‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 32



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 first 30 posts were 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 an examination of the major and minor characters.

The next series of posts will break down the novel to study the challenges of adapting it for the screen.

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

James Ellroy to script remake of ‘Laura’

Spoilers ahead

Recall that Caspary used multiple points of view to tell the story of “Laura,” concerning the apparent murder of Laura Hunt (played by Gene Tierney in the film), who works for a New York advertising firm.

The first section is told by newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the film). The second is told by Detective Lt. Mark McPherson (played by Dana Andrews), who is investigating the murder, and the third is a transcript of Mark’s interrogation of Laura’s fiance Shelby Carpenter (played by Vincent Price). The fourth is a section from Laura’s diary and the final part is Mark’s concluding narrative.

Of the book’s 237 pages, Waldo’s opening section commands the most real estate, running nearly 80 pages. Mark’s narrative takes 65 pages, followed by his interrogation of Shelby (12 pages). Laura’s diary runs 49 pages and Mark’s conclusion takes the last 18 pages of the book.

Waldo’s section is a particularly good example of all the warnings professors used to give to students in Creative Writing 101 about the pitfalls of using a first-person narrative. Because Waldo opens the book, he provides most of the exposition and yet he wasn’t present for many of the events. Caspary’s solution is to have Waldo give a lengthy explanation (Page 21), which merely underscores the problem.

As narrator and interpreter, I shall describe scenes I which I never saw and record dialogues which I did not hear. For this impudence I offer no excuse. I am an artist, and it is my business to re-create movement precisely as I create mood. I know these people, their voices ring in my ears, and I need only close my eyes and see characteristic gestures. My written dialogue will have more clarity, compactness, and essence of character than their spoken lines, for I am able to edit while I write, whereas they carried on their conversations in a loose and pointless fashion with no sense of form or crisis in the building of their scenes. And when I write of myself as a character in the story, I shall endeavor to record my flaws with the same objectivity as if I were no more important than any other figure in this macabre romance.


As we saw in her original stories for the screen, Caspary had a terrible time constructing a solid plot. By telling the story of “Laura” from multiple viewpoints, she overcame this weakness by breaking the plot into sections instead of struggling to construct a single arc for the entire story. The multiple points of view, however, left her with new challenges, the foremost being the need to devise three clearly defined, independent characters to tell the story: Waldo, Mark and Laura.

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.

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