‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 35

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
The film of “Laura” makes heavy use of David Raksin’s now-famous theme song. The tune running through Vera Caspary’s novel is “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” from the musical “Roberta.” This copy of the sheet music is for sale on EBay for $6.95.


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 New York locations Caspary used in the book and an examination of the major and minor characters.

This 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 | Part 32 | Part 33 | Part 34

James Ellroy to script remake of ‘Laura’

Spoilers ahead


This post will conclude the examination of the first portion of the book (Pages 3-80) told by newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the film) in which he describes the apparent murder of young, attractive career woman Laura Hunt (played by Gene Tierney in the film). Because Waldo is the killer, it’s particularly effective to have him introduce all the other characters and give his view of the apparent victim. As Waldo eventually learns, he has killed a marginal character named Diane Redfern rather than Laura. (More about his motive later).

Illustrating once again the problems with the first-person narrative, Part VI opens with Waldo’s description of Laura’s funeral, although he did not attend, after a passing mention of the inquest.

After the funeral, Detective Lt. Mark McPherson (played by Dana Andrews in the film) talks with Laura’s maid Bessie (played by Dorothy Adams in the film), who asks him to return to Laura’s apartment, where she shows him a bottle of Three Horses Bourbon (renamed Black Pony in the film), which is a cheap brand Laura would never buy.

Bessie further explains that she cleaned up Laura’s bedroom after the killing, removing two dirty glasses and the bottle of liquor to protect Laura’s reputation. She says: “Cops got dirty minds. I don’t want the whole world thinking she was the kind that got drunk with a fellow in her bedroom, God rest her soul.” (Page 54).

Waldo describes Mark’s growing infatuation with Laura after he examined her boudoir and her clothing. He says of Mark: “He did not like to think of her drinking with a man in her bedroom like a cutie in a hotel.” (Page 56).

Given the new information that that there was someone with the victim in the apartment, Mark revises his theory about the killing, saying that perhaps that Laura had argued with the killer before he shot her.

Waldo next describes a visit from art dealer Lancaster Corey, who says that someone has submitted a bid on Stuart Jacoby’s portrait of Laura. After initially refusing to identify the bidder, Corey tells Waldo the bidder’s name, but Waldo withholds the information from the reader.

Waldo returns to Laura’s apartment, where her aunt Susan Treadwell (renamed Ann Treadwell and played by Judith Anderson in the film) and Laura’s fiance Shelby Carpenter (played by Vincent Price in the film) are taking an inventory for an estate sale.

Waldo tries to reclaim a mercury glass vase, but Susan and Shelby insist that it was a Christmas present and Mark arrives just in time to prevent Waldo from taking it. In retaliation, Waldo begins discussing the anonymous bid for Laura’s portrait (as we later learn, it was submitted by Mark) and Mark suggests that everyone have a drink as a pretense for confronting Shelby, who recoils from  the bottle of cheap liquor, which we later learn he brought to the apartment.

Afterward, Mark and Waldo have dinner at Montagnino’s, an Italian restaurant that was a favorite haunt of Waldo and Laura, sitting at Waldo and Laura’s customary table. Mark discusses the murder weapon, saying that it was a sawed-off shotgun.

After saying that such weapons are the favored weapons of gangsters, Waldo remarks (Page 69):

“In a way, McPherson, we’re all gangsters. We all have our confederates and our sworn foes, our loyalties and our enmities. We have our pasts to shed and our futures to protect.”

A woman at the next table begins singing along to the music, which is “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” from the Broadway show “Roberta” and Waldo berates her. Waldo explains that  he took Laura to the Broadway premiere of “Roberta” in 1933 and that it was her first opening night.

Tamara, who introduced the song in “Roberta,”  sings “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” in a 1933 recording with Leo Reisman, courtesy of Archive.org.

[I found this performance rather disappointing. It’s a bouncy, somewhat corny dance band arrangement and it’s hard to discern the torch song that “Smoke” would become.]

In his reverie over that night with Laura, Waldo says (Page 72):

“In this simple sharing of melody we had attained something which few achieve in the more conventional attitudes of affection.”

Mark presses Waldo on Laura’s relationship with Shelby and why the marriage had been postponed for so long. Waldo replies (Page 74):

“Strange,” I sighed, “incredibly strange and tragic for us to be sitting here, at this very table, under these same weary lilacs, listening to her favorite tunes and stewing over our jealousy. She’s dead, man, dead!”

Mark says (Page 76):

”We lived within half a mile of each other for over three years. Must have taken the same bus, the same subway, passed each other on the street hundreds of time. She went to Schwartz’s for her drugs too…. We must have passed each other on the street often.”

Waldo’s section concludes with a long tale about an Amish man who is smitten with a woman from the city after rescuing her from an accident. He leaves for Philadelphia, where he learns a trade and becomes successful. Eventually, he once again sees the woman with whom he is obsessed. She was dead and Waldo reveals that the man had become an undertaker.

In the last lines, Waldo asks Mark how much he would have paid for the portrait of Laura and Mark responds (Page 80):

“Tell me, Lydecker, did you walk past Laura’s apartment every night before she was killed, or is it a habit you’ve developed since her death?”

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, Music and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 35

  1. The 1944 film “Laura” will air on Turner Classic Movies next Saturday at 5 p.m. Pacific time. The evening is devoted to films set in New York City apartments.

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