by Despina Veneti

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