‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 25


Ann Treadwell (played by Judith Anderson) is questioned by Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) in “Laura.”

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. We also explored some of the locations Caspary used in the book.

In the next few posts I’m going to look at the characters as portrayed in the novel, starting with the smaller roles and working up to Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the film). Although the book and film are titled “Laura,” Waldo is the most important character and the one who required the most work, as Caspary noted in her autobiography, “The Secrets of Grown-Ups.”

In this post we will look at the role of Susan Treadwell (renamed Ann Treadwell and played by Judith Anderson in the film), who is the aunt of Laura Hunt (played by Gene Tierney).

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 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24

James Ellroy to script remake of ‘Laura’

Spoilers ahead.


Susan Treadwell is the first of six major characters in the story and she was reworked quite a bit in the screen adaptation, including the change of her first name from Susan to Ann.

Using Waldo’s point of view (recall that the novel is told by several characters), Caspary writes (Page 22):

Laura’s Aunt Susan once sang in musical comedy. Then she became a widow. The period between – the hyphen of marriage – is best forgotten. Never in the years I have known her have I heard her lament the late Horace Q. Treadwell.

After describing Susan’s private home as “the mausoleum on upper Fifth Avenue,”  Caspary says (Page 27):

In the mirror’s gilt frame Mark saw the reflection of an advancing figure. She was small, robed in deepest mourning and carrying under her right arm a Pomeranian whose auburn coat matched her own bright hair. As she paused in the door with the marble statues and bronze figurines behind her, the gold frame giving margins to the portrait, she was like a picture done by one of Sargent’s imitators who had failed to carry over to the 20th century the dignity of the 19th. Mark had seen her briefly at the inquest and had thought her young to be Laura’s aunt. Now he saw that she was well over 50. The rigid perfection of her face was almost artificial, as if flesh-pink velvet were drawn over an iron frame.

In Caspary’s novel, Susan is theatrical and histrionic and given to lavishing affection on her Pomeranian (Page 29). And there is an undercurrent of attraction between her and Laura’s fiance Shelby Carpenter (played by Vincent Price in the film) (Page 28):

(Shelby) “Now darling, what would Laura have said if she could hear you?”
(Susan) “She’d say I was a jealous bitch. And she’d be right. Except that I’m not jealous. I wouldn’t have you on a gold platter, darling.”

Caspary writes of a reconciliation between Susan and Shelby after their petty argument (Page 31):

Shelby forgave magnanimously. He put himself at her disposal as if he were already Laura’s husband, the man of the family whose duty it was to serve a sorrowing woman in this hour of grief.

Like a penitent mistress returning to her lover, she cooed at Shelby. “With all your faults, you’ve got manners, darling. That’s more than most men have nowadays.”

He kissed her forehead.

As they left the house, Shelby turned to Mark. “Don’t take Mrs. Treadwell too seriously. Her bark is worse than her bite. It’s only that she’d disapproved of my marrying her niece, and now she’s got to stand by her opinions.”

”What she disapproved of,” Mark observed, “was Laura’s marrying you.”

To be continued.

About lmharnisch

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

10 Responses to ‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 25

  1. Gary Martin says:

    “In the mirror’s gilt frame Mark saw the reflection of an advancing figure.” Does this imply that the gilt frame was a better mirror than the mirror itself? Such is the stuff (and nonsense) of bad writing.


  2. Charles Seims says:

    In the movie at Ann Treadwell’s coctail party, Shelby is in the kitchen bantering with a woman whom he calls Louise. Laura walks in and says “Oh, hello, Mrs. Lydecker.” What is this all about? Waldo’s mother? I don’t believe this relationship is otherwise explained in the film.


  3. Charles Seims says:

    She does and gets one. Mrs. Lydecker is dressed as and obviously is working as a maid at the party, but there is no explanation of the circumstances. Is this relationship dealt with in the novel? I missed this the first couple of times I saw the movie.


    • lmharnisch says:

      No, there’s no Mrs. Lydecker in the book. I’ll run it tonight when I get home and also check the script. In fact, that entire cocktail party sequence was made up by the screenwriters.


  4. Charles Seims says:

    Well perhaps there was a scene in the script explaining the relationship that did not make the final cut. Shelby jokes about marrying Louise and refers to her as “darling” so there is obviously some kind of a preexisting familiarity with both himself and Laura here . Taken in isolation, however, this scene only serves to confuse the viewer (i.e.me).

    The dialogue occurs about 25 minutes into the movie.


    • lmharnisch says:

      Yes, I know the scene. It’s the cocktail party at Ann Treadwell’s where Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) meets Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) — who suffers an especially pointed rebuke from Waldo (Clifton Webb). It establishes Shelby as a flirt (with Louise) and a ladies’ man (he asks her to help him get rouge off his lapel). It also establishes that Shelby is no stranger around Ann Treadwell’s apartment, further alluding to a relationship between Ann (Judith Anderson) and Shelby.


    • lmharnisch says:

      According to the script (5/3/44, Page 43) Laura’s line is: “I was looking for Anne. I didn’t expect to find you here.” Gene Tierney mumbles a bit so it’s somewhat hard to make out.


  5. Charles Seims says:

    My best guess is that it serves to make us viewers despise Waldo even more. Here’s a big income national entertainment personality who’s so stingy he won’t even provide support for his elderly mother to keep her from having to work menial jobs.


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