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 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
Spoilers ahead; heavy symbolism alert
This is an image posted all over the Internet showing a cane that fires a .410 shell, similar to what Waldo has, although his cane is a muzzle loader.
In the shortest section of the novel, Caspary concludes “Laura” (Pages 219-237) with a final narrative by Detective Mark McPherson (played by Dana Andrews in the film).
The objectives are to identify the killer as Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the film), bring him to justice and clinch the romance between Mark and Laura Hunt (played by Gene Tierney in the film).
Recall that in the previous section, Waldo left Laura’s apartment after heaping jealous sarcasm on her and Mark. Rather than remain to comfort Laura after the emotional blowup with Waldo, Mark leaves in pursuit of him, fairly certain that he is the killer.
Here is what appears to be an antique muzzle-loading cane shotgun with ramrod, a Charlton MA M. Babcock piece offered at auction by Liveauctioneers.
In a moment of Caspary’s heavy-handed symbolism that was scrapped in the film adaptation, Mark returns to the antique shop on Fourth Avenue operated by Claudius Cohen, where in a previous scene (also scrapped) Waldo broke a mercury glass vase. Mark asks Claudius whether it was an accident or whether he thinks Waldo broke it because Claudius wouldn’t sell it to him, the true question being whether Waldo would destroy something he couldn’t have (i.e. Laura).
Claudius says he isn’t certain. Waldo might have intentionally broken the vase or it could have been an accident because it wasn’t weighed down with BB shot, the same type used in a shotgun to kill Laura. (Mark notes that none of the antiques in Waldo’s apartment were weighed down with BB shot, but that Waldo was shrewd enough to get rid of anything that might incriminate him in the killing.)
While the police search for Waldo, Mark lets himself into Waldo’s apartment, where he begins making a thorough search before encountering Roberto, the Filipino houseboy.
There is a long bit of extraneous business, also scrapped in the adaptation, in which Mark finds Roberto unwilling to comment until Mark mentions that he once cleared a Filipino prizefighter named Quentin Waco, a tidbit that loosens Roberto’s tongue so that he describes the night when Laura failed to show up for her bachelorette dinner celebrating her marriage to Shelby Carpenter (played by Vincent Price in the film). It was to be an elaborate affair, and Waldo had even arranged the records for the evening, concluding with his and Laura’s theme song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
From all of this, Mark realizes that Waldo was the killer and had intended to shoot Laura in a murder-suicide at the end of the dinner rather than have her marry Shelby. In another bit of heavy-handed symbolism, Mark realizes that the murder weapon must be Waldo’s walking stick, which conceals a muzzle-loading shotgun. (Such weapons only fire one shot, which will be important later).
The death of Waldo Lydecker, as performed by Clifton Webb in the film.
In the meantime, Waldo has gone for a long walk, eluding police until he circles back to Laura’s apartment.
Rushing to Laura’s apartment, Mark arrives as Waldo is ringing the doorbell. Rushing upstairs (recall that Mark limps because of his bad leg), Mark jerks Waldo’s legs just as he fires (symbolism!), and he misses, shattering Laura’s mercury glass vase (more symbolism!). Mark and Waldo struggle and Waldo fires his one-round shotgun a second time before Mark knocks his head against a banister post, apparently cracking his skull.
Waldo makes a statement in the ambulance ride to the hospital, where he dies. Fade out on Mark and Laura.
To be continued.