Harry Kleiner’s excellent script follows the general structure of Marty Holland’s eponymous novel, vastly improving the material from scene to scene. Significant deletions from the novel will be indicated in italics.
The author of the novel, Marty (Mary) Holland…
… and the covers of the 1945 (first two ones) and 1950 editions (third one).
Novel and film both start with a memorable opening scene: down-on-his-luck drifter Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) gets evicted from a bus, and lands in Pop’s place on the outskirts of Walton, California. The sexual “mechanics” of the story are immediately established with Stella’s (Linda Darnell) spectacular entrance, coming back from another “bad” date.
After a wary exchange, fraught with sexual tension, Eric comes back for Pop’s and takes Stella on a date. The bogus “spirit” show of “Professor” Madley (John Carradine) and the presentation of June and Clara Mills (Alice Faye and Anne Revere) follow.
The famous – at least among noir fans – alternate ending of LAURA (1944) has been a matter of confusion for many years. Although that matter was beautifully cleared for its biggest part in the September 1978 special PREMINGER issue of the French magazine L’AVANT-SCENE (in an article written by Jacques Lourcelles, based on the translation and meticulous study of LAURA’s script by my co-author of this blog, Olivier Eyquem), following articles, biographies, and even the audio commentary in the film’s DVD edition seem to be still under a state of confusion.
Having access to a copy of the original scenario and the chance to study it thoroughly, I will try to clear this matter with as many details as possible. To begin with, the main “culprit” for this entanglement was none other than Otto himself; in the book PREMINGER: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1977) (ghost-written by June Callwood), he states:
«I made the first rough cut of the picture and showed it to Zanuck in his projection room. […] It took very little skill that night to judge Zanuck’s mood. […] He got up and said to me, “Well, we missed the boat on this one. Be in my office tomorrow at eleven.’’ And he left the room.
The next day Zanuck handed me a handful of memos from his yes-men. As was to be expected, they were all negative. A couple of them suggested shelving the film and writing it off as a loss. But their ideas how to save it were even worse.
Zanuck had his own plan. He called in one of his secretaries and a writer who was under contract to Fox. Then he began to walk up and down with the obligatory cigar and polo mallet dictating an outline for a rewrite of the script. His theory was that the fault lay with the last fifteen minutes, which he wanted to replace. Half the film was told from Waldo Lydecker’s point of view, the other half from the detective’s. Now Zanuck wanted to add a third part narrated by Laura after her return which contradicted and negated everything that we saw before. […] Continue reading →
In September 1978, I translated and published the COMPLETE SCENARIO of LAURA in a special “Preminger” issue of the French magazine “L’Avant-scène”. The shot-by-shot description included 15 minor and major cuts which are listed hereunder. As an appendix, I added a detailed description of the FIRST ending shot by Preminger (to be discussed in our blog’s entry “The mystery of Laura’s first ending”)
Renowned film historian Jacques Lourcelles, author of the first book on Otto Preminger, had provided me with a copy of the scenario, sent to him four years before by Preminger’s office. We had several exchanges during my work on the scenario and the problems raised by the director’s slightly confusing account of LAURA’s endings. Lourcelles then made an impeccable presentation of the scenario, that unfortunately wasn’t accessible to English-speaking film specialists and film buffs…
CUT 1 : a direct continuation of the acerbic exchanges of Waldo and Mark in Lydecker’s apartment. Mark pretends to be bored by his work : murders all look the same. Waldo argues that this one is exceptional. Mark refers to Laura as “a dame”. Conversation ends with a very short narration in which Waldo comments on Mark’s tough/smart personality which he thinks might have attracted Laura.
Most of the material seems to have been ventilated in following scenes. Waldo’s comment will be – unfortunately for him – confirmed by Laura’s actual attraction to Mark, after her “resurrection”.
If they were not so deplorably weak, ineffectual and almost clownish, we would perhaps call them the minor villains of the film. Judith Anderson (Ann) had indeed been a full-size menace in REBECCA, and would also be a memorable opponent in Anthony Mann’s noir western THE FURIES, where Barbara Stanwyck defaces her with scissors. Here she’s decidedly minor league – a rich, bored society woman grabbing at the first boy toy who comes along, and not above stealing him back on the rebound from her “dead” niece (who had, let us not forget, done the same to her weeks before)
Ann is the kind of character Preminger might have known during his first years in New York, when he was moving in such pseudo-brilliant spheres. She’s the first of a cohort of bitter, middle-aged women such as Barbara O’Neil in WHIRLPOOL (where her mirror scene with Tierney is a replica of LAURA’S), ANGEL FACE, Jean Kent in BONJOUR TRISTESSE, and others. As if taking on the director’s mantle, McPherson delights in stripping her of her artificial dignity by forcing her to reveal her arrangements with Shelby in the presence of Waldo. Ann’s humiliation reaches a peak when both men deride her feeble explanations. Continue reading →
Director of photo : Lloyd Ahern (LAURA’s operating cameraman)
Art direction : Lyle Wheeler, Herman Blumenthal
Editor : Robert Simpson
CAST : George Sanders (Waldo Lydecker), Dana Wynter (Laura Hunt), Robert Stack (Mark McPherson), Scott Forbes (Shelby Caprenter), Johnny Washbrook Danny Morgan), Gloria Clark (Bessy), Gordon Wynne (MacAvity), Robert (B.) Williams (Fred Callaghan), Harry Carter (Policeman)
One of the numerous “capsule” television remakes of Twentieth Century Fox classics. Also released as film in certain territories.
She may be have been immortalized as Preminger’s most alluring female character, but before that Laura was Vera Caspary’s literary heroine – her favorite one, and the one closest to her heart. The Chicago-born author of Laura was a dynamic, strong-willed woman, ahead of her time: coming to adulthood just as WW I was ending, she made up her mind to seek a job in a male-dominated business world, dreaming of a writing position. Starting out as a stenographer, and accepting being paid significantly less than her male colleagues, she eventually got a break at an advertising agency; soon she moved up to a copywriter position, where she had the chance to display her writing skills and imagination. However, Caspary left what had become a highly paid job, to pursue her dream of becoming a “real writer”.
She wrote for papers and magazines with great success, published a few books, and after a while several of her stories became “Hollywood material” – but her dream novel still eluded her. In the summer of 1941 the idea of a “murder mystery” with well-developed characters and multiple point of view narration crystallized into Laura. The eponymous heroine clearly bears a strong resemblance to her literary mother: an aspiring, ambitious young woman, eager to succeed in the advertising world, and determined to live her life on her own terms. Moreover, Vera’s Laura is a beautiful, obviously sexually liberated woman. She was Caspary’s vision of the “modern woman”: professionally successful, living according to her own free will, and yet retaining her femininity. Continue reading →
Azadia Newman is a name that may ring a bell for only a handful of cinephiles. She is the unlucky creator of a portrait that would have ensured her fame throughout the world: the original portrait of Laura Hunt, which was rejected by Preminger.
“Newman, born in Washington, DC on Jan. 16, 1902, studied at the CGA, ASL in NYC, PAFA, and Critcher School of Painting & Commercial Art. In 1936 she settled in Los Angeles where she painted many portraits of movie stars Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, and others. She died there on Feb. 19, 1999.”
Azadia Newman next to her painting of Joan Crawford for THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (1937)
The most telling detail of that obit looks like an afterthought : “She is also was wife of theater-film director, Rouben Mamoulian.” It’s easy to guess why Preminger would decide to erase ALL traces of Mamoulian’s work on “Laura” ; that particular rejection may very well have been the most humiliating affront to the original, unlucky director (not yet married to the artist.) Continue reading →
The exquisite opening of Laura again instantly provides the first clues about detective Mark McPherson’s personality. This was to be a star-making role for Dana Andrews, who fought to get it after Lewis Milestone secretly handed him over a copy of the script, advising him to get that part no matter what. Andrews had actually met Preminger at Milestone’s house, and Otto was in favor of casting him. The actor furthermore managed to turn around Zanuck’s initial reluctance (he wanted John Hodiak for the role), by gaining the sympathy of his wife.
Dana Andrews in “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943), one year prior to “Laura”. It was the role that truly got him noticed as an actor.
Andrews’s McPherson enters Waldo’s apartment with an obvious self-confidence – and semi-indifference- of a man who has indeed “seen it all”, although he’s also somewhat intrigued, if not amused, by this museum-like “home” he sees. Waldo, in his own voiceover, reveals that he wanted to show the detective that it’s only he who’s the boss in his own house (“I had him wait”), and wanting to make that even more clear, he didn’t even bother to interrupt his bath, which he combined with typing from inside his bathtub. Continue reading →