‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 36


Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) confronts a sleeping Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) in “Laura.”


I have been 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 breaks 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 | Part 35 

James Ellroy to script remake of ‘Laura’

Spoilers ahead



"Laura," Page 83

Recall that Caspary tells “Laura” from multiple viewpoints, and after a first section in the voice of newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the film), the second portion (Pages 83 to 148) is narrated by Detective Mark McPherson (played by Dana Andrews in the film).

Underscoring even further the problems faced by a writer using multiple viewpoints and a first-person narrative, Caspary opens Part II by having Mark step in front of the curtain and provide a long introduction to the reader that is not only unnecessary but bizarre.

The digression forces the reader to wonder how Mark had access to the first part of the novel, what made him decide to pick up the narrative where Waldo stopped and most important, why he is speaking directly to the audience. How old-fashioned and quaint it seems compared to the fluid, seamless switching between the two characters in “Gone Girl,” for example.

The point, however, is not that Caspary was a writer of mixed gifts who was a keen observer and offered occasional insights, but was prone to going off on tangents, being distracted by minor characters and often overwhelmed by plotting.

The point is that Caspary could write a successful novel even though she made such blunders and in this she offers hope to aspiring writers whose skills are less than perfect.

The primary objective in Part II of “Laura” is the return of apparent murder victim Laura Hunt (played by Gene Tierney in the film). From there, the story must reveal Diane Redfern as the actual victim, begin the romantic relationship between Laura and Mark McPherson and reinforce the suspicions against all of the characters by giving them possible motives, even Laura.

Except for the all too transparent red herring of Shelby being the beneficiary of Laura’s life insurance policy, the motive for every character is jealousy, leaving a tangled plot of romantic triangles, all of which will have to be untangled by the screenwriters:

Obsessed with the apparent murder victim, Mark is jealous of Laura’s engagement to Shelby.

Once Laura returns, Shelby becomes jealous of Laura’s budding romance with Mark.

Laura is jealous of Shelby’s affair with Diane.

Laura’s Aunt Susan (played by Judith Anderson in the film) is jealous of Laura’s engagement to Shelby, but either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about his affair with Diane.

Waldo is slightly jealous of Mark’s growing obsession with Laura, which they share in commiserating about her engagement to Shelby. Once she returns, however, Mark becomes a rival for Laura’s affection. And Waldo is even more jealous of Shelby’s engagement to Laura.

Got that?

Caspary also focuses on two essential props. The first is an expensive gold cigarette case that Laura gave to Shelby and which he gives to Diane Redfern as a love token, explaining to  Laura that he lost it. The other is Waldo’s elaborate cane (Page 135), which is a shotgun in disguise and was – in a poor choice of Freudian symbolism — the murder weapon.

Most of this section will be familiar to anyone who knows the movie, but there are three extraneous scenes worth mentioning. The first is Mark’s investigation of Diane’s tawdry flat, where he discovers Shelby’s gold cigarette case. The second involves Waldo reenacting a spat at a party in which Laura hit Diane over the head with a plate of hors d’oeuvres out of jealousy over her affair with Shelby. The third is a trip to an antique shop by Waldo and Mark in which Waldo breaks a coveted piece of mercury glass because it has been sold to someone else.

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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