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Laura

Laura(1944)

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teaser Laura (1944)

SYNOPSIS

"I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. The silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For with Laura's horrible death, I was alone." This unforgettable speech delivered via voice over by Clifton Webb opens one of the silver screen's most stylish and enduring films noirs, Otto Preminger's 1944 classic Laura. It started out as a B picture, but turned into a classic through a series of happy accidents, a collection of superior talent, and one of the biggest and most surprising plot twists in cinema history.

Adapted from Vera Caspary's suspense novel of the same name, Laura opens with the murder of a beguiling young woman (Gene Tierney) who seems to have cast a spell over everyone she met. Determined to solve the violent crime, no-nonsense detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) methodically makes his way through Manhattan penthouse society to find some answers. Is Laura's murderer her possessive jealous mentor, the acerbic columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb)? Is it her weak parasitic fianc Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price)? Could it be her scheming wealthy aunt (Judith Anderson), or is it someone else - an old cast-off suitor, perhaps? Detective McPherson pulls out all the stops in his search for the truth, but he soon finds himself falling for the hauntingly beautiful Laura from beyond the grave, obsessed by a looming portrait of her in her stylish New York apartment. In Laura's world, however, things are not always what they seem.

CAST AND CREW

Director: Otto Preminger

Producer: Otto Preminger

Writers: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt

Based on the novel Laura by Vera Caspary

Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle, Lucien Ballard

Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Leland Fuller

Set Decorator: Thomas Little

Editor: Louis Loeffler

Costumes: Bonnie Cashin

Music: David Raksin

Cast: Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Dana Andrews (Detective Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell), Dorothy Adams (Bessie Clary)

B and W - 87 min.

Why LAURA is Essential

Laura is one of the quintessential examples of film noir that has endured as a classic for over 70 years. While it started out as a B-picture, its polish came about as the result of a series of happy accidents, second choices and great talent that helped elevate its status on all levels. It ultimately achieved five Oscar® nominations (winning one). It's a somewhat unconventional noir with a collection of odd elements that all come together and work. As Roger Ebert said in a 2002 article, "Film noir is known for its convoluted plots and arbitrary twists, but even in a genre that gave us The Maltese Falcon [1941], this takes some kind of prize. Laura has a detective who never goes to the station; a suspect who is invited to tag along as other suspects are interrogated; a heroine who is dead for most of the film; a man insanely jealous of a woman even though he never for a moment seems heterosexual; a romantic lead who is a dull-witted Kentucky bumpkin moving in Manhattan penthouse society, and a murder weapon that is returned to its hiding place by the cop, who will 'come by for it in the morning.' The only nude scene involves the jealous man and the cop." Unconventional though it may be, it is all the better for its collection of improbable quirks.

Laura's famous musical score, rooted in its luscious haunting main theme composed by David Raksin, instantly became one of the most recognizable and beloved pieces of movie music in history. The music's popularity helped Raksin's career immeasurably, which took off as he entered the top echelon of film composers in Hollywood.

Even though the lyrics were added to David Raksin's beautiful music after the film's release, the song "Laura" quickly became a standard and one of the most popular songs ever recorded.

The delicious role of acid-tongued Waldo Lydecker was actor Clifton Webb's first big starring role in a Hollywood film, and his first screen role since the early days of cinema. Webb, who had been working successfully as a stage actor for many years, knew that his performance could help make or break his career in movies, and at age 56 he didn't have much time to waste. The success of the film, for him, resulted in an Academy Award nomination and a whole new prominent career in Hollywood films.

The success of Laura helped launch Otto Preminger's career as one of the best directors in Hollywood. The imposing Preminger had been working as mostly a producer since his arrival in Hollywood, and thanks to a damaging feud with Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl Zanuck, he was sidelined for a time, keeping him from doing what he most wanted to do: direct. However, Preminger was given another shot behind the camera on Laura, and it became one of the most famous directorial triumphs of his career.

Laura boasts one of the biggest plot twists in cinema history that surprised - and continues to surprise - even the savviest of moviegoers. In true whodunit fashion, the plot's twists and turns and remarkable collection of vivid characters truly keep viewers guessing until the very end - even today.

The role of Laura's caddish buttery fianc Shelby Carpenter was one of Vincent Price's best roles and reportedly a personal favorite for the actor. For those who know Price's work primarily for the horror films that became indelibly associated with him, Laura will impress viewers with Price's broad talent and range.

Laura was the film that was forever associated with gorgeous actress Gene Tierney. The film's success helped establish her as a major star and helped elevate her to the Hollywood A-list of leading ladies.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Laura (1944)

Laura was adapted into a radio play for Lux Radio Theater twice. The first version in 1945 starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price from the film. The second version in 1954 starred Gene Tierney and Victor Mature.

Laura was also adapted into a radio play in 1948 for a Ford Theater broadcast. It starred Virginia Gilmore and John Larkin.

Two more radio versions of Laura aired as part of The Screen Guild Theater in 1945 and 1950. Both versions starred Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb.

A television version of Laura aired in 1955 as part of the series called The 20th Century-Fox Hour titled A Portrait of Murder. It starred Dana Wynter as Laura, George Sanders as Waldo, Robert Stack as McPherson and Scott Forbes as Shelby.

Another television movie version of Laura aired in 1968 that featured a screenplay co-written by Truman Capote. It starred Jacqueline Kennedy's sister, socialite Lee Radziwill (credited then as Lee Bouvier) as Laura, George Sanders as Waldo, Robert Stack as McPherson, and Farley Granger as Shelby.

In Robert Altman's 1992 film about a murderous Hollywood executive The Player a framed poster of Laura hangs prominently in title character Griffin Mill's (Tim Robbins) office.

In the season 2 episode of TV'sNCIS called An Eye for an Eye the character of Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) tells the story of Laura to Kate (Sasha Alexander). He also refers to star Gene Tierney as a "goddess."

Oscar®-winning film director and film aficionado Martin Scorsese used Laura as a key reference point for his 2010 nothing-is-what-it-seems film Shutter Island starring Leonardo DiCaprio. "The key film I showed Leo [DiCaprio] and [co-star] Mark [Ruffalo] was Laura," said Scorsese in a 2010 interview about the film. "Dana Andrews, the way he wears his tie, and the way he walks through a room, and he doesn't even look at anybody; he's always playing that little game. He's just trying to get the facts."

In the Season 7 episode of NCIS titled Obsession the character of Ziva (Cote de Pablo) compares Tony's (Michael Weatherly) obsession with a beautiful missing news reporter with the plot of Laura.

The 2011 video game L.A. Noire features Laura as one of the 50 gold film reels that can be found during the game to collect for reward.

Carol Burnett starred in a spoof of Laura in the ninth season of The Carol Burnett Show called Flora. Carol, of course, played the title character to hilarious effect.

In 1947 a Broadway play version of Laura was mounted starring Otto Kruger, Kay Macdonald, Hugh Marlowe and Tom Rutherford. It ran for 44 performances.

David Raksin's beautiful haunting score for Laura was so popular that lyrics were added to the music following the film's release, and the song became a huge hit. Over the years the song "Laura" has been recorded by hundreds of diverse artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams and even Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane on his 2011 debut album Music Is Better Than Words.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Laura (1944)

The DVD release of Laura boasts an added scene that was cut from the original theatrical release. It shows a more detailed account of how Waldo Lydecker acted as Svengali to young Laura, molding her style into the sophisticated creature that we come to know in the film.

In her 1979 autobiography, actress Gene Tierney describes her impression of co-star Clifton Webb: "There was a wonderfully brittle edge to Clifton, his manner, his speech, the way he moved. Part of what came across on the screen, the impression of a man very tightly strung, was true in person."

According to Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb suffered a nervous breakdown when they finished filming and checked himself into a New England sanitarium. "He came out of it rested and restored," she said in her autobiography.

According to the 1999 biography Vincent Price: A Daughter's Memoir by Victoria Price, Clifton Webb had befriended Price years before when they were both working as stage actors in New York. Webb had taken neophyte Price under his wing and introduced him around the theater circles, which helped him tremendously. "Clifton was the kindest man I ever knew in my life," he said.

Vincent Price later said that he and co-star Judith Anderson "got hysterical all the time" on the set of Laura. "We were thrown off the set day by day."

When actress Hedy Lamarr was asked after the film's release why she turned down the role of Laura, she supposedly replied, "They sent me the script, not the score."

According to the 2011 biography Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb, Webb recalled his first impressions of co-star Gene Tierney as follows: "I didn't meet Gene Tierney until we were well along in the picture, and I must confess I had never seen her on the screen. Her beauty and gayety enchanted me, even though she did baffle me in the beginning by turning on her heel and telling her secretary she wanted corn beef and cabbage for dinner, in the midst of a tense dramatic scene."

Clifton Webb was known for paying special attention to his own personal wardrobe, and always made a point of dressing impeccably. He carried his good taste onto the Laura set where he always made sure he was dressed well in character. Co-star Dana Andrews took notice of Webb's stylish taste in clothes while making the film and sought his advice afterwards on how to dress better. Webb happily indulged him.

Famous Quotes from LAURA

"I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. The silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For with Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her."

--Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb)

"Murder is my favorite crime."

--Waldo, to Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews)

"Laura considered me the wisest, the wittiest, the most interesting man she'd ever met. I was in complete accord with her on that point."

--Waldo to McPherson

"I tried to become the kindest, the gentlest, the most sympathetic man in the world."

"Have any luck?"

"Let me put it this way. I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbors' children devoured by wolves."

--Waldo and McPherson

"McPherson, tell me, why did they have to photograph her in that horrible condition?"

"When a dame gets killed, she doesn't worry about how she looks."--Waldo and McPherson

"Young woman, either you have been raised in some incredibly rustic community, where good manners are unknown, or you suffer from the common feminine delusion that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from the rules of civilized conduct. Or possibly both."

--Waldo, to Laura (Gene Tierney) upon their first meeting

"I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom."

--Waldo

"You seem to be completely disregarding something more important than your career."

"What?"

"My lunch."

--Waldo, to Laura

"Dames are always pulling a switch on you."

-- McPherson

"Why don't you get down on all fours, Waldo? It's the only time you've ever kept your mouth shut."

--Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), to Waldo

"Haven't you heard of science's newest triumph - the doorbell?"

--Waldo, to McPherson

"I must say, for a charming intelligent girl, you've certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes."

--McPherson, to Laura

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Laura (1944)

Laura began when Twentieth Century-Fox discovered author Vera Caspary's novel of the same name. First serialized in the popular magazine Collier's Weekly in 1942 under the title Ring Twice for Laura, the story was published the following year in book form called Laura.

The haunting suspense tale full of twists and turns about the beautiful and elusive Laura and the various men who loved her came to the attention of producer and director Otto Preminger while he was in the midst of directing one of his earliest films Margin for Error in 1943. Of all the novels and potential ideas that came through Twentieth Century-Fox at the time, it was one of only two projects that captured his immediate interest.

It is necessary in the tale of Laura's journey to the silver screen to first understand the significant rift that existed between Otto Preminger and Fox Production Chief Darryl Zanuck.

Darryl Zanuck was at Fox when Preminger was first brought over to Hollywood from Austria where he had been working as a director and actor. Preminger and Zanuck were good friends in the early days when Preminger started his film career at Fox.

After proving himself as a director on a series of small B-films at Fox, the talented Preminger was finally given his first plum assignment on an A-picture when Zanuck tapped him to direct a screen version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped (1938). Zanuck, as was his practice for the studio's biggest films, would personally produce.

Even though he was thrilled to get the assignment and appreciated what it would mean for his career, Preminger knew from the beginning that he was the wrong director for Kidnapped. He didn't like the story and could not relate to the subject matter. He turned the project down.

However, at the urging of many people around him including Gregory Ratoff, whom Preminger described as "an actor whose peculiar function was to be Zanuck's emissary to stars and directors," he eventually decided to take the assignment against his better judgment. Ratoff had told him that refusing Zanuck at this stage of his career would be like signing his own death warrant in Hollywood.

As predicted, the shoot on Kidnapped did not go well. Preminger and Zanuck got into many arguments over the direction of the film. Finally, after Preminger refused to apologize to Zanuck after a particular incident, he was taken off the picture, which was ultimately completed by someone else (and turned out to be a big flop). Even though Zanuck had to honor Preminger's contract and keep him on the payroll for the next few years, Preminger was completely shut out of Hollywood both professionally and socially after butting heads with the powerful studio chief.

After the initial setback in Hollywood, Preminger went east to New York where he was able to find success directing and acting in plays on Broadway. When Darryl Zanuck took a leave of absence from Hollywood during World War II to be a photographer in the army, he left his executive assistant William Goetz in charge of running the studio until he returned.

With Goetz now in charge and Zanuck temporarily out of the picture, Preminger was able to gradually creep his way back into Hollywood. Without Zanuck's knowledge, of course.

Preminger started working again at Fox first as an actor, and then as a director with the film Margin for Error, which he had also directed as a play in New York. Goetz ended up putting Preminger under contract to the studio for seven years as an actor, producer and director - still without Zanuck's knowledge.

It was during this time working for Goetz that Preminger decided he wanted to make a film version of the Laura novel. As he told film director Peter Bogdanovich in an interview in the late 1960s, he loved that Laura was different from other suspense stories in its big plot twist. "You see, a suspense picture depends mainly on finding a new gimmick," said Preminger according to Bogdanovich's 1997 book Who the Devil Made It. "There are very few new plots. If you can find something different, as in this case, where a girl you thought was dead automatically becomes a murder suspect by walking into her own apartment - that helps." Goetz looked over the material and gave him the green light. Preminger intended to direct it as well as produce.

It was right around this time during Laura's pre-production that Darryl Zanuck returned to his position at Fox following his military service. When he found out that Preminger was back under contract, he was "incensed" about it, along with many other decisions that Goetz had made in his absence.

When Zanuck found out about the plans for Laura he summoned Preminger to a meeting at his Santa Monica beach house. The two had not spoken in six years since the Kidnapped episode.

The meeting was tense. "A butler escorted me through the house to the garden where Zanuck was sitting in swimming trunks beside his pool," described Preminger in his autobiography. "His back was to me. He glanced around briefly and then gave me the back of his head again. He picked up a piece of paper and said, 'I see you are working on a few things. I don't think much of them except for one, Laura. I've read it, and it isn't bad. You can produce it, but as long as I am at Fox you will never direct. Good-bye.' 'Goodbye,' I said to his back and left."

Zanuck placed Otto Preminger as well as the Laura project in the B-film unit under the guidance of Bryan Foy, the head of the B-picture unit at Fox. The B-films were generally treated as routine productions with lower budgets and fast-paced production schedules. The A-films, on the other hand, had large budgets with first rate actors, writers and directors and were treated with great care by the studio.

Preminger set to work getting a suitable screenplay adaptation completed of Caspary's novel. At first he worked with a writer named Jay Dratler, but there were problems with the dialogue.

Next, Preminger hired the writing team of Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt. "Hoffenstein practically created the character of Waldo Lydecker for Clifton Webb," said Preminger. "He was in the habit of overwriting, but after the scenes were edited, his dialogue was brilliant." By the time the script was done, there was essentially a whole new plot. "From the original book we retained only the gimmick of Laura first appearing to be the victim of a murder and afterward, when she returns, becoming the chief suspect," said Preminger.

Author Vera Caspary was not pleased and asked Preminger why he was making a B-picture out of her novel. "I told her it would be an excellent film," he answered. "She wasn't convinced. In fact, no one liked the script but those of us who had worked on it."

Bryan Foy told Preminger that the script was awful. Preminger, however, knew that he had something special. He told Foy that he wanted Zanuck himself to take a look at the script he had helped create. "[Foy] was incredulous," recalled Preminger. "'Zanuck hates you,' he said. 'All you need is for him to read this lousy script. He'll fire you.'" With confidence, Preminger told him that he was willing to take that chance.

To address the issue, Zanuck called both Foy and Preminger into his office a few days later after he had read the script. He asked Foy why he didn't like it. Foy said that among other things, he didn't like that it was a police story that didn't have a single scene that took place in a police station. According to Preminger, Zanuck glared at Foy and said, "The fact that it doesn't have a routine scene in a police station is exactly what I like about it. I'll take over the supervision of the picture."

With that nod of support from Zanuck, it meant that Laura had been placed in the higher profile A-picture category at Fox, which was great news both for the film and for Preminger.

Even though it seemed like Preminger was slowly beginning to inch his way back into Zanuck's good graces, he had to contend with the fact that Zanuck still had no intention of allowing him to direct Laura. Instead, Zanuck sent the script off to several different directors including Lewis Milestone, but they all turned the project down. "As the refusals mounted," said Preminger, "Zanuck's position on the script became increasingly uncertain."

Zanuck advised Preminger on how to make the script better through a series of memos. He wanted Waldo's lines to be punched up to be funnier and referenced Monty Woolley's performance in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) as a guideline. The character of Laura in the early drafts Zanuck described as "a mess" and "neither interesting nor attractive." All of the characters, said Zanuck in a memo dated November 1, 1943 "should seem as if they stepped out of The Maltese Falcon [1941]--everyone a distinct, different personality. This is what made The Maltese Falcon. It wasn't the plot, it was the amazing characters. The only chance this picture has of becoming a big-time success is if these characters emerge as real outstanding personalities. Otherwise it will become nothing more than a blown-up Whodunit."

Preminger continued to hold out hope that he would eventually be allowed to direct. In the meantime, however, he occupied himself with putting the right cast in place, beginning with the role of Laura.

After both Jennifer Jones and Hedy Lamarr turned the part down, Preminger and Zanuck finally found their Laura in the beautiful actress Gene Tierney. Then in her early 20s, Tierney had a few roles under her belt in Hollywood, but was not yet a major star.

It was a rough period in Tierney's life when the opportunity to make Laura came along. She and her husband, famed fashion designer Oleg Cassini, had recently welcomed a baby daughter named Daria into the world. However, their joy soon turned to anguish when it became apparent that the baby suffered from numerous afflictions including blindness and developmental problems that came as a result of Tierney's being infected with German Measles during her pregnancy (a story that Agatha Christie famously used in her 1962 novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side). Heartbroken and bereft, Tierney was advised by her doctors to get back to work to help her focus her energies in a positive way.

"I liked the script," she said in her 1979 autobiography Self-Portrait, "but after one reading was unenthused about my role. The time on camera was less than one would like. And who wants to play a painting?" She found the story intriguing, but "unorthodox" with the shifting viewpoints of the different men in Laura's life. She wasn't sure it would work. "In truth," said Tierney, "only Otto Preminger had absolute faith in the project."

It also gave Tierney pause that a talented actress like Jennifer Jones had turned down the role. "It is possible," she said, "that I did not mind the part so much as the idea of being second choice. 'If Jennifer Jones doesn't want it,' I asked Darryl Zanuck, 'why should I?'

'The role is right for you, Gene,' Zanuck assured me. 'You'll be good in it. And, you'll see, this one will help your career.'"

Tierney decided to trust him and accepted the role. "I had a hunch he might be right," she said, "and I always tried to play my hunches. Really, I was in no position to be picky. I had not made a picture in over a year. My husband was still in the army. The extent of our baby daughter's problems was not yet known. I needed to get back to work."

For the important role of no-nonsense police detective Mark McPherson Otto Preminger took a gamble on Dana Andrews, whom Preminger described at the time as a "young Fox contract actor with only a few screen credits."

Next up was the role of Waldo Lydecker. "In my view," said Preminger, "the role of Waldo Lydecker was critical to the success of Laura. The audience should not realize that he was the villain."

Zanuck wanted Preminger to cast actor Laird Cregar as Waldo, but Preminger disagreed. While Cregar was a fine actor who could undoubtedly handle the complex role, he was also an actor associated mostly with heavies. Because of this, argued Preminger, audiences would be easily tipped off that he was probably the villain. Preminger made the case that he wanted someone for Waldo who was unfamiliar to film audiences. It was Clifton Webb who immediately came to mind.

Webb had gotten his feet wet in Hollywood during its early silent days, but had not made a film in over 15 years. At the time Laura was being assembled, he was in his mid-fifties working primarily as a respected stage actor. Preminger believed that he would be perfect for the part of Waldo and asked him to look at the Laura script one night following Webb's performance in a Los Angeles production of the play Blithe Spirit. Webb agreed.

Zanuck, however, was not keen on hiring Clifton Webb - especially since he hadn't worked in Hollywood in years. Rufus LeMaire, the head of Fox's casting department, agreed and added that Webb was far too effeminate for the role. "He doesn't walk, he flies!" said LeMaire according to Otto Preminger.

To Zanuck's credit, however, he allowed Preminger the opportunity to make a screen test with Webb playing opposite Gene Tierney "to give Webb the best possible chance." However, Webb refused to make the test. "My dear boy," he said according to Preminger, "if your Mr. Zanuck wants to see if I can act let him come to the theatre. I don't know your Miss Tierney and I don't want to make a test with her."

In response, Darryl Zanuck was just as rigid. "I don't want to see him on the stage playing Noel Coward," he told Preminger. "I want to see him on film playing the part of Waldo Lydecker."

Clifton Webb, however, maintained that he was not being a diva when he refused to make a screen test playing Waldo. "I told [Preminger] this would be quite impossible because I had a night performance and a matinee the next day, and I felt I could not learn the lines in such a short space of time, and I couldn't give any characterization to it if I were rushed into it," said Webb according to the 2011 book Sitting Pretty: The Life and Times of Clifton Webb.

Preminger came up with a plan to get what he wanted. "Without telling Zanuck, I took a film unit to the theatre where Webb was performing," explained Preminger in his autobiography. "When the audience was gone, Webb, standing on the empty stage, delivered his famous monologue from Blithe Spirit. It made a superior piece of film...The next part was tricky. I had to risk Zanuck's wrath. I confessed to him what I had done and asked him to look at the test. He was furious. But when the screening was over he behaved with the fairness that was part of his complicated nature. 'You're a son of a bitch,' he said, 'but you're right. He's very good. You can have Clifton Webb.'"

To round out the cast, Preminger tapped a young handsome Vincent Price to play Laura's rakish parasite of a fianc Shelby Carpenter in one of his best roles. The two had worked together before in a Broadway production of Outward Bound that Preminger directed in the late 30s and got along well. Dame Judith Anderson was tapped to play Laura's wealthy and scheming aunt Ann Treadwell.

At long last Zanuck finally found a director for Laura in the form of Rouben Mamoulian (Queen Christina [1933], Golden Boy [1939]). "He didn't like the script any more than others who had turned it down," said Preminger, "but he had no other jobs in sight and needed the money."

As an added bonus, Mamoulian's wife Azadia Newman was a popular artist and painter in Hollywood at the time, and she agreed to paint an original portrait of Gene Tierney to be used in the film. The portrait was Laura's most important prop and crucial to the story.

With cameras set to roll and Mamoulian in the director's chair, everything seemed in place for Laura to begin. No one knew at the time what a classic that Laura would become or that Mamoulian's days behind the camera were numbered. Except, perhaps, for Preminger.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Laura (1944)

Laura began shooting during the Spring of 1944 with Rouben Mamoulian directing and Otto Preminger producing.

There was tension immediately between Preminger and Mamoulian. "Mamoulian could read Hollywood politics as astutely as anyone in the business," said Preminger in his 1977 autobiography Preminger, "and was aware that Zanuck was not exactly fond of me. The situation, he felt, gave him unlimited freedom to ignore me. He went ahead changing sets and costumes without consulting me. When he began to make changes in the script, I put my foot down. Mamoulian remembered that Zanuck liked the script and gave in."

Mamoulian asked Preminger not to come to the set while he was shooting because his presence there made him nervous. Preminger agreed, and Mamoulian continued working. Meanwhile, Darryl Zanuck was in New York and not able to keep a close eye on Laura's progress.

When Preminger had a chance to look at the first batch of dailies that came back, he was aghast. "I had chosen a simple dressing gown for Judith Anderson but Mamoulian, influenced perhaps by association the Medea role for which she was famous, had dressed her in something flowing and Grecian," said Preminger. "It was totally wrong for a contemporary story and so were his sets. The performances were appalling. Judith Anderson was overacting, Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney were amateurish, and there was even something wrong with Clifton Webb's performance."

Preminger promptly had the rushes airmailed to Zanuck in New York so that he could see for himself what was happening with Laura. Zanuck agreed that it was a mess and ordered Mamoulian to shoot everything over again. Preminger, he reiterated, was still barred from the set.

When the second set of dailies proved to be just as bad as the first, if not worse, Zanuck decided to remove Mamoulian from the film altogether. Finally the words that Preminger had wanted to hear all along came from Zanuck's mouth when he returned to Los Angeles. "Monday," he told Preminger, "you can start directing Laura. From scratch."

With two weeks worth of work having to be scrapped, Preminger began his directing job on Laura with a purposeful vengeance. He threw out everything Mamoulian had done including the costumes, sets, and cinematographer. Even the original portrait of Laura painted by Mamoulian's wife was tossed out.

Preminger in turn hired a new costume designer, Bonnie Cashin, and new cinematographer, Joe LaShelle. The film was a promotion for LaShelle and his first big opportunity on an A-picture.

For the portrait of Laura that plays an extremely important role in the film's story, Preminger decided to do something of a cheat. Because paintings generally don't photograph well on film, he said, he would use an enhanced photograph. "He sent me instead to pose for Frank Polony, the studio photographer whose pictures of me as a starlet had appeared in so many magazines," explained Gene Tierney in her 1979 memoir Self-Portrait. "Otto had this one enlarged and lightly brushed with paint to create the effect he wanted."

According to Preminger, he had to work to win the respect of the cast, who all seemed "hostile" to him when he took over, with the exception of Clifton Webb. "I learned later," he said, "that Mamoulian had called each of them individually and warned them that I did not like their acting and intended to fire them." It was not true. Judith Anderson decided to confront him on the set. She said that if he wasn't happy with her performance, then he should show her how to make it better.

"To her surprise," said Preminger, "I did. I knew every line in the script and I showed her what I wanted word by word, step by step, gesture by gesture. She's a good actress and although she thought I was wrong she did it exactly as I had shown her. At the end I said, 'Tomorrow come and see the rushes with me and you will see what I mean.' The whole cast watched the rushes the next day and from that moment on they were all on my side."

Somehow, after all the difficulties with Laura getting started, things finally seemed to begin falling into place under Preminger's direction. According to Vincent Price's daughter Victoria, Price once asked Preminger why he thought he was able to do a better job on Laura than Rouben Mamoulian. "Rouben only knows nice people," replied Preminger according to Price's 1999 book Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography. "I understand the characters in Laura. They're all heels, just like my friends."

Throughout the shoot the cast got along famously, and they all respected Preminger's judgment. "I may be one of the few people in the world who likes Otto Preminger, but I do," said Vincent Price. "Otto held us together," said Gene Tierney, "pushed and lifted what might have been a good movie into one that became something special." Co-star Clifton Webb agreed. "I found [Preminger] a most sympathetic director," he said, "having had his own theater in Vienna and having been an actor himself, he knew what a stage person could go through."

Preminger did excellent work, but the demands were high. "I was on the set before the sun came up," recalled Gene Tierney, "and tumbled home at eight or nine in the evening." Preminger could be a taskmaster. "He was simply tireless," she said. "When the rest of the cast seemed ready to drop from exhaustion, Otto would still muster as much vigor as when the day began."

Tierney and the rest of the cast also had to endure hours of delays so that everything would be exactly as Preminger wanted it. "[Cinematographer] Joe [LaShelle] was determined to make a success of his big opportunity," she said. "He would take ages to light a scene. Every time I heard him say, 'No, no, it's not right,' I could feel my teeth clench, and I knew there went another hour or two of waiting for the lights to be set."

Clifton Webb also recalled grueling conditions shooting with Preminger. "Laura took ten weeks to make," he said, "and I was becoming more exhausted with every approaching day. Benzedrine in the daytime to keep me going and sleeping pills at night was not a very happy combination."

Webb also had to deal with the shock of seeing himself on screen after a long absence from Hollywood. Watching the first batch of rushes that included his first scene in the tub when he meets McPherson, Webb nearly had a heart attack. "When I saw myself sitting in the bathtub looking very much like Mahatma Gandhi," he said, "I felt I might vomit. After it was over Dana [Andrews] saved my life with a big swig of bourbon. The first shock of seeing myself had a strange effect on me, psychologically, as it made me realize for the first time that I was no longer a dashing young juvenile, which I must have fancied myself being through the years in the theater."

According to Gene Tierney's husband, famed fashion designer Oleg Cassini, their personal tragedy of dealing with the severe problems of baby daughter Daria just prior to filming helped inform Tierney's performance as the mysterious Laura. "It is ironic that through much of the film she played a girl presumed dead who was actually alive;" said Cassini in his 1987 autobiography In My Own Fashion, "in some ways, Gene was quite the opposite. After Daria's birth, she seemed to die inside. There was a ghostly quality, an evanescence, to both Laura and Gene. Even after Laura is found to be alive, she has a certain mystery, an aura, that permeates the film and gives it much of its magic. And Gene? After Daria, there was a distance I never seemed to be able to bridge."

After shooting wrapped on Laura Preminger assigned composer David Raksin to write the musical score for the film. Preminger was interested in possibly using Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" as a musical theme to associate with Laura's character, and Darryl Zanuck suggested using George Gershwin's "Summertime." However, Raksin had something else in mind.

"In the case of Gene Tierney," explained Raksin in a 1999 interview, "she was so exquisite that you just looked at her and you knew why Dana Andrews had fallen madly in love with her. When I was working on the score, I kept looking at her all the time. I'd run sequences, and there's this fabulous creature. You come across something marvelous, and it inspires you."

Raksin's beautiful haunting music fit perfectly with the theme of the film and became one of its most famous and memorable elements.

Laura opened in the Fall of 1944. It was an instant smash hit, boosted by the strength of mostly positive reviews. The cast and crew were thrilled with the results. "When we all went to see Laura on opening night," recalled Vincent Price, "we had never heard the score! That was written long after the film was finished. So we sat there and thought, 'Isn't that marvelous.'"

Vincent Price always considered Laura to be one of his personal favorites. He felt it was "one of those few pictures that is perfect. Not pretentious, very simple, just brilliant." According to his daughter Victoria, Price felt that Gene Tierney had as much to do with the film's success as Otto Preminger's direction. "In his opinion, it was Gene Tierney's 'odd beauty' and underrated acting ability that made Laura so popular," she said. "He felt her beauty was both timeless and imperfect."

Tierney, on the other hand, didn't give herself much credit for its success. "I never felt my own performance was much more than adequate," she said. "I am pleased that audiences still identify me with Laura, as opposed to not being identified at all. Their tributes, I believe, are for the character--the dreamlike Laura - rather than any gifts I brought to the role. I do not mean to sound modest. I doubt that any of us connected with the movie thought it had a chance of becoming a kind of mystery classic, or enduring beyond its generation...If it worked, it was because the ingredients turned out to be right."

Laura earned five Academy Award nominations, including one for Preminger as Best Director and one for Clifton Webb as Best Supporting Actor. David Raksin's lush score was inexplicably left out of the nominations. It was cinematographer Joe LaShelle, who had taken the time to light the film so carefully, who received the film's only Oscar® win.

Despite the Oscar® snub of the musical score, Raksin's music proved to be so popular that the studio soon found itself inundated with letters asking if there was a recording available of the main theme. Soon, sheet music and recordings of the instrumental music were released and proved to be a huge hit with the public.

The following year in 1945 Fox asked celebrated songwriter Johnny Mercer to write lyrics to go with Laura's theme, and he happily obliged. It too was a smash hit, becoming an instant standard, recorded over the years by countless artists including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

The success of Laura benefited everyone associated with it. It helped launch Otto Preminger's distinguished career as a director in Hollywood and helped patch up his damaged relationship with Darryl Zanuck. It elevated the careers of its main cast to A-list status, and it put the services of composer David Raksin and Oscar®-winning cinematographer Joe LaShelle in high demand.

Laura has endured through the years as one of the most beloved and talked about film noir classics in cinema history. It may have been created out of a hodgepodge of happy accidents and second choices, but the results are first rate.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Laura (1944)

"When a murder mystery possessing as much sustained suspense, good acting and caustically brittle dialogue as Laura...comes along it might seem a little like carping to suggest that it could have been even better...you get the idea that this Laura must have been something truly wonderful. Now, at the risk of being unchivalrous, we venture to say that when the lady herself appears upon the screen via flashback of events leading up to the tragedy, she is a disappointment. For Gene Tierney simply doesn't measure up to the word-portrait of her character...Aside from that principal reservation, however, Laura is an intriguing melodrama...Clifton Webb...is sophistry personified. His incisive performance is, however, closely matched by that of Dana Andrews as the detective. Mr. Andrews is fast proving himself to be a solidly persuasive performer, a sort of younger-edition Spencer Tracy...Only Miss Tierney seems out of key. Perhaps if Laura Hunt had not had such a build-up, it would have been different. Anyway, the picture on the whole is close to being a top-drawer mystery." -- The New York Times

"LauraTime magazine

"Fascinating, witty, classic, with Webb a standout as cynical columnist Waldo Lydecker and Price in his finest nonhorror performance as suave Southern gigolo." -- Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide

"It is Clifton Webb's performance as Waldo Lydecker that stands at the heart of the film, with Vincent Price, as Laura's fianc Shelby Carpenter, nibbling at the edges like an eager spaniel. Both actors, and Judith Anderson as a neurotic friend, create characters who have no reality except their own, which is good enough for them. The hero and heroine, on the other hand, are cardboard. Gene Tierney, as Laura, is gorgeous, has perfect features, looks great in the stills, but never seems emotionally involved; her work in Leave Her to Heaven (1945) is stronger, deeper, more convincing. Dana Andrews, as Detective Mark McPherson, stands straight, chain smokes, speaks in monotone...As actors, Tierney and Andrews basically play eyewitnesses to scene-stealing by Webb and Price." - Roger Ebert (2002)

"Strange by even film noir standards...Still, alternately sprightly and turgid, if abetted by its haunting, ubiquitous score, it's far from a great movie - most beloved by second generation surrealists who appreciate it for its time-liquidating dream narrative of L'amour fou. See that movie if you can; for me Laura is a flavorsome but flawed anticipation of two far more delirious psychosexual cine-obsessions: Vertigo [1958] and Blue Velvet [1970]." - J. Hoberman, Village Voice (2011)

"The film's deceptively leisurely pace at the start, and its light, careless air, only heighten the suspense without the audience being conscious of the buildup. What they are aware of as they follow the story...is the skill in the telling. Situations neatly dovetail and are always credible. Developments, surprising as they come, are logical. The dialog is honest, real and adult...Clifton Webb makes a debonair critic-columnist. Dana Andrews' intelligent, reticent performance as the lieutenant gives the lie to detectives as caricatures. Gene Tierney makes an appealing figure as the art executive and Vincent Price is convincing as a weak-willed ne'er-do-well." -- Variety

AWARDS AND HONORS

Laura was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography - Black and White, Best Supporting Actor (Clifton Webb), and Best Art Direction - Interior Decoration, Black and White. It took home one of the gold statuettes for Best Cinematography.

In 1999 Laura was added to the National Film Registry, which is the United States National Film Preservation Board's list of notable films selected for preservation in the Library of Congress.

In 2001, the American Film Institute ranked Laura number 73 on its list of the 100 Most Thrilling American Films of all time "100 Years...100 Thrills."

In 2005, the American Film Institute ranked the haunting musical score by David Raksin from Laura number 7 on its list of the 25 Greatest Film Scores of All Time.

The American Film Institute ranked Laura number 4 in its list of the Top 10 Greatest Film Mysteries of All Time.

In 2013 Entertainment Weekly magazine singled out Gene Tierney's lack of an Oscar® nomination for playing the titular role in Laura as number 20 on its list of the 20 Biggest Oscar Snubs of All Time. "She underplays," said EW. "She seems to speak so softly at times that you have to lean in to catch her lines. It's subtle, career-defining work with as many shadings as the angles of her face."

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser Laura (1944)

Laura is one of the quintessential examples of film noir that has endured as a classic for over 70 years. While it started out as a B-picture, its polish came about as the result of a series of happy accidents, second choices and great talent that helped elevate its status on all levels. It ultimately achieved five Oscar® nominations (winning one). It's a somewhat unconventional noir with a collection of odd elements that all come together and work. As Roger Ebert said in a 2002 article, "Film noir is known for its convoluted plots and arbitrary twists, but even in a genre that gave us The Maltese Falcon [1941], this takes some kind of prize. Laura has a detective who never goes to the station; a suspect who is invited to tag along as other suspects are interrogated; a heroine who is dead for most of the film; a man insanely jealous of a woman even though he never for a moment seems heterosexual; a romantic lead who is a dull-witted Kentucky bumpkin moving in Manhattan penthouse society, and a murder weapon that is returned to its hiding place by the cop, who will 'come by for it in the morning.' The only nude scene involves the jealous man and the cop." Unconventional though it may be, it is all the better for its collection of improbable quirks.

Laura's famous musical score, rooted in its luscious haunting main theme composed by David Raksin, instantly became one of the most recognizable and beloved pieces of movie music in history. The music's popularity helped Raksin's career immeasurably, which took off as he entered the top echelon of film composers in Hollywood.

Even though the lyrics were added to David Raksin's beautiful music after the film's release, the song "Laura" quickly became a standard and one of the most popular songs ever recorded.

The delicious role of acid-tongued Waldo Lydecker was actor Clifton Webb's first big starring role in a Hollywood film, and his first screen role since the early days of cinema. Webb, who had been working successfully as a stage actor for many years, knew that his performance could help make or break his career in movies, and at age 56 he didn't have much time to waste. The success of the film, for him, resulted in an Academy Award nomination and a whole new prominent career in Hollywood films.

The success of Laura helped launch Otto Preminger's career as one of the best directors in Hollywood. The imposing Preminger had been working as mostly a producer since his arrival in Hollywood, and thanks to a damaging feud with Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl Zanuck, he was sidelined for a time, keeping him from doing what he most wanted to do: direct. However, Preminger was given another shot behind the camera on Laura, and it became one of the most famous directorial triumphs of his career.

Laura boasts one of the biggest plot twists in cinema history that surprised - and continues to surprise - even the savviest of moviegoers. In true whodunit fashion, the plot's twists and turns and remarkable collection of vivid characters truly keep viewers guessing until the very end - even today.

The role of Laura's caddish buttery fianc Shelby Carpenter was one of Vincent Price's best roles and reportedly a personal favorite for the actor. For those who know Price's work primarily for the horror films that became indelibly associated with him, Laura will impress viewers with Price's broad talent and range.

Laura was the film that was forever associated with gorgeous actress Gene Tierney. The film's success helped establish her as a major star and helped elevate her to the Hollywood A-list of leading ladies.

Director: Otto Preminger
Producer: Otto Preminger
Writers: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt
Based on the novel Laura by Vera Caspary
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle, Lucien Ballard
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Leland Fuller
Set Decorator: Thomas Little
Editor: Louis Loeffler
Costumes: Bonnie Cashin
Music: David Raksin
Cast: Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Dana Andrews (Detective Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell), Dorothy Adams (Bessie Clary).
BW-87m.

by Andrea Passafiume

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