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.
The previous 30 posts have been devoted to the writing career of “Laura” novelist Vera Caspary, the state of the detective story in 1941, when she was writing the novel, the locations Caspary used in the book and examinations of the major and minor characters.
The all too obvious question in this exercise is “Why study ‘Laura?’ ” or more precisely “Why not ‘Double Indemnity?’ ” Both movies were released in 1944 and of the two, “Double Indemnity” is a better book – though still somewhat problematic – and the film is much darker and has more of a claim to film noir. James M. Cain, the author of “Double Indemnity,” was a far more skilled novelist than Caspary and the screenplay was adapted by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, in contrast to the teams of writers brought in to beat the “Laura” script into shape.
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 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31
Raymond Chandler makes a cameo appearance in “Double Indemnity” at the 16-minute mark.
The short answer is that so much has been already been written about “Double Indemnity” that there is far less to explore and because one can sometimes learn more from weak writing than from good writing. “Laura” succeeds as a novel despite its relatively weak characters, its strange plot turns and its multiple points of view. Overcoming all of these problems and the difficulties in making the film (more about that later), “Laura” emerged as a successful movie and a pretty decent film noir.
In other words, failure (or near failure) can be more illuminating than success.
That’s not the only reason.
Since Jack Webb wrote “The Badge” in 1958, the standard structure for telling the Black Dahlia story has been the technique used in “Laura.” The body is found on South Norton Avenue and the narrative unfolds in flashbacks. This has become an almost iron-clad format found in John Gregory Dunne’s “True Confessions,” John Gilmore’s “Severed” (which is 25% mistakes and 50% fiction) and the TV movie “Who Is the Black Dahlia?” The notable exceptions are James Ellroy’s “The Black Dahlia,” where the body doesn’t appear until Page 77, and to a far lesser extent in Steve Hodel’s “Black Dahlia Avenger,” which introduces the body on Page 10 after an opening scene at the Biltmore Hotel, although it’s set in a part of the building that didn’t exist in 1947, when Elizabeth Short was killed.
The next series of posts will break down the novel with an eye on how it was adapted for the screen.
To be continued.