Laura, Waldo, & Gay Coding (An Essay)

Welcome back to Blassic Movie Reviews! We’re at the final act of time with Otto Preminger’s Laura. This movie has been a joy to review and share.

Not spoiling the end of the movie was difficult for me. So, are you ready to really talk about it?

tea

So a quick plot recap?

Laura is dead, Waldo in Bathtub, Laura’s shady aunt is banging and bankrolling Laura’s shady fiance, assorted lies and buffoonery, many flashbacks to Laura being a badass, Detective Mark McPherson is lovesick and hanging in her apartment when Laura casually walks in to her apartment.

ohcrap

Okay, let’s pause here. Laura was NEVER dead. Now I know that this movie is set a different time, but clearly someone needed to check the body after her body was discovered.

Now the movie’s plot is seriously taking shape. McPherson has clearly fallen in love for his formerly deceased paramour. Shelby is in a place where his ticket to respectability is back and is now pushing Laura’s aunt (Ms. Treadwell) away. She is not with the with that and her confrontation with Laura in the powder room during her welcome back party is one of the best scenes in the movie.

letherknow!

Detective MacPherson is desperately trying to figure out who committed the murder while dealing with his very real feelings for her. As we’ve discovered, everyone around Laura is some shade of evil. Laura is a beacon of good surrounded by the ills of high society. Even with her wealthy aunt, it was Waldo Lydecker who gave her access to the lifestyle after a makeover, of course.

Now it is time to talk about gay coding.

The most evil of these society characters is actually Waldo Lydecker, played by Clifton Webb. Webb was a Broadway star who had struggled to make it in Hollywood. The rise of the film noir allowed the return to presenting high glamour and high society on-screen after the Great Depression. The seedy and tawdry nature of these stories fit squarely within the cultural landscape where there was a general distrust of the rich.

In the film, the Color Me Lavender: The Golden Age of the Silver Screen, Dan Butler mentions that in many early stages of Hollywood, movies were filled with character actors who added color commentary to the movie. Early talkies needed big characters to overcome technical and production issues. Many of these side characters were fashionable men playing butlers and hotel managers, lisping comedic foils spouting snarky quips who were endlessly vain and always a part of the gossip.

But did we not just describe Waldo Lydecker, who you never see without his trademark “white carnation and walking stick.”

morons
How convenient…

Lindsay Ellis & Rantasmo have a full video covering gay coding in Disney films which I have linked below as a source and recommend watching. The pair point out that when you think of villains like Captain Hook from Peter Pan or Scar from The Lion King, that they are fops. Foppish mens are presented as flamboyant and sinister, but weak and ineffectual. These villains are clearly deviant in some way. Homosexuality was considered a sexual deviance at the time and this creates an interesting parallel. The character traits that made these characters unlikable also made them easy to code as gay. It also allowed for the villain to be evil and nasty, but not a real threat to the protagonists of their films. Simba and Peter Pan are both very young in those movies. So gay characteristics represents evil. Let’s pause again for a few Waldo quotes.

“I write with a goose-quill dipped in venom”

“You seem to be disregarding something more important than your career. My lunch.”

“Do you really suspect me? If you know anything about faces, look at mine. How SINGULARLY innocent do I look this morning?”

WaldoBath
A reminder of Waldo’s Face

Waldo is what happens when those traits become a weapon. In the earlier days of film, Waldo would have been a peripheral character and the focus would have been on Shelby’s shenanigans. However, in Laura, he is emblematic of the problems and evils of high society. He has the influence, the reach, and the ability to mold the world around him to his wishes.

That said, Waldo is never called a homosexual in the movie. Shelby gets in one zinger that is as close as we get.

“Why don’t you get down on all fours again, Waldo, It’s the only time you’ve kept your mouth shut!”

Waldo truly believes that he is in love with Laura. But in reality, Laura is a toy. A fashion doll who Waldo latches onto which allows him to present as a good person. When Laura takes up with other men in the movie, it is always Waldo who is describing them as muscular and handsome. His favorite insult is about cheap they are and he then uses his column and social influence to rid them as adversaries for Laura’s affection. I find it interesting because Jacoby is mentioned as one such suitor and also created the painting that Detective MacPherson actually falls in love with.

painting

Waldo says that the painting “never truly captured her essence.”

Now Webb’s sexuality was well-known in Hollywood. A snarky quip from Noel Coward, a British playwright joked that “it must be terrible to be orphaned at 71,” as Webb lived with his mother until her passing. Webb never participated in a lavender marriage (fake marriage between a gay star to distract rumors) or hid his sexuality. In fact, his movie stardom became about his particular brand of persnickety building a career around menacing society men and fastidious dads.

His Hollywood career was revitalized by the rise of film noir, like Laura. In Color Me Lavender, there was a lot of discomfort over the changing roles of women as “women’s pictures” become marketable and seemed to emphasize the power women took away from men. These films changed the notion of gender prior to the movement we see in World War II. All of the men are drawn to Laura’s goodness and changes their life to ensure that she is of service to them.

Now what wasn’t as well-known during the 1940’s was that Vincent Price (who played Shelby Carpenter) was bisexual. This was confirmed by his daughter in the book “Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography.” Watching Waldo and Shelby interact with this knowledge adds another layer of tension to the movie.

lusty waldoLook at the lust in Waldo’s eyes.

Shelby, to me, is the most evil character in this movie. This could be me falling into the tropes of the movie as the suspicious evidence and his poor character is revealed. But to me, Shelby is such a wretched, mealy-mouthed weasel. I also can not get over his parading around with his fiancée’s aunt. Waldo is portrayed in a more neutral light to distract from the fact that he is the real killer and the real evil. In the movie, Laura defends Shelby against the preconceived notions of him because of his financial status, but ignores that he fact that he’s gross and awful.

In the end, Laura and Mark fall in love during a dramatic interrogation after he arrests her at her welcome home party.

laura interrogation

The two share a kiss before Mark goes to Waldo’s place and finds a secret compartment at the bottom of the clock. We now know that it was Waldo who killed Diane Redfern, the model who fell in love with Shelby. He hid the gun in the matching clock that he gifted to Laura. The movie has been telling the audience exactly what happened throughout the entire movie, but the twists and turns to get there are what make this such a film noir classic.

The final scene of Waldo slowly creeping into Laura’s apartment, opening the clock’s compartment, loading the gun, and trying to kill Laura while his radio broadcast about the great lovers in history plays is bone chilling. Laura is so fun to watch.

So tell me your thoughts! I hope that you all get out and watch the movie. I hope that you learned something and I hope that you’ll be back for another Blassic Movie Review!

Below, I’ve listed some additional movies, videos, and readings that I think you will enjoy.

Sources
Becoming Clifton Webb: A Biography

The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender

Decoding the Classics: Laura

Lindsay Ellis & Rantasmo (Disney Needs More Gay)

Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography

The Actual Hays Code

You Must Remember This Podcast: Gene Tierney

Gay Hollywood: The Last Taboo

 

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