Who killed advertising superstar Laura Hunt? That's the question New York City detective McPherson (Dana Andrews) is trying to answer in this 1944 thriller. With his hat perpetually at a rakish tilt and his demeanor always set to suspicious, McPherson visits the opulent apartments of Laura's posh Manhattan social set, asking questions but not getting the answers he wants. Did her fiance, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), blow her face off with a blast of shotgun buckshot? Perhaps. As a formerly rich playboy who flashes his Cheshire grin at whichever lady moneybags might next float his expenses, he certainly fits the bill. Maybe it was the well-heeled Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), who knows exactly what kind of man Shelby is, doesn't care, and wants him for herself. Or maybe it was Diane Redfern, Shelby's lady friend with benefits. McPherson is pretty sure it wasn't Bessie (Dorothy Adams), Laura's no-nonsense housekeeper. He can't quite figure out all the angles—and when Laura (Gene Tierney) herself walks through her apartment's front door, McPherson really finds himself in a pickle.
Director Otto Preminger was one of a handful of European filmmakers lured to Hollywood by its glamour—maybe the continental turmoil of the 1920s and '30s had a bit to do with it too. And like other expatriates such as Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder, Preminger embraced the dream factory of this young country with a sophisticated cynic's mirth. Conventional film history likes to calls "Laura" a noir, but it's practically a smirking class satire wrapped around a murder mystery. Preminger portrays New York's polite society as a gaggle of preening opportunists, comfortable in their entitlement and willing to get downright barbaric should anybody question their bearing, especially a lowly police officer who refers to women of a certain stature as "dames."