Fifteen Things You May or May Not Know About Laura (1944)

Twentieth Century Fox’s production of Laura (1944) is perhaps one of film noir’s best-known and best-loved. (Although apparently, there’s some debate in film noir circles as to whether it actually IS film noir. But it is to me, so there you are.) It tells the story of the murdered title character, and of the police detective who falls in love with her while investigating her death. The film stars Gene Tierney as Laura; Clifton Webb as caustic newspaper columnist and Laura-obsessed Waldo Lydecker; Vincent Price as Shelby Carpenter, a southern ne’er-do-well who attracts Laura’s eye; Judith Anderson as Laura’s aunt, who has her own eye on Shelby; and Dana Andrews, as Mark McPherson, the canny detective who is drawn to Laura through the stories he hears from her friends and families, the private letters he reads, and the haunting portrait that hangs in her home.

Here are 15 things that you may already know about this acclaimed feature. But then again, you may not . . .

  1. Otto Preminger was named producer of the film by 20th Century Fox head Darryl Zanuck, with Rouben Mamoulian as director. From the start, though, Preminger and Mamoulian battled constantly, with Preminger objecting to a number of areas, including the script and the cast. A couple of weeks into shooting, Zanuck allowed Preminger to give Mamoulian the heave-ho, and Preminger took over as director.

    On the Laura set.

  2. Preminger started from scratch, re-doing everything Mamoulian had put in place, from the costumes to the cinematographer to the sets – including the portrait of Gene Tierney as Laura that had been painted by Mamoulian’s wife. The portrait was replaced by an enlarged photograph of Tierney that had been touched up with oil paint.
  3. The portrait of Laura can be seen in two other films: On the Riviera (1951) and Woman’s World (1954). The latter film starred Clifton Webb; the painting was hung on a wall that depicted several other women who were former paramours of Webb’s character.
  4. According to Vincent Price, Mamoulian told him that Laird Cregar would probably get the role of Waldo Lydecker, but that decision was overruled by Otto Preminger, who’d seen Clifton Webb in a Noel Coward play in Los Angeles. “Laird was personally devastated,” Price said, “and that rejection began a downward personal spriral.” (Cregar died about a month after Laura was released. Vincent Price delivered the eulogy at his funeral.)

    Jennifer Jones as Laura? Hmm.

  5. Jennifer Jones was the first choice for the title role, but she turned it down.
  6. According to popular belief, the character of Waldo Lydecker is based on theater critic Alexander Woolcott, who wrote for the New Yorker and started the famed Algonquin Round Table.
  7. Laura was based on the book of the same name by Vera Caspary. The first novel by Caspary, written in 1929, was called The White Girl, which focuses on a black woman, Solaria Cox, who is passing as white in Chicago. Laura was Caspary’s fifth novel.
  8. The score for the film was written by David Raksin, whose nickname was “the grandfather of film music,” and who also wrote the music for Forever Amber (1947), the John Garfield noir Force of Evil (1948), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Carrie (1952), and Separate Tables (1958).
  9. Otto Preminger originally wanted to use Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady or possibly Gershwin’s Summertime as the film’s theme, but Raksin talked him out of it, citing the emotions that would be evoked in the audience by a song that was already well-known. Johnny Mercer later added lyrics to Raksin’s music and the song became a popular hit. (“Laura is the face in misty light, footsteps that you hear down the hall, the laugh that floats on a summer night that you can never quite recall . . . “)

    Webb walked off with every scene he was in. (He should’ve walked off with the Oscar, too, if you ask me.)

  10. Clifton Webb’s role as Waldo Lydecker was the actor’s first big-screen appearance since he appeared in silent films in 1925. The 54-year-old actor was nominated for an Oscar for his standout performance, but lost to Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way.
  11. Webb was born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck in Indianapolis, Indiana. He quit school at the age of 13 to study music and painting, and six years later, he was working in New York as a professional ballroom dancer.
  12. Judith Anderson was born in Australia. She was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1960 for her services to the performing arts. Some of her other well-known performances were in Rebecca (1940), The Furies (1950), The Ten Commandments (1956), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). She died of pneumonia in 1992 at the age of 94.

    This is Grant Mitchell. You won’t see Grant Mitchell in Laura.

  13. Actor Grant Mitchell was among Laura’s cast – if you don’t recognize him by name, you’d surely recognize his face from such films as Dinner at Eight (1933), where he plays the put-upon husband who gets stuck holding Marie Dressler’s dog, Samson, in the last scene. In Laura, Mitchell played an art dealer by the name of Lancaster Corey. Every one of his scenes wound up on the proverbial cutting room floor.
  14. In 1979, Gene Tierney was interviewed on the Mike Douglas Show, where she frankly discussed her mental illness, as well as a variety of other areas, including her start in Hollywood, her marriage to Oleg Cassini, and her memories of Laura.(Toward the end of the the interview, Douglas incorrectly gives the name of the score’s composer as ‘Irving’ Raksin, and seconds later, reaches behind his chair to grab a handy microphone and earnestly warble the entire Laura theme while seated next to Tierney. It’s pretty cringe-worthy. And it’s on YouTube if you want to check it out!)
  15. In addition to Clifton’s Webb’s nomination, the film earned several other Oscar nods: Joseph LaShelle won for Best Black and White Photography, but Preminger lost to Going My Way’s Leo McCarey for Best Director; and Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt lost for Best Adapted Screenplay to Frank Butler and Frank Cavett, also for Going My Way. And Lyle Wheeler, Leland Fuller and Thomas Little were nominated for Best Black-and-White Art Direction and Interior Decoration, but lost to Gaslight’s Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari, Paul Huldschinsky and Edwin Willis.

If you’ve never seen Laura, or it’s been a while, do yourself a favor and check it out. Whether you think it’s noir or not, you can’t deny that it’s first-rate filmmaking.

And you only owe it to yourself.

~ by shadowsandsatin on July 30, 2020.

7 Responses to “Fifteen Things You May or May Not Know About Laura (1944)”

  1. You can read about Judith Anderson’s extraordinary career on stage, film and television in my recent biography, Judith Anderson: Australian Star, First Lady of the American Stage.

  2. It was originally gonna be narrated by all three principals. As the novel is. Zanuck had a blind spot about it – was going to end it as a dream. Walter Winchell talked him out of it. Laird Cregar was the embodiment of the Novel’s fat
    flamboyant Waldo. And would’ve been an easy to spot murderer.

    I’m one of the few survivors of the Lee Radizwell ’66 version. Adapted by mini Waldo Truman Capote. Don’t remember anything except how awful she was. No commercial copies exist.

  3. Indeed. Dana Andrews in the rain says “noir” to me.

    I did not know about Laird Cregar. He would have embodied Waldo from the novel beautifully. Although, after all these years I have learned easily to adore Webb’s pithy delivery.

    It would be interesting to find out what Mamoulian had planned that Preminger changed.

    • I think the person was right who determined that you’d immediately know that Laird Cregar was the killer, just by looking at him! Still, it would’ve been interesting to see him in the role, and he certainly was closer to Caspary’s description.

  4. Fantastic post! “Laura” is one of those essential Noirs that I watch a couple of times each year. Thank you for including the behind the scenes on set photo-those are always interesting to see.
    Living in L.A., I’m lucky enough to have the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nearby. Perhaps when it’s deemed safe after COVID-19 calms down out here, I can look at the Library’s production file on “Laura” and see if any of the Mamoulian details are available.
    Thanks again!

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