That painting, a monochromatic exercise in photorealism, is similarly unmesmerizing, and suffers from being placed too close to the audience; a little mystery might have been added had it been hung upstage and somewhat obscured. And McNeill‘s production needs lots of mystery to deflect our attention from the play’s creaks. (There are the usual dated crime-genre gaffes: No homicide detective in the world would question witnesses in groups, and, faceless or not, a coroner would‘ve immediately known that the teenager on his slab was not the middle-aged Laura.)
Preminger engraved upon his film both the moody visual tropes of film noir and the reductive Freudianism of Park Avenue psychoanalysis. As Detective McPherson, Dana Andrews presented a neurotic, emotionally distant seeker of guilt who seemed to care more for the BB-in-the-holes game he carried in his pocket than for erotic gratification. ”A doll in Washington Heights got a fox fur out of me once“ was the only reference he made to a sexual history.
Most of our perceptions of police detectives are formed by hard-boiled archetypes like Andrews, or by the real-life versions on TV. Here, unfortunately, Robin Thomas’ McPherson has neither a palm game with which to fiddle nor a bloody glove to plant. Instead, he paces around Laura‘s apartment like an exasperated lover -- which perhaps he should, given his infatuation with her -- but looking at his face and listening to his voice, we never understand why he is a cop, much less a man possessed.
Likewise, for the most part McNeill’s lead actors seem bent on duplicating the set‘s colorlessness by giving flat line deliveries. Kamel’s Lydecker, who is, after all, McPherson‘s nemesis in nearly every way, never rises to the level of flamboyance the role calls for. He certainly sounds dismissive, but his sarcasm seems ventriloquized rather than voiced. The show’s opaque acting style partly explains why some dead-serious scenes draw giggles from the audience. This was especially true toward the end, when McPherson burst through the front door, revolver and fedora at the ready, only to have some viewers inadvertently laugh -- a sure tip-off that McNeill needs to take the starch out of this production.