Nowhere. Did you love your Charlie, Ma Kane? No -- you gave him away. Pa Kane? No -- you agreed with giving him away. Mr. Thatcher? No, too busy being a banker. Emily? No, too busy keeping up appearances. Susan? No, too busy being a singer, then too busy solving jig-saw puzzles and pouting. Jed Leland? No, too busy being righteous. Mr. Bernstein? No, too busy enjoying what was to be had of life and saying “As you say, Mr. Kane”. And you people who did not have a single ounce of love for Mr. Kane, you accuse him of being self-centered, of loving himself, of wanting to be loved by all the world on his own terms?! Oh shut up, you selfish bastards! How else could he express his love, except by buying you things? Yes, that was his way, probably the only way he knew. Yes, both Beckford and Kane wanted everybody else to love them on their own terms. First, because those are the only terms there are (as Kane put it), and, second, because everything else in their lives was on their terms, why should love be any different?!


A Boxed World


We know from Jed Leland that Kane was not satisfied with the world, so he created his own (just like Beckford did). What kind of the world was that?

It appears this world was populated with boxes.

I thought at first: what a waste of money and screen time to show all those caged wild beasts and birds in such outrageous numbers, to show all those boxes and other things in the Kane storage at the end! Now I know better. Of course, it was done on purpose! Kane had to deal (and fight) with lots of boxes: he was put in quadrangles of colleges, he managed offices with cubicles, he kept his money in bank safes, he got on a soap box during his election campaign, he built a giant box-like opera house (a box with boxes, sure) for his second wife, he collected statues which came in crates and he often left them crated up (obviously he preferred them this way), he lived in a large and lavish box surrounded by a fence. In this latter case he was like a precious object and an animal at once. When he died he was moved into another box (coffin)...

Then, his world was also populated with mirrors and mirror images. We see in this movie many mirrors, and other surfaces which serve as mirrors: the glass ball (a nurse is reflected in it), windows (dancing Kane was reflected in one), tables (in Mr. Bernstein’s office); statues are also mirrors or at least mirror images. Now, mirrors are also boxes of sorts: when a person looks at themselves in a mirror they do not see the world around them, they see only themselves. The question arises: was Kane comfortable in this boxed and crated (I first misspelled this word and wrote “created”) world created by himself?

When we first meet him at the age of 25 he tells Mr. Thatcher that he is not one person but two. Yes, he was two persons (or, most probably, even more; remember his last shot when he is reflected in a thousand mirrors; by the way, I find his remark an interesting case among other twosomes in this movie: two wives, two close associates, even two sleds!), at least two persons, and very different persons, too: one was an influential public figure and publisher, the other a recluse, a hermit. The first he was trying to become all his life, the second he really was from the very beginning and became close to the end. Remember Mr. Thatcher asks him in 1929 what he would like to have become in life, and he answers, “Everything you hate.” Obviously, he had not yet become that then. If his life had been allowed to run its natural course, he might have become a writer, or a philosopher, or a visionary. Because that is what he really was. And nobody would have blamed him then for being so self-centered, because that would be in the nature of things, that is what is expected of a thinker. But he was made a public figure, a doer, I suppose much against his inner inclinations (I’d venture to say he did not differ very much from an object, a thing, after he was taken from that yard and that sleigh.). Maybe he was not a real misanthrope. He probably did not abhor or detest people, but certainly was very indifferent to them. He wrote in his Declaration of Principles: “...people...” but he did not care two pins about people, and put it in his statement just because it was expected of him, because he professed to be “one thing,” i.e. an American, and the Americans have this “We the People...” in the first sentence of their Constitution and this triple “of the people, by the people, for the people” in their Creed taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Remember, Jed Leland remarks sarcastically that Kane twice starts the two “people” clauses in his Declaration with the word “I”? And later says Kane wanted to give people their rights? But that is exactly what a visionary would most naturally do! He calls his “dream staff” his candy — yeah, and to him candy and object it was — something to be gotten and played about. He just probably thought it un-American for a major publisher and would-be politician not to refer to people now and then.

However, there is a most revealing phrase in the movie. “I know too many people,” he told Susan Alexander when he first met her, “I guess we are both lonely.” He was lonely in his crowded world, and, probably, a lot less lonely in that mammoth castle of his, when he finally was left almost alone. Finally, he was able to lead the sort of life he had probably always wanted: contemplative, not active, otium cum dignitate. He was, I think, quite comfortable among his boxes and statues, considering he started to collect them in his youth, and was just kidding himself thinking he really needed people (and their company and love, for that matter). I believe, it is a very telling scene that at the party celebrating their record circulation we see statues of both Leland and Bernstein (just behind the real ones). If all of the staff were represented by statues Kane would have been just as comfortable at that party as he was with the real invitees. Maybe, though, Jed Leland was an exception. I think Kane was really fond of him: he even invited him to Xanadu to share this sort of life with him, but Leland chose not to answer (silly bastard!).

And for this contemplative, introspective sort of life, Kane arranged perfect surroundings (it’s a pity you can’t ask Beckford, he would have told you how perfect it was): a colossal building full of giant halls, long corridors, countless objects of art, creatures of nature, mirrors — and solitude. Everything a person needs to meditate and to look at and into himself. “It’s their loss,” he told Susan Alexander, meaning the public, when he finally allowed her not to pursue her singing career any further. I think he could apply this phrase to himself when he ceased to be an influential public figure and publisher, and just lived in Xanadu refusing to meet anybody. Yes, he became, as Italians would say, a real, well, orso, i.e. an unsociable person (the first meaning of orso in Italian is “bear”). But it was his choice.

Was he a great man? He says, “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might’ve been a really great man.” I think he was a great man, because at a very advanced age he managed to return to his real self. This revelation about the need to make a U-turn came to him when Susan left him. He found the glass ball in her room and thought about “Rosebud” for the first time since an eternity before. If it had not been for Susan he might have done that earlier. He might have gone to the warehouse where the things left after his mother were stored (as he intended to do when he first met Susan) and might have found what he was looking for, a few years earlier. Nevertheless, he found it, and that was all he had ever really wanted or cared about. He returned to the white snow, which we see in the beginning of Kane’s life journey, and did not care about the black smoke after his life sleigh had reached the foot of the mountain.



The vanity of the critics



Very often, when we try to dissect the magic of art,

 
                                              ...all the charm  

                    Is broken — all that phantom-world so fair,

                    Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,

                    And each mis-shape the other.

If Kane suspected he would be examined and categorized, and could have raised from the dead, he would have said to the reporters who flooded his solitary dwelling, “You have no business analyzing my life or trying to guess what I meant when I uttered ‘Rosebud,’ Mr. Thompson. I rose, bud. Rose to heaven. So stop the hustle and get out of here! My life is not to be sliced up and scrutinized piece by piece. It is a rosebud that never blossomed, leave it that way, it must not be taken apart. You may rummage through my knick-knacks and gimcracks, but don’t you believe you can understand what I was.”

We have been forewarned at the beginning, “No trespassing.” Everything we learn about Kane in the movie we learn from others. Should we believe them, considering none of them loved him? Shouldn’t we better allow the magic and mystery of a human life and its essence and meaning to remain undisclosed? That is if you sympathize with Charles Foster Kane, as I do.


                    The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon

                    The visions will return! <...>

                    And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms

                    Come trembling back, unite, and now once more

                    The pool becomes a mirror.

среда, 14 октября 2009 г.

Black-and-white fancy shoes reflect deception or split personality?

Black-and-white dress shoes -- that’s the kinda things I’m crazy about in old movies!

***BEWARE OF SPOILERS***
In my favorite television show, LOST, all the main characters are depicted as multi-dimensional human beings, no one is purely good or intrinsically bad. However, to remind the viewer of the eternal struggle between good and evil (one of the core themes of the show), the producers of the show, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, insert here and there different items of a symbolic, allusive or referential nature. These visual tokens are intended for devoted fans of the show, geeks like myself. One of the signs that intersperse the LOST universe is the juxtaposition of the black and white colors (sometimes, esp. lately, those are offset by red, but this does not concern me for the moment). If it were not for that LOST allusion, I probably never would have noticed such things in my favorite old Hollywood movies, where everything is black and white.

Sometimes I tend to overanalyze things, and, most likely, that is the case here. Nevertheless, I would take just one B&W article and would try and propose a theory that it is not by chance that this article pops up in the good ol’ movies now and again. The article in question is B&W dress shoes (men’s shoes, of course).

I don’t know whether directors mean to say something when they dress their actors in such shoes, but everywhere I come across this type of footwear I’m on my guards, because I immediately sense that something is amiss with the character wearing them. I instantaneously know that this character is either double-crossing or deceiving others, or is being generally unfair to someone or dishonest or fishy, or has a duplicitous nature, or something like that. Judge for yourself. (I wish I could supply pictures of all of them.)

1. We see them in the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” (1951). Heck, the movie practically starts with them, i.e. with the feet clad in them. I was on the watch at once! And who wears them but Bruno Anthony, the crazy villain we can’t help admiring! Certainly, we must thank the actor, Robert Walker, for depicting such an interesting character, but it were the shoes that alerted me from the start to his potential ambiguity (and dangerous attraction).
2. Vladimir Sokoloff owes his comeuppance to them in William Dieterle’s “Blockade” (1938). When his character first voiced his interest in such shoes, I knew he was playing a double game! And such a nice old guy, too, he seemed. He paid too dearly for running around in smart shoes!
3. Bill Holden sports them when writing his breakthrough script (he thinks) and walking around Paramount Studios in Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.” (1950). We first see him in these shoes when he lies on a couch reading “The Young Lions” and lies to Gloria Swanson that he’s going to bed soon. Instead, he sneaks out of the mansion and goes to Paramount to meet a younger woman -- to work with her, to be sure, but poor Gloria suspects something else was in the air. And guess what? She is right! Of course, I would not call a down-on-his-luck Joe Gillis a dishonest person, he was just an unhappy lost soul, but if you really wanna play hookey on Norma Desmond, you’d better choose plainer shoes!
4. The lawyer (played by James Stephenson) in William Wyler’s “The Letter” (1940). Here again, we’ve got a typical situation: Bette Davis’s lawyer is uncertain whether he should suppress the evidence for his client’s sake (i.e. do an illegal thing in violation to his professional code of honor) or report his client to the law, or expose her to her husband.
5. In Jacques Tourneur’s “Out of the Past” (1947), Bob Mitchum packs ‘em up in his suitcase when another dimpled cutie, Kirk Douglas, drops in, and boy, is Mitch displeased to see him! It happened right at the moment when Mitch was skipping town with Kirk’s girl (Jane Greer), while Kirk thought that Mitch was looking for that girl for him, and was playing a fair game with him, like he always had. A very telling moment: a double-crosser almost caught en flagrant délit. What spiced up the situation for me was Kirk’s casual remark about the prettiness of those shoes. You fool, you should have smelled something was up when you caught a glimpse of them!!! 6. Rudy Vallee runs a sack-race in them, and all the other crazy races (spoon-and-potato, three-legged, etc.), too. It happens in a delightful comedy, “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer” (1947). Ain’t he a fool? Well, I supposed he put ‘em on to impress Myrna Loy, but Cary Grant was around, so it wasn’t enough just to have something smart on to outrun that fella. Rudy wasn’t exactly deceitful or anything, but he gradually turned from a sympathetic guy into annoying, meaning that somehow he was pretending. Consequently, we wish that Cary would win all those silly Saturday picnic races and would get the (older) girl in the end, because he did not pretend at all.
7. Tony Curtis wears those B&W fancy shoes, adding another touch to his deceptive appearance of a millionaire in order to hook Marilyn Monroe in Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” (1959). I read somewhere that Curtis was trying to imitate Cary Grant when his saxophonist Joe was impersonating a suave yacht owner. First, I have yet to see this comedy masterpiece in English to make sure if that is so, and, second, of all Cary Grant flicks I saw (about 25 or 30, I think) I don’t remember him wearing such shoes in anything! One would think that a sophisticated person like Mr. Grant would put on those elegant shoes at least once, but no, no way. Maybe because he never played a deceitful character in all his career?
8. Raymond Burr wears these shoes in the beginning of “His Kind of Woman” (1951). To me it seems like a waste of a prop or wardrobe: Who’s gonna look at Raymond Burr’s feet? And his menacing presence (not only in this film but in others as well, from “Raw Deal” (1948) to “Rear Window” (1954)) is enough to let the viewer know that there’s nothing ambiguous about his characters: they are indubitably and unquestionably evil. However, evil or no evil, but who doesn’t like Raymond Burr?!

Here are just a few examples of my favorite footwear in some of the movies I like or love or adore. I am curious to watch more movies and see if other instances of B&W shoes will support or disprove my theory.

среда, 30 сентября 2009 г.

Dissecting “Laura” (1944) — goofs in Otto Preminger’s masterpiece. Or are they?


For a long time have I been mulling over the idea of starting a movie blog of my own, and only now that I have a wide band Internet connection I can put this long-contemplated project into practice. I had about three ideas about the blog title, and it was not without some misgivings that I chose the one that stays above: I knew there is a blog called “Laura’s musings on Hollywood” or something like that, and I did not want to appear plagiarizing. But, after all, my name is Laura, so what the heck. (Well, technically, it is Lora, but for the Russian ear it is about the same.)
It seemed logical to me to devote the first post here to the movie I took my title from. Some people might think it too contrived and a clumsy word play on the name of the title character, but, unfortunately, one of my drawbacks is total lack of ingenuity, and indeed I envy people who can invent such creative blog titles as “Out of the Past” or “The Movie Projector” or “Hollywood Dreamland.” Anyway, here I am as I am. After all, I do pursue my everlasting quest (all right, hunt) for excellence. In movies, in particular. All right, here goes.

“Laura” (1944), dir. Otto Preminger. Starring: Dana Andrews (Det. Lt. Mark McPherson), Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Mrs. Ann Treadwell).
Now I strongly recommend you to watch the movie before you read any further, otherwise **WATCH OUT FOR SPOILERS!**

I had wanted to watch “Laura” for some four years before I finally laid my hands on it last May. When browsing the web you come across many spoilers, quite unwittingly, and, to my regret, I was spoiled about the story twist. (I was lucky, however, not to be about the identity of the murderer.) Nevertheless, I enjoyed the picture very much, and watched it afterwards three or four times. However, the more I watched the more questions popped up in my head. Here I will try to point out some serious plot holes -- at least what I perceive as such.

Was the second half of the movie a dream sequence?

There is a most intriguing shot that was debated by film lovers many times: McPherson sits in an armchair before the fireplace, takes a glass in his left hand and falls asleep. We never see or hear the glass fall but when the camera pans back the glass is no longer in his hand! My take: it is not important whether McPherson started dreaming right then and never came out of his dream (at least not before the end of the movie), because I would argue that the entire movie is a dream, and not McPherson’s but Waldo’s. The plot contains so many goofs that it is quite impossible to pass them over or explain otherwise (I wish somebody would try). Now, to the goofs.

Can a story be narrated by a character who dies at the end of the movie?

“Laura” starts with an incongruous voiceover narration by Waldo Lydecker, as if it were his flashback. We know, however, that he dies in the end. Is it then a d’outre-tombe reminiscence? I don’t know, and I don’t care. Anyway, this is just a minor quibble, compared to more serious matters covered below. And besides, the same narrative device was used in “Sunset Blvd.” (1950), where we know from the beginning the protagonist to be dead, and also, more recently, in “Casino” (1995). It appears the original idea was to give voiceovers of some other characters too, but then it was dropped, and the only one that stayed was Waldo’s. If the entire movie is a dream, for instance Waldo’s, then this voiceover is quite plausible.

More serious goofs, in no particular order

* Improbable partnership. Why would McPherson take Waldo, himself a suspect, along with him on a visit to other possible suspects? Why would he take Shelby to Laura’s apartment? (Shelby said he would like to help McPherson find the key to Laura’s country house. Are we supposed to believe the police are unable to find some key in an apartment without any extra help from amateur sleuths? Besides, McPherson knew all the items discovered in the apartment by the police, and the key was not there. Or was he cunningly hoping Shelby would put it there and incriminate himself?) Is it normal at all to bring outsiders to the crime scene?
* Drinking wine with Waldo and at his expense. Another minor quibble, but I just can’t see McPherson doing such a thing, especially because he suspected Waldo and did not like him very much from the start.
* Waldo’s wrong timing. Why would Waldo go to Laura’s place to kill her if he knew she was going away on that particular night? She phoned him and said that herself. He did not believe her or what? And why would he want to kill Laura in the first place? She told him she wanted to think things over, meaning the marriage with Shelby, and Waldo, man of the world, would surely know that when a woman wants to marry someone she doesn’t think, she goes and gets married, but when she hesitates, it’s a sign she doesn’t want to marry that guy and just gropes for excuses to postpone the final answer and break-up. Anyway, nothing was yet certain about that marriage, so why the rush? He says, “I was sure she had too much pride to forgive him, but--” And we are supposed to believe that this “but” after that “I’m sure” is a sufficient reason for a crime of passion!
* Shot not heard by anyone. Why did nobody hear the shot, which was “an awful explosion,” according to Shelby? Laura lived in an apartment, not a detached residence. There were at least three floors in her house, and on every floor there were other apartments, I believe. So how could it be that none of the neighbors heard anything and came running to see what it was? Why did not McPherson interview any of the neighbors? How could Waldo be sure that nobody would rush to Laura’s apartment? He had the nerve of waiting till Shelby was gone and then hid the gun in the clock! (Apparently, Shelby did not bother to lock the apartment after leaving.)
* Gun hidden in the clock. And why hide the gun in the clock in the first place? Since Waldo brought it with him, why not take it back home or dispose of it on the way back? By the way, when was he going to retrieve the gun? And why didn’t the police find it? I thought it was customary for police to do a thorough investigation of the crime scene. But what happens to the gun at the end of the movie is absolutely hilarious and outrageous. McPherson finds the hidden gun and then just leaves it there, the most important evidence, just like that!!! (Remember, he took Diane Redfern’s picture and dress right away.) Of course, Waldo steals his way back to the apartment after McPherson is gone, and -- lo and behold! -- he’s got the cartridges in his pocket! As if the house was not watched by detectives and he could hope to escape after killing Laura for a second time.
* Strange weapon. By the way, why use a buckshot gun, and not a pistol? Waldo did not look an avid hunter or something, what did he keep a buckshot gun for? And, obviously, he must have kept it in a closet somewhere, because otherwise Laura would have remembered seeing it in his apartment.
* Laura’s (Shelby’s) gun. Why would Shelby go to Laura’s country house to hide the gun kept there, if, according to McPherson (he said it to Laura), the police were there on Saturday and certainly would have noticed the gun? By the way, why did not they take the gun then: surely they would want to do a ballistic test or compare the bullets, and they did those tests anyway after McPherson had taken the gun from Shelby in the country house. Maybe the police did not go into the house? That would be strange, because why then would they bother to come there at all?
* Bessie’s scream and Ann’s being there. According to Ann, she heard Bessie scream when the latter saw the dead body. Bessie said she had found the body in the apartment. So how did Ann happen to come to Laura’s place right at this minute? Not that they were close pals, and anyway, morning is a queer time even for a friendly visit. Ann said she had to identify the body. Where: right there or in the mortuary? And besides, it never gets clear how the police found out that it was not Laura who had been “bumped off upstairs,” as a detective in the underground parking lot tells McPherson.
* McPherson commits a break-in. Why would McPherson go to Waldo’s place (and let himself in (with a master-key?)!!!, i.e. did the very thing Det. Lt. Doyle wouldn’t do in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” ten years later) after he took Laura home from the police station? He wanted to find something (without a search warrant)? The gun? He certainly did not think that Waldo was stupid and still kept the gun? Anyway, he suddenly changed his mind when he broke into the secret compartment of the famous twin clock and found it empty. “Very logically” he assumed the gun is hidden in the other twin clock.
* McPherson commits blunders one after another. He was sure Waldo was a murderer when he came back from his apartment. And yet he let him go away! Why not arrest him and then look for the supposedly hidden gun? Second, when he was leaving he checked the lock on the front door and completely disregarded the kitchen entrance, which was right there! And when he went outside and the officer who was supposed to follow Waldo told him Waldo had not come out yet, it turned out the house had one more entrance/exit, and that one apparently was not watched by the police! Oh, come on, that’s too much. Nobody is that stupid.

Why do I think the whole movie is a dream?

I believe all the above (and other, smaller) inconsistencies can be explained if (and only if) we assume the entire movie was a dream seen (or fanciful story invented) by Waldo after he talked with Laura over the phone on Friday night. A dream, a vision, a fantasy -- whatever. Remember he said he was writing Laura’s story when McPherson came? What kind of a story could that be? “Once upon a time there was an impudent girl of some parts. She harassed me one day in a restaurant, I took a fancy to her (stupid old ass!) and, Svengali-like, helped her advance in the world. She had some dates but I, acting out of pure selfishness, made her drop them. The other day she was murdered by some ruthless barbarian. The end.” Very entertaining, I’m sure. No, he was writing this very story we are watching. Far more exciting -- so exciting (witty, stylish and beautifully photographed) that it found its way into IMDb-Top 250.
He imagined he had gone to her place with a buckshot gun (purpose: not just to kill her but to mutilate her beauty -- remember he asks McPherson with concern why the police had “to photograph her in that horrible condition”?). He imagined a young, handsome (“in a cheap sort of the way”) and muscular lieutenant McPherson who would come to investigate the murder and would be able on a perfectly legitimate basis to go through Laura’s things in the lingerie drawers and in the wardrobe, to sit on her bed (yeah, I always found strange that McPherson would do that), to read her letters and private diary. All this is happening in Waldo’s imagination. (Still better -- Waldo did not exactly imagine McPherson, he remembered him from the time he wrote a piece on him and his silver shin-bone in his column. Obviously, he liked him, a hero, handsome and all -- otherwise he would not have chosen him for his alter ego. And at the same time he disliked him, because he could not be all those things himself in real life. Hence his irony about coming to Laura’s apartment as a suitor with drugstore candy, about wanting Laura’s picture, about imagining Laura as wife, about the possibility of ending up in a psych ward, etc. It was bitter irony aimed at himself. We are all dual personalities, I believe, and alternately get pleased or dissatisfied or even disgusted with ourselves.) And he imagined that then Laura would come back and fall in love with him. And not only that. This imaginary hero would also put Shelby in his place, physically speaking -- apparently, Waldo’s longtime dream (certainly, he was able to beat Shelby intellectually, but obviously it was not enough for him). Remember, Shelby was a very big guy (Vincent Price at 6’ 4”) as compared to McPherson (Dana Andrews at 5’ 10”), and still he just takes a slug from him to the solar plexus! (To say nothing of the fact that it was an unwarranted action on the part of a police officer, and committed in the presence of numerous witnesses, too. For such things Dana’s other character, Det. Sgt. Mark Dixon, in another great Preminger’s noir, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (1950), would have serious trouble with his boss and later would get in an awful jam. Strangely enough, that was also a character named Mark.) And it all being a dream explains cozy and buddy-buddy wine drinking: why wouldn’t Waldo drink wine with himself? And it also explains why McPherson allowed Waldo to come along with him while he was interviewing potential suspects. And it would explain the impossible movements of the improbable gun hidden in the twin clock. And many other things, like unnecessary tapping of Laura’s phone line, taking Laura to the police station and getting rough and almost brutal on her, McPherson’s saying police dropped in her country house and did not find anybody (Laura said she had gone there by a car -- were the police blind or what if they did not notice the car and the obvious presence of someone in the house: freshly cooked food, unpacked things? Laura said she had gone for a long walk. But why couldn’t the police wait for that someone to show up?), etc.
Very often in this movie police act very stupidly. A different light on their actions could be shed if we believe their actions to be invented by Waldo. So, there was no Lt. McPherson at all -- it is all Waldo, all along. I wouldn’t blame Waldo for an exercise of imagination, albeit a gruesome one. After all, Waldo was a sentimental and romantic old guy. Proofs abound in the movie. Romantic but not happy in his love life. “A gal in Washington Heights once got a fox fur coat out of me.” That’s not McPherson speaking, of course, but Waldo.
There is one very suggestive shot close to the beginning of the movie: Waldo is reflected in the mirror putting on a tie, and McPherson is reflected in the same mirror playing with his puzzle in the background. I don’t know if Mr. Preminger was trying to drop a hint here, but I would say it supports my theory of McPherson being a figment of Waldo’s imagination -- what we see in the mirror is not two persons but one: in the foreground we see his outward self, in the background -- what he was dying to be.
NOW WATCH OUT FOR SPOILERS for Fritz Lang’s “The Woman in the Window” (1944). This film was released at about the same time with “Laura.” It is another great movie where everything that passes passes in a dream. Only in TWITW we learn that it was a dream, while in “Laura” we don’t.

What happens in reality?

Laura comes back from the country and decides to remain single for a while longer. Diane Redfern stays alive. Shelby goes on to marrying Ann. Waldo writes a novel based on his dreams. McPherson works in the Homicide Squad unaware of the existence of any of the above.

Was McPherson obsessed? Or: Dana Andrews the Inscrutable

I must say, I did not concur with the universally-given interpretation of the events in the movie. I read everywhere that Dana Andrews’ character becomes obsessed with the deceased Laura. I just did not feel that. My take is that he becomes obsessed with solving her murder. He feels there is a clue somewhere (specifically, in Laura’s relations with people around her). Probably, instinctively he knows that something is amiss in the picture, but cannot quite put his finger on it. And he was right: everybody he met told him lies. Waldo lied, Shelby lied, Ann lied (about her relationship with Shelby, for instance; and she said she “adored” Laura, while we know that she was not at all happy about Laura’s possible marriage to Shelby), Bessie did not lie but tried to conceal the evidence (hid the bottle and washed clean the glasses). All right, maybe McPherson is a little bit overzealous, and he wants Laura’s picture, and he hangs around her apartment, but what the heck, guys: we, old Hollywood fans, all dote on some movie actor (or a whole bunch of them), we collect their pictures, watch them on the screen for our pleasure, get infatuated with them “in some warped way” of our own (quoting Waldo), and they also are, you know, um, like, dead. Does that make us all belong in a psychiatric ward? If my theory about the whole movie being Waldo’s dream (and McPherson being Waldo’s idealistic dream) holds, then it was Waldo who was obsessed with Laura -- and that it was really so nobody would argue, I guess.
On a separate note, could any other actor play the inscrutable better than Dana Andrews? Richard Widmark could play shady characters about which we as viewers are never sure what they will turn out to be in the end -- good or bad, but we never wonder (or care) about Widmark’s character’s thoughts, just actions, while watching Dana we just die to know what his characters think (and never get to know). His another big asset as an actor was he could look as though all the world’s troubles, sorrows, griefs and woes lay heavily on his shoulders. Such was the expression on his face and look in his eyes. Or, as the wonderful Ms. Lynch at “Another Old Movie Blog” very appropriately put the other day, “There is a genuine quality of misery about Dana Andrews in <...> some <...> roles he played, that conveys some vague but deep, private hell.” However, displaying all that, he never let us inside the mind of his characters. Tortured soul -- yes, but I could never, ever guess what he thinks. Never. (That includes “Laura,” too.) This quality makes him extremely interesting and highly watchable. However, the enigmatic Dana Andrews deserves a separate post of his own, so I will just stop here.