‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 41

Otto Preminger makes his film debut as an actor in 1942 in “The Pied Piper.” Preminger said in a 1970 interview in On Film: “Although I’m Jewish, I can look like a Nazi if I shave my head.” The film starred Monty Woolley, who was at one time cast as Waldo Lydecker in “Laura.”

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.

The next nine posts broke down the novel to study the significant challenges of adapting it for the screen.

What follows now has more to do with studio deal-making and politics rather than the creative process.

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’

At this point, “Laura” producer-director Otto Preminger enters the story. Preminger left Austria in 1935 and directed two films for 20th Century-Fox,  “Under Your Spell” (1936)  and “Danger — Love at Work” (1937).

Margin for Error
A lobby card for “Margin for Error,” listed on EBay at $12.95.

Preminger said in a 1970 interview in On Film that Darryl “Zanuck liked these two pictures very much, so a third picture he assigned me to was a huge epic.” The film was “Kidnapped.” Preminger said that he wanted to turn down the picture because as an Austrian he was unfamiliar with Scotland and because he was still learning English. But his agent said: “Don’t turn it down or he’ll never talk to you again. He feels he gave you the biggest chance he has to give. Just do the picture.”

Preminger said he made a slight change in a scene that led to a tremendous fight with Zanuck. “His secretaries came running from the outer office because they thought one of us was going to kill the other,” he said.

It’s unclear from Preminger’s account whether he was replaced or quit. Either way he was off the project.

“I was practically blacklisted in Hollywood,” Preminger said. “I couldn’t get a job in films at all for several years so I went back to New York and started to produce plays. One of them was “Margin for Error” by Claire Booth.” When German star Rudolf Foest, who was playing a Nazi, left for Germany, Preminger took on the role.

Preminger said he still had a contract with Fox, so the studio cast him as a Nazi in the 1942 film “The Pied Piper,” then bought the film rights to “Margin for Error,” with Preminger again playing a Nazi.

But he wanted to direct.

While Zanuck was overseas in charge of production with the Army Signal Corps, Preminger made an offer to his successor, William Goetz, vice president in charge of studio operations.

Preminger said: “Look, I’ll do this the following way: You pay me only for the part and I will direct the picture for free. If, after a week, you feel it’s a mistake, I will resign as director, but I will continue to play the part for any other director as well as I know how.”

At the end of the first week, Preminger said, he was offered a contract as producer, director and actor and when “Margin for Error” was finished, he started to work on several projects “that had been bought for me by Fox.”

And then on May 31, 1943, Col. Darryl F. Zanuck requested to be placed on the inactive list, touching off an upheaval at Fox.

According to The Times, Goetz resigned and left the studio July 5 to found International Pictures. Zanuck returned to Fox the next day, announcing that his first film project would be “Wilson.”  According to Preminger, when Zanuck returned from the war, Zanuck and Goetz “had a tremendous row…. As a matter of fact, he accused Goetz of treachery and refused to come back to the studio until Goetz had cleared out.”

Preminger said that he and Zanuck had not spoken since the blowup over “Kidnapped” years earlier and recounts being called to Zanuck’s home.

“I came to his house and was ushered to the swimming pool, where Zanuck was sitting with his back to me. He didn’t get up or even turn around. He just said, ‘Well, you keep working on these three properties, two of which we’ll keep. You can produce them, but you will never direct again as long as I am here at Fox.’ ”

With that, Preminger said, he was assigned to Fox’s B picture unit, where he was to work on two projects: “In the Meantime, Darling” and “Laura.”

To be continued.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1942, 1943, 1944, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood, Stage and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to ‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 41

  1. Benito says:

    Carl Reiner copied Preminger and converted himself into a Nazi by shaving his head in DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, which is a great, underrated comedy filled with clips from 40s movies.


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