DVD Tuesday: In love with Laura, smart, ambitious, beautiful... the perfect woman - except that she's dead...

I vividly remember the first time I saw Otto Preminger's Laura (1944), in which cynical, blue-collar detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) catches the case of self-made socialite Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), who was shotgunned in the face when she opened the door to her chic Manhattan apartment.

Against his better hard-boiled judgment, McPherson falls under the dead girl's spell, seduced by her portrait, her letters, her record collection, the faint lingering hint of her perfume, the way she bootstrapped herself from small-town nobody to big-city somebody. And then Laura walks through the door, blithely unaware that she's dead. Laura is, of course, not dead - Laura is a thriller, not a ghost story. But the moment is a mind-boggler.

Based on the 1942 novel by Vera Caspary, Laura is noir at its most bleakly, sleekly menacing, and little-girl-lost Laura Hunt's tale is a stunning parable of the price of using what you have to get what you want, five decades before that phrase became the mantra of pragmatic postfeminist gold-diggers.

Wrapped in the brittle glamour of New York café society, the tale of Laura's chilling corruption by waspish mentor Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), a pioneering media manipulator, is as creepy now as it was then. And McPherson's obsession with his dream girl is creepier: In an age of avatars and sim-lives, Caspary and Preminger's vision of media-made virtual tootsies trumping complicated real girls is frighteningly prescient.

Check it out, and then read David Thompson's 1985 novel Suspects, which starts out looking like a collection of clever film-buff biographies of classic film noir characters and gradually reveals an existentially bleak narrative woven from the dark themes connecting 30 years of American thrillers. Laura figures prominently in the mix, and the book is a movie lover's dark dream of a tale.

Things to consider:

What does "film noir" really mean? Is it a style or a type of story, an attitude or something else?

Laura is about a man in love with an image of a woman. Does the 21st century's media-saturated environment make it harder for men and women to deal with the awkward realities of real relationships?

Send your movie questions to FlickChick.

Hear Maitland on the weekly podcast TV Guide Talk.

See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the Movie Talk vodcast.

Previously in DVD Tuesday:

All About Eve
Sweet Smell of Success
Daughters of Darkness
The Crazies
Blade Runner
A Simple Plan
Taxi Driver
Hot Fuzz
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Citizen Kane
La Jetée
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Bob le Flambeur
Near Dark
Perfect Blue
Pan's Labyrinth
Les Girls
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Queen
Expresso Bongo
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Casino Royale
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The Prestige
13 Tzameti
The Departed
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Descent
The Devil Wears Prada
Pandora's Box
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
Sunset Blvd.
In Cold Blood