AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Laura
Director: Otto Preminger (Dir)
Release Date:   Nov 1944
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 11 Oct 1944; Los Angeles opening: 16 Nov 1944
Production Date:   27 Apr--late Jun 1944
Duration (in mins):   87-88
Duration (in feet):   7,954
Duration (in reels):   8
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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)  
    James Flavin (McAvity)  
    Clyde Fillmore (Bullitt)  
    Ralph Dunn (Fred Callahan)  
    Grant Mitchell (Corey)  
    Kathleen Howard (Louise)  
    Lee Tung Foo (Servant)  
    Cy Kendall (Inspector)  
    Harold Schlickenmayer (Detective)  
    Harry Strang (Detective)  
    Lane Chandler (Detective)  
    Frank La Rue (Hairdresser)  
    Buster Miles (Office boy)  
    Jane Nigh (Secretary)  
    John Dexter (Jacoby)  
    Alexander Sacha    
    Dorothy Christy    
    Aileen Pringle    
    Terry Adams    
    Jean Fenwick    
    Yolanda Lacca    
    Forbes Murray    
    Cyril Ring    
    Nestor Eristoff    
    Kay Linaker    
    Cara Williams    
    Gloria Marlen    
    Beatrice Gray    
    Kay Connors    
    Frances Gladwin    
    William Forrest    

Summary: While investigating the brutal murder of Laura Hunt, New York police lieutenant Mark McPherson calls on erudite columnist Waldo Lydecker, a close friend of the dead woman. Waldo knows of Mark from his heroic battles with gangsters, and Mark points out that Waldo once wrote a story about a murder committed with a shotgun loaded with buckshot--the very way that Laura was killed. Claiming to be intrigued by crime, Waldo asks to accompany Mark on his investigation, and the two men call on Laura's aunt, the wealthy Ann Treadwell. Mark inquires about Ann's relationship with Laura's fiancĂ©, Shelby Carpenter, citing evidence that she has been giving him money. Just then, Shelby, a charming Southerner, arrives and says that he and Laura were to have been married that week, but Waldo insists that when Laura canceled their dinner date on the night of the murder, she had not yet decided whether to go through with the wedding. Shelby accompanies Mark and Waldo to Laura's apartment, where the murder occurred, and after Shelby reluctantly hands over the key to Laura's country home, Waldo accuses him of the murder. Later, Waldo takes Mark to a restaurant and recalls how he met Laura five years earlier: Waldo is dining alone at the Algonquin when he is approached by Laura, an eager young employee of an advertising agency. Laura asks Waldo to endorse a pen for her company, and is hurt and disillusioned when he rudely dismisses her. Unable to get her out of his mind, Waldo later goes to see Laura at the agency, where he apologizes and agrees to the endorsement. They become friends, and under Waldo's tutelage, Laura rises in her profession and society. Although their relationship is platonic, Waldo is jealous of her suitors, and uses both his column and his influence over her to keep any rivals for her affections at bay. One night, at one of Ann's parties, Laura meets Shelby, who confesses that his family has been bankrupt for years. Laura gives him a job at the advertising agency, and they soon become romantically involved. Waldo has Shelby investigated and informs Laura that her fiancĂ© is seeing a model, Diane Redfern. Laura is furious at Waldo's interference and dismisses the accusations until he produces a gold cigarette case that she gave Shelby, saying he retrieved it after Diane pawned it. Back in the restaurant, Waldo tells Mark that Laura had lunch with Diane the day of her death, and had planned to go to her country home for a few days. The following night, Mark, who is growing obsessed with Laura, returns to the apartment and continues searching through her personal effects. Waldo stops in and says he knows Mark has secretly put in a bid for Laura's portrait, and chides him for falling in love with a corpse. After Waldo leaves, Mark falls asleep under the portrait. He awakens to the sound of someone entering the room, and looks up to see Laura standing before him. Laura, who has been isolated in the country, is stunned when Mark shows her a newspaper story about her "murder." Laura then discovers one of Diane's dresses in her closet, and Mark concludes that the murder victim, whose face was damaged beyond recognition, was actually Diane. Mark questions Laura, brightening when she says she had decided not to marry Shelby, and instructs her not to leave the apartment or use the phone. As soon as Mark leaves, however, Laura calls Shelby, unaware that the police have tapped her phone. Shelby and Laura meet briefly, and Mark follows Shelby to Laura's country home, where he finds him removing a shotgun from a rack. Shelby claims that he had brought Diane to Laura's apartment to talk, but when Diane answered the door and was shot to death, he panicked and fled. Later, at a party to celebrate her return, Laura asks Shelby why he went to the cottage, and when he replies that he went to hide the shotgun, she realizes with horror that Shelby believes she is the murderer. Mark takes Laura into custody in front of her guests, but after questioning her at the police station, is convinced of her innocence. After taking Laura home, Mark searches Waldo's house and discovers a hollow compartment in his grandfather clock. He then goes to Laura's apartment and announces that her gun was not the one used in the murder. Resentful of the growing bond between Laura and the handsome detective, Waldo insults Mark, and Laura coolly sends her old friend away. Mark examines Laura's clock, which is a duplicate of the one in Waldo's home, and finds a shotgun hidden inside. He tells Laura that Waldo killed Diane, thinking it was Laura, and hid the gun in the clock after Shelby ran out. After kissing Laura goodnight, Mark locks her in and leaves, and Laura prepares for bed, unaware that Waldo has come back into the apartment through the service entrance. Waldo enters Laura's room and is about to shoot her when Mark and his men break in. Waldo is shot by the police and dies with Laura's name on his lips. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Otto Preminger (Dir)
  Tom Dudley (Asst dir)
  Bob Saunders (Asst dir)
Producer: Otto Preminger (Prod)
Writer: Jay Dratler (Scr)
  Samuel Hoffenstein (Scr)
  Betty Reinhardt (Scr)
Photography: Joseph La Shelle (Dir of photog)
  Lucien Ballard (Dir of photog)
  Lloyd Ahern (2d cam)
  Frank Polony (Stills)
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler (Art dir)
  Leland Fuller (Art dir)
Film Editor: Louis Loeffler (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
  Paul S. Fox (Assoc)
Costumes: Bonnie Cashin (Cost)
Music: David Raksin (Mus)
  Emil Newman (Mus dir)
Sound: E. Clayton Ward (Sd)
  Harry M. Leonard (Sd)
  Murray Spivack (Mus mixer)
  Vinton Vernon (Mus mixer)
Special Effects: Fred Sersen (Spec photog eff)
  Edwin Hammeras (Transparency projection shots)
  Edward Snyder (Transparency projection shots)
Make Up: Guy Pearce (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Frances Richardson (Research dir)
  Ruth Fox (Research asst)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel Laura by Vera Caspary (Boston, 1943).
Authors: Vera Caspary

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 11/10/1944 dd/mm/yyyy LP13194

PCA NO: 10088
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

 
Genre: Film noir
 
Subjects (Major): Columnists
  Investigations
  Jealousy
  Murder
  Police detectives
  Romantic obsession
 
Subjects (Minor): Advertising
  Apartments
  Cigarette cases
  Clocks
  Cottages
  Engagements
  Firearms
  Infidelity
  Maids
  Mistaken identity
  Models
  New York City
  Paintings
  Product endorsement
  Wire-tapping

Note: The film opens with a voice-over narration by Clifton Webb as "Waldo Lydecker." The poem "Vitae Summa Brevis," by Ernest Dowson, is quoted by Waldo later in the film. Vera Caspary first wrote her story as a play, Ring Twice for Lora , in 1939, then adapted the play into a novel entitled Laura . The novel was serialized in Collier's (17 Oct--28 Nov 1942), under the title "Ring Twice for Laura." In a 1971 article in SatRev , Caspary recalls that Otto Preminger read the manuscript of the novel and expressed interest in collaborating with her on a revised version of the play, which he would then produce. They did not agree on the dramatization, however, and Caspary reworked the play with George Sklar in 1942. This stage version opened in London in 1945, and on Broadway on 26 Jun 1947. Preminger first worked on the screenplay with Jay Dratler, then brought in the team of poet Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt.
       In his autobiography, Preminger claims that "Hoffenstein practically created the character of Waldo Lydecker for Clifton Webb." A modern source suggests that Hoffenstein based the character of the acerbic columnist on critic Alexander Woollcott, a fellow member of the Algonquin Round Table. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, writers Ring Lardner, Jr., Jerome Cady, Robert Spencer Carr, George Bricker and Philip Lewis were at various times hired to do script revisions, but the extent of their contribution to the released film has not been determined. However, according to a modern source, a copy of a script given by Preminger to a friend included Cady's name on the top of pages containing the final portions and original ending of the film.
       In his autobiography, Preminger related how he reestablished his relationship with Twentieth Century-Fox when he convinced studio production chief Darryl F. Zanuck to purchase the rights to the novel. Preminger and Zanuck had not spoken since 1937, when Preminger was replaced as the director of the Twentieth Century-Fox film Kidnapped (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.2279). Their bitter feud damaged Preminger's Hollywood career, and he did not make another film until 1943, when Twentieth Century-Fox executive William Goetz, who was running the studio during Zanuck's military service, allowed him to direct Margin for Error (see below). According to Preminger, Zanuck "accused Goetz of treachery" when he returned and told Preminger, "You can produce [ Laura ] but as long as I am at Fox, you will never direct." Finding a director proved difficult, however. In a modern interview, Preminger said that both Walter Lang and Lewis Milestone turned down offers to direct Laura , citing a lack of enthusiasm for the script. In her SatRev article, Caspary claims that John Brahm was asked to direct the film but declined. A 24 Feb 1944 HR news item named Irving Cummings as director.
       Rouben Mamoulian eventually agreed to direct the film. In his autobiography, Preminger recalled that Mamoulian "didn't like the script any more than the others who had turned it down but he had no other jobs in sight and needed the money." Preminger's relationship with Mamoulian was stormy from the start, as the director changed sets and costumes without consulting Preminger, and asked him not to come to the set. Upon viewing the disappointing dailies, Zanuck fired Mamoulian about two weeks into production and made Preminger the director. (Fourteen years later, Preminger would again replace Mamoulian, as director of Samuel Goldwyn's Porgy and Bess .)
       Zanuck and Mamoulian originally wanted Twentieth Century-Fox contract player Laird Cregar for the role of "Waldo Lydecker," but Preminger argued that Cregar was too well known as a heavy and would give away the plot. A 3 Aug 1943 LAT news item reported that Eva Gabor would portray "Laura Hunt," and that George Sanders, John Sutton and Monty Woolley were under consideration for the part of Waldo. According to Preminger's autobiography, Zanuck originally wanted John Hodiak for the role of detective "Mark McPherson," and a 28 Oct 1943 HR news item stated that the studio was negotiating with George Raft for the role.
       Jennifer Jones was cast in the title role, under an agreement with David O. Selznick that called for her to make one picture a year for Twentieth Century-Fox. When Jones failed to report for work on 24 Apr 1944, Twentieth Century-Fox threatened legal action. In a statement published in HR on 3 May 1944, Daniel T. O'Shea, executive director of Selznick Studio, claimed that Twentieth Century-Fox had refused to submit a copy of the script for approval. O'Shea asserted that his studio's contract with Twentieth Century-Fox stipulated that Jones's film assignments be "consistent with her standing" as a recent Academy Award winner for The Song of Bernadette (see below). His statement continued, "Eventually [Twentieth Century-Fox studio executive Joseph M.] Schenck conceded to both Mr. Selznick and myself that the role in Laura was not worthy of Miss Jones' position, and that his studio had not seriously intended that she do it." Twentieth Century-Fox filed suit against Jones, however, and a 14 May 1944 NYT article observed that "for the first time a specific monetary value has been placed on an Academy 'Oscar.' The studio is suing the actress for $613,600, and according to the complaint $500,000 of this represents a loss to the company because the picture is deprived of the services of Miss Jones, 'an Academy Award winner.'" The suit was later settled, and Jones went on to make Cluny Brown for Twentieth Century-Fox in 1946.
       Photographs were shot in the Algonquin Hotel of the table at which Alexander Woollcott had habitually dined, as well as of the headwaiter who served him. These photographs were used to build a replica of the hotel's dining room on the studio lot, for the scene in which "Laura" first encounters "Waldo." Artist Azadia Newman, Mamoulian's wife, was commissioned to paint the portrait of Laura with which the detective becomes entranced, but it was not used in the final film. In his autobiography, Preminger wrote, "When I scrapped Mamoulian's sets, the portrait of Laura went with them." According to Preminger, "portraits rarely photograph well, so I devised a compromise. We had a photograph of Gene Tierney enlarged and smeared with oil paint to soften the outlines. It looked like a painting but was unmistakably Gene Tierney."
       Modern interviews with Preminger, Tierney and composer David Raksin reveal that George Gershwin's "Summertime," from the opera Porgy and Bess , and Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" were Preminger's early choices for the film's theme song. A modern source adds that Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was also considered. Raksin wrote the theme music for Laura , which has since been recorded many times, frequently with lyrics added later by Johnny Mercer. According to modern sources, Raksin took the assignment after both Alfred Newman and Bernard Herrmann declined to compose the score. An 8 May 1944 HR news item reports that Vincent Price was to sing "You'll Never Know" in a party scene, but the song was not included in the released film.
       Laura received an Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Black and White) and was nominated in the following catagories: Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Clifton Webb) and Best Art Direction (Black and White). In both its review and a feature article, NYT referred to Laura as Broadway star Webb's film debut, but he had appeared in several films in the 1920s. A 19 Jun 1990 HR news item reports that two minutes of footage that had been cut from the film were restored when Laura was released on laser disc. In the deleted footage, which was part of the viewed print, Waldo described how he selected Laura's clothing and hairstyle, making her an extension of himself. The news item explains that Twentieth Century-Fox "was worried that declaration would offend World War II soldiers overseas with its depiction of decadent luxury and non-military obsessions happening on the home front."
       Laura was broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on 5 Feb 1945, with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price reprising their screen roles and Otto Kruger replacing Webb, and on 1 Feb 1954, with Tierney, Victor Mature, Joe Kearns and Carleton Young. Laura was adapted twice for television. On 19 Oct 1955, it was broadcast on The 20th Century-Fox Hour on CBS-TV, starring Dana Wynter, George Sanders and Robert Stack. The one-hour telecast was later released in England as a feature film. On 24 Jan 1968, David Susskind produced Laura as an ABC Color Special. The program featured a new adaptation by Truman Capote and starred Sanders, Stack and Lee Bouvier. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   21 Oct 1944.   
Daily Variety   11 Oct 44   p. 3.
Film Daily   17 Oct 44   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jun 43   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Oct 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Feb 44   p. 1, 16
Hollywood Reporter   17 Mar 44   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Apr 44   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   3 May 44   p. 1, 6
Hollywood Reporter   5 May 44   p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter   8 May 44   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   15 May 44   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Jun 44   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Oct 44   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Oct 44   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Jun 1990.   
Los Angeles Times   3 Aug 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   20 May 44   p. 1899.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   14 Oct 44   p. 2138.
New York Times   14 May 1944.   
New York Times   12 Oct 44   p. 24.
Saturday Review   26 Jun 71   pp. 36-37.
Variety   11 Oct 44   p. 12.

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