This book by Hollywood historian Rudy Behlmer goes behind the scenes on the making of a group of Hollywood classics,using studio archives where possible, and oral histories recorded by the American Film Institute, the Directors Guild of America and the University of California at Los Angeles.
If like me you want to know anything and everything about a favorite movie, Mr Behlmer’s book is a must read.
I’ve chosen LAURA to show the fascinating detail in each chapter..
A full list of films is at the end of my review.
The origin of LAURA is the novel by Vera Caspary published in 1943. It had been serialised in Collier’s magazine in 1942 as “Ring Twice For Laura”.
Rudy Behlmer interviewed Ms Caspary who explained she originally wrote her story as a play.Otto Preminger wanted to produce the play on Broadway. Preminger would later say, “The gimmick – a girl you thought was dead automatically becomes a murder suspect by walking into her own apartment.”
Vera Caspary said Marlene Dietrich expressed interest in playing Laura on film. Vera said, “It seemed odd casting, but dazzled by Marlene in blue jeans and quantities of perfume,I decided that with certain adjustments,the idea was not impossible.”
A pre-Broadway tour was discussed with Marlene,but Vera decided to offer Laura as a movie.
Only two studios showed even faint interest – MGM,with plans for a B mystery.And Fox. Preminger had recently signed with Fox and convinced them to buy the book in 1943 for $30,000.
Caspary and her collaborator George Sklar retained play rights.
(It was produced in 1947 with Otto Kruger as Waldo,K.T.Stevens as Laura and Hugh Marlowe as Mark.)
Darryl Zanuck wasted no time in commenting on the first screen draft by Jay Dratler: “All of the people,Mark included,should seem as if they stepped out of The Maltese Falcon – everyone a distinct,different personality.”
Ring Lardner did a re-write and Rouben Mamoulian was assigned to direct. Mamoulian liked to rehearse with the actors for a week or two before the start of shooting. But tension between Mamoulian and Preminger seem to have led to Mamoulian resigning and Preminger taking over as director.
Zanuck seemed to see Reginald Gardiner as Shelby and said: “Shelby would have to be re-written slightly to fit Reginald Gardiner – I am sure Reggie will give it a splendid flavour.” In any event, Vincent Price was cast and there is a picture of a rare deleted scene showing Vincent at a piano, singing ‘You’ll Never Know’ !
Gene Tierney was cast in the central role, but later wasn’t enthusiastic about her part – “Who wants to play a painting.”
Preminger had a photographic portrait of Gene Tierney shot by Fox still photographer,Frank Polony. It was enlarged and painted over to make it appear like an original painting.
One important plot element which wasn’t in the novel was the sawn-off shotgun hidden in the antique clock in Laura’s apartment.
Preminger wanted Fox’s top composer Alfred Newman to do the score. When Newman refused, Bernard Hermann was approached but also declined.
Then David Raksin was assigned.Preminger wanted to use, first Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ ,then Duke Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady’ as the theme. But in the end, Raksin composed that haunting theme we know today. He said: “The melody is about love,specifically about that yearning particular to unrequited love.”
When the film was released, the studio received so much mail about the music that Johnny Mercer was engaged to write lyrics to the music. The song went to No.1 on the Hit Parade and was a phenomenal record seller.
Another composer,Elmer Bernstein said: “The film portrayed a man falling in love with a ghost….the detective could not escape the haunting melody. We may not remember what Laura was like,but we never forget that she WAS the music.”
There’s lots more on LAURA in this excellent book, plus the same amount of detail on – FRANKENSTEIN, LOST HORIZON,SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS,THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD,,GUNGA DIN,STAGECOACH,THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA, ALL ABOUT EVE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE,THE AFRICAN QUEEN,SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN,HIGH NOON.
That first shot of Clifton Webb as he,so innocently, describes how he first met Laura.
Waldo Lydecker first encounters the young Laura.
A shot showing Dana Andrews as Mark engrossed in that little game he keeps playing.