‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 21

828 Fifth Avenue, New York, via Google Street View.

Susan Treadwell (renamed Ann Treadwell and played by Judith Anderson in the film) lives in a mansion on upper Fifth Avenue (Page 22).


In case you just tuned in, I’m using Louella Parsons’ May 15, 1944, item on Rouben Mamoulian being replaced as the director of “Laura” to take a meandering look at the making of the film, which was released in Los Angeles in November 1944. Previous posts have examined the writing career of “Laura” novelist Vera Caspary and the state of the detective story in 1941, when she was writing the novel.

In this series of posts, we’re looking at some of the sites used in the novel. Recall that in “Murder for Pleasure, Howard Haycraft’s 1941 book on the history and art the detective story, Haycraft urged mystery writers to use actual locations.

Note: In researching this post, I discovered an entertaining blog Daytonian in Manhattan, which focuses on “buildings, statues and other points of interest that make Manhattan fascinating.”

The Making of “Laura” Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21

For whatever reason, Caspary never gives an overall description of the home of caustic newspaper columnist and radio commentator Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the movie). In the film, art directors Leland Fuller and Lyle Wheeler give Waldo an elaborate apartment with a large terrace, library and – most notably – an enormous bathroom featuring a luxurious tub.

But all we have in the novel are scattered details. We know Waldo lives on the 18th floor (Page 14) of an apartment building, has a drawing room (Page 4), a dining room (Page 10), a library (Page 20), and that he has a “not unworthy collection of British and American glassware (Page 4), notably a mercury glass vase on a pedestal (Page 5) that is the twin of one in the apartment of apparent murder victim Laura Hunt.

Caspary dispenses with the lodgings of Laura’s fiance, Shelby Carpenter (played by Vincent Price), whom we are told lives at the Hotel Framingham, which is exclusively for men (which is why he couldn’t go there with paramour Diane Redfern, Caspary explains).

Detective Mark McPherson (played by Dana Andrews in the film), lives at the Athletic Club (Page 84), sketched with a few details on Page 97: “the steel tubes of the chairs and writing desk, the brown curtains at the windows, the chimneys across the street.”

Caspary gives a more detailed description of the private home on upper Fifth Avenue owned by Laura’s aunt Susan Treadwell (renamed Ann Treadwell in the film and played by Judith Anderson).

She explains that Treadwell had left New York for her summer home on Long Island but returned to New York because of Laura’s death.

The home is a “mausoleum on upper Fifth Avenue” (Page 22), a “maze of dark canals” leading to “a vast uncarpeted chamber in which every piece of furniture, every picture and ornament wore a shroud of pale, striped linen.” The floor is “a checkerboard of light and dark woods.” And the home is decorated with “marble statues and bronze figurines” (Page 27).

Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street
Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street, in the West Village, via Google Street View.

 


 

Oddly enough, Caspary devotes the most detailed description of any location to a character who never appears in the book: model Diane Redfern, whom the killer has murdered instead of Laura. Redfern lives near Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street, an irregular intersection that meets with Fourth Street in what’s designated as the West Village. And it’s here that Caspary shows her gift for observation:

On Page 113, Caspary writes that Redfern:

had come home from work at 5 o’clock, stopped in the landlady’s basement flat to hand her the money, gone to her room on the fourth floor…. The landlady had seen her hail a cab at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Christopher Street.

And on Page 139-141

The house was one of a row of shabby old places that carried signs: Vacancy, Persian Cats, Dressmaking, Occult Science, French Home Cooking. As I stood in the drizzle, I understood why a girl would hesitate to spend a hot weekend here.

The landlady was like an old flour sack, bleached white and tied in the middle. She said that she was tired of cops and that if you asked her opinion, Diane was staying with a man somewhere. There were so many girls in the city and they were such loose creatures that it didn’t make any difference whether one of them got misplaced once in a while. She wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Diane turned up in the morning.

I left her chattering in the vestibule and climbed three flights of moldy stairs. I knew the smells: Sleep, dried soap and shoe leather. After I left home I’d lived in several of these houses. I felt sorry for the kid, being young and expecting something of her beauty, and coming home to this suicide staircase. And I thought of Laura, offering her apartment because she had probably lived in these dumps too, and remembered the smells on a summer night.

Even the wallpaper, brown and mustard yellow was familiar. There was a single bed, a secondhand dresser, a sagging armchair and a wardrobe with an oval glass set in the door. Diane had made enough to live in a better place, but she had been sending money to the family. And the upkeep of her beauty had evidently cost her plenty. She’d been crazy about clothes; there were hats and gloves and shoes of every color.

There were stacks of movie magazines in the room. Pages had been turned down and paragraphs marked. You could tell that Diane had dreamed of Hollywood. Less beautiful girls had become stars, married stars and owned swimming pools….

Her consolation must have been the photographs which she had thumb-tacked upon the ugly wallpaper. They were proofs and glossy prints showing her at work; Diane Redfern in Fifth Avenue furs; Diane at the opera; Diane pouring coffee from a silver pot; Diane in a satin nightgown with a satin quilt falling off the chaise-longue in a way that showed a pretty leg….

Perhaps those photographs represented a real world to the young girl. All day while she worked, she lived in their expensive settings. And at night she came home to this cell. She must have been hurt by the contrast between those sleek studio interiors and the secondhand furniture of the boarding house; between silky models who posed with her and the poor slobs she met on the moldy staircase.

To be continued.

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1944, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood, New York and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 21

  1. Gary Martin says:

    Your street view is Sheridan Square and for thirty years, ’62-’92, I called it home.

    Like

  2. Charles Seims says:

    Your last couple of columns have done a fine job of discouraging me from ever wanting to live in Manhattan.

    Like

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