When we watch “Laura” today, all we see is the finished film: The fluid camera work and complex lighting, the elegant production design, the fashionable costumes, the sharp dialogue and the generally first-rate performances, especially by Clifton Webb.
Nothing betrays the movie’s difficult birth: A switch of directors, a constantly changing cast in the months leading up to shooting and most of all, a script that was heavily revised from April to July 1944 by a succession of writers, with several discarded scenes and an entirely new ending.
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 | Part 36 | Part 37 | Part 38 | Part 39 | Part 40 | Part 41 | Part 42
Untangling the genesis of “Laura” is a job best suited to a forensic accountant – or the conscientious researcher. The chronology is complicated and previous accounts of the filming can be problematic.
One of the usual sources for studying “Laura” is Otto Preminger’s account in the inaugural issue of “On Film” from 1970, which includes a flexy disc with a recording of Preminger. There is also a question and answer session with Peter Bogdanovich in which Preminger claims to have a poor memory (he says he doesn’t recall anything about “Daisy Kenyon,” for example) and seems to get irritated with Bogdanovich from time to time.
As we will see, Preminger discusses “Laura” at length, but his sense of time and his sequence of certain events is not entirely accurate.
Another essential source is the script – in my case, the final shooting script dated April 18, 1944, with revisions up to July 17, 1944, provided by Larry Edmunds in Hollywood.
Two books by Rudy Behlmer are also essential: “Behind the Scenes” (1982) on the making of “Laura” (Pages 177-199) and “Memo From Darryl F. Zanuck” (1995), which includes several important memos about the movie.
Then there is the standard crop of Hollywood biographies/autobiographies by nearly all of the principals in the cast, except for Judith Anderson, all of which have the usual problems encountered in books of this sort.
And finally, we have the online archives of newspapers and the trade press of the day, which help untangle the chronology of “Laura” by pinpointing certain events, such as Clifton Webb’s two-week engagement in Los Angeles in the road show of “Blithe Spirit,” and when Jennifer Jones, who was originally cast in the lead of “Laura,” separated from her husband, Robert Walker, shedding light on her problematic personal life.
Unfortunately, we don’t have anything from several leading individuals. Rouben Mamoulian, who quit as director in May 1944, refused to ever discuss the film. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, who won an Academy Award for “Laura,” was never interviewed about “Laura,” as far as I can determine.
To be continued.