The sleekest of noirs, the chicest of murders, and deliciously twisted--the detective is a necrophilliac, two of the title character's suitors seem gay, and the Laura all the men are vying for is a corpse with no face. Indeed LAURA, goes the genre one further by taking apart the

conventions, then putting them back together, and diving wholeheartedly into them for the finale--a cocktail party denouement to name the killer.

LAURA, based on the novel by Vera Caspary, revolves around the murder of the title character (Tierney)--a shotgun blast completely obliterating the corpse's once-lovely face. Homicide detective Mark McPherson (Andrews) has a trio of suspects--newspaper critic Waldo Lydecker (Webb), who "created"

Laura; playboy/parasite and fiance Shelby Carpenter (Price); and Anne Treadwell (Anderson), Laura's socialite aunt who has been carrying on with Shelby. Just as Mark is beginning to fall in love with a vision of the deceased woman--in the form of an oil portrait--in walks the real Laura . . .

LAURA is a truly haunting study of obsession, with suitably poignant music provided by David Raksin (lyrics by Johnny Mercer). Originally, Otto Preminger was assigned only as producer, with studio chieftain Darryl Zanuck offering the directing chore to Rouben Mamoulian. Part of the way into

production, however, Zanuck fired Mamoulian and handed the reins over to Preminger. Preminger reshot Mamoulian's footage, replaced cinematographer Lucian Ballard with Joseph La Shelle (who won an Academy Award), and scrapped the Mamoulian costumes and sets--including a portrait of Laura which

Mamoulian's wife had painted.