THE MYSTERY OF LAURA’S FIRST ENDING

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

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“THAT WAS LAURA, BUT SHE’S ONLY A DREAM…”: FINDING THE WOMAN BEHIND THE PORTRAIT

By Despina Veneti

VERA’S LAURA: THE “NEW” WOMAN

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”.

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Vera Caspary

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

PORTRAYING Laura

THE HIDDEN PAINTING

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 CRAWFORD SEPIA

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

Mark McPherson – a “dual” reading *

* Opened  by DESPINA VENETI

COP, INTERRUPTED : THE INSTILLATION OF A DREAM

 INITIAL WALDO-MARK DYNAMICS: POWER GAMES

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.

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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