‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 42

In Time to Come

An image from the Broadway play “In Time to Come,” directed by Otto Preminger, listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $32.75.

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 executive power plays rather than the creative process, and it’s as complex as any novel of political intrigue.

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

The previous post introduced “Laura” producer-director Otto Preminger and touched on his break with 20th Century-Fox after a monumental argument with executive Darryl F. Zanuck over his directing on the 1938 film “Kidnapped.”  This post will focus on mid- to late 1942, about the time “Ring Twice for Laura” was serialized in Colliers, and mid-1943, when Fox bought the film rights to the novel.

After his break with Zanuck, Preminger could have made life much easier for a diligent researcher if he had simply stayed in Hollywood and played Nazis, but he bounced back and forth between Los Angeles and New York, where he produced plays.

Unfortunately, in all our research, we don’t find anything to confirm Caspary’s 1971 account that Preminger wanted to collaborate with her on a stage adaption of “Laura,” which he would produce in New York.

And although there is nothing about “Laura,” there are a dizzying number of deals between Preminger and Fox.

Recall that Preminger and Zanuck had stopped speaking after their argument over “Kidnapped.” Recall also that while Zanuck left to serve as a colonel in the Signal Corps in July 1942, he was replaced by Fox executive William Goetz, who gave Preminger another chance to direct during “Margin for Error.”

In October 1942, Fox offered Preminger a contract as actor, writer and director, according to the New York Times. Preminger said that after completing “Margin for Error,” Fox gave him two more projects: “Laura” and a film ultimately released as “In the Meantime, Darling.”

Recall, finally, that when Zanuck returned from the Army in July 1943, Goetz was out, and Zanuck told Preminger that he might produce “Laura”  but that he would never direct again, at least according to Preminger’s account in a 1970 issue of On Film.

Complicating these entanglements between Preminger and Fox is that in September 1942, while Zanuck was away, Fox paid $25,000 for the film rights to a play titled “In Time to Come” that had been produced and directed by Preminger.

Utterly forgotten today, “In Time to Come” was written by Howard Koch and John Huston and opened on Broadway a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

An ad for “Wilson,” listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $9.94.



“In Time to Come” was about Woodrow Wilson, which coincidentally was the subject of Zanuck’s first big-budget project when he returned from the service, the barely remembered film  “Wilson.”

According to imdb, “Wilson” was from an original script by Lamar Trotti, who is known for “A Bell for Adano,” “The Ox-Bow Incident” “Guadalcanal Diary” and “Drums Along the Mohawk,” among many other films. It’s unclear whether “In Time to Come” was in any way incorporated into “Wilson.” However one can speculate that even if it wasn’t, a deal such as this would only intensify Zanuck’s enmity toward Preminger.

Preminger was quite busy in the last half of 1942. He also planned to produce a comedy-drama by Louis Weitzenkorn, originally titled “Ah, Take the Cash” and renamed “Challenge,” but he relinquished the rights in September 1942, according to the New York Times.

Also in September 1942, according to the New York Times, Preminger took a six-month option on the dramatic rights to the novel “The Seventh Cross,” by Anna Seghers. (The option lapsed without being produced).

And on Dec. 1, 1942, the New York Times reported that Fox had purchased Maxwell Anderson’s play “Candle in the Wind,” with Preminger as producer-director. The New York Times said that Preminger would postpone “The Seventh Cross” to return to Hollywood for preliminary work on “Candle in the Wind.”

“He is under contract to the studio as a producer-director-writer-actor, but it is believed doubtful that he will play a part in ‘Candle,'” The New York Times said.
(As far as I can determine, this film was never made).

On March 23, 1943, The New York Times reported that Fox planned a film about the wives of commissioned officers based on a Michael Uris story “Paris, Tenn.,” to be produced by Preminger. Ida Lupino was tentatively cast as the lead, later replaced by Anne Baxter and ultimately played by Jeanne Crain in the film “In the Meantime, Darling.”

Preminger was clearly a man who liked to stay busy because there’s more.

On March 30, 1943, The New York Times reported that Fox paid $70,000 for film rights to “Through Embassy Eyes,” based on the diary of the late U.S. Ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd. The script was to be written by Dodd’s daughter, Martha, and Fay Kanin and would be produced by Preminger. A June 21, 1943, story in the New York Times said   Harry Carey would play Ambassador Dodd with Hermann Goering played by Laird Cregar (who would be seen in “The Lodger” and was suggested for the role of Waldo Lydecker in “Laura”).

And at some point in this frenzy of activity, according to Caspary, Preminger wanted to do a stage adaptation of “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, World War I, World War II and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to ‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 42

  1. Benito says:

    Laird Cregar as Hermann Goering? I’d pay to see that. PS WILSON flopped.


  2. Charles Seims says:

    Wasn’t Martha Dodd a Commie? She was fingered as one by Boris Moros, who worked in Hollywood, and she and hubby fled to Russia to avoid an espionage rap. Apparently Fox lost its 70K, as Leonard Maltin’s book shows no such movie title, at least under that name. Imagine what HUAC would have done with that!


  3. The story of Ambassador Dodd and his Nazi dating but eventually Communist daughter may finally reach the screen if the planned filming of Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of the Beasts comes to pass.


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