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The Playgoer

At the Wilbur


Comparison is inevitable when a film such as "Laura" is transplanted to the legitimate stage, and, for once, the celluloid version is clearly the superior of the two. The Hollywood production, combining superb acting and photography with fine music, was notable for swift pacing and tense atmosphere--the very characteristics lacking in the "Laura" at the Wilbur. Producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. and author Vera Caspary apparently felt that the theatre presented the opportunity denied by the screen to develop real people complete with libidos, but the play starring Miriam Hopkins, Otto Kruger, and Tom Neal, in no way improves upon the Hollywood version made under the watchful eye of the Hays Office.

Bogging down in dialogue midway in the second act, "Laura" stagnates because the characters describe rather than do anything. Otto Kruger's Waldo Lydecker, who, in his own words, "sprang from the womb with an epigram on my lips," is too amusing, turning what should have been a taut mystery into a second rate Phillip Barry drawing room comedy incidentally concerned with murder. "Laura's" John Dalton climax, so successful in the film, is inexplicably greeted by laughs in the play: the change in medium has somehow twisted the playwright's intentions.

Dana Andrews had the inherent intensity and toughness to be convincing as the hardboiled detective hero; Tom Neal, a good performer, has neither. In the movie, Clifton Webb was Waldo Lydecker--the actor could not be distinguished from the character. Otto Kruger turns in an excellent performance, but he, nevertheless, is Otto Kruger playing Waldo Lydecker: the difference is subtle but all important. Paradoxically, Miriam Hopkins, twice the actress Gene Tierney is, lacks the latter's cold, elusive quality, just right for the mysterious Laura.

A workmanlike, professional production, with occasional good writing and uniformly fine acting. "Laura" might have been a welcome addition to the 1946 season. But it never becomes more than mediocre theatre because the ghost of a fine motion picture hovers about it.

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