Note: This is the last of the “Laura” posts I had in reserve from last year, when I went on sabbatical. It was a fun project, but my focus on the Dahlia project prevents me from doing any more.
Reading the final shooting script for “Laura,” dated April 18, 1944, is like walking into your house and discovering that the kitchen and the TV room have traded spots and there’s another family living upstairs.
The completed film flows smoothly and more or less logically, but the final script reveals a narrow path through a junkyard of inferior material that someone had the wisdom to throw out. Whether it was a few lines, entire scenes or an earlier ending that is bad beyond belief, someone – presumably producer-director Otto Preminger — had the vision to know what didn’t work and discarded it.
Here’s a small example of one idea that was scrapped, but couldn’t be eliminated from the entire film.
When Det. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) interviews Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), he takes out a small puzzle and begins playing with it.
Waldo, annoyed that Mark is ignoring him in favor of the puzzle asks: “Something you confiscated in a raid on a kindergarten?” and Mark responds: “Takes a lot of control. Would you like to try it?”
The puzzle reappears when Mark, Waldo and Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) visit Laura’s apartment to look for a key to her country house. Waldo and Shelby argue as Mark lounges on the bed.
They are about to come to blows over Waldo’s insinuation that Shelby was involved in Laura’s death, when Mark intervenes, saying “I wouldn’t” while continuing to play with the puzzle.
Waldo says; “Will you please stop dawdling with that infernal puzzle? It’s getting on my nerves.”
Mark replies: “I know, but it keeps me calm.”
The puzzle makes its final appearance in the scene in which Laura tells Waldo: “I don’t think we should see each other again.” You might wonder why Mark is so disengaged from their conversation.
Here’s the answer.
Waldo tells Laura: “I hope you’ll never regret what promises to be a disgustingly earthy relationship.” He leaves after saying “Listen to my broadcast in 15 minutes. I’m discussing great lovers of history.”
But what was originally intended to happen in this scene was:
The entire purpose of introducing the puzzle into the film (it’s not in Vera Caspary’s novel) was for Waldo to become more irritated with it until he smashes it on the floor, revealing his capacity for violence and foreshadowing that he is the killer. This is an adaptation of the heavy-handed symbolism in the novel, in which Waldo smashes a vase to prevent another antique collector from buying it.
The ending in the film, including the scene in which Waldo stalks out, was written in July 1944 by Jerome “Jerry” Cady, who eliminated Waldo’s violent outburst, leaving the puzzle’s curious presence in the rest of the film as a legacy of the earlier scripts.
To be continued.