Laura opens with a painting of Laura (Gene Tierney), a beautiful high-society woman who has been murdered. The main theme, composed by Dave Raksin (and later to become a jazz standard and signature tune for the dazzling jazz pianist Errol Garner—"Laura" is to Garner what "Love Theme from 'Spartacus'" is to Bill Evans), swells with sorrowful strings and then simmers into jazz. The screen goes black for a moment (the sign of sadness and loss), and the movie returns with a statue of an Asian goddess (the sign of the mystery). "I shall never forget the weekend Laura died," says the narrator, as the camera pans the fancy apartment (the ticking clock, glass shelves, candelabras, the balcony, the city towers—this is 1944). "A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For with Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her. And I had just begun to write Laura's story when one of those detectives came to see me..."
Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) is a famous newspaper columnist; the detective is Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews). The detective interviews people close to the murdered woman; the detective's heart becomes more and more drawn to the dead woman; the detective falls asleep under the painting of the dead woman whom he loves and he wakes up to find a ghost in the room. The movie, which made its director and lead actors famous, is, of course, a classic work of film noir. The sad score, the dead beauty, the lonely detective, the decadent killer, the big city.