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Laura (1944) Poster

(1944)

Trivia

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Vincent Price always considered this to be the best film he ever made.
Twice in the movie, Waldo Lydecker mentions how Mark McPherson got a silver shinbone, likely a steel pin, from a shootout with a gangster. The movie was made during World War II, and this is likely a subtle way of explaining why a healthy young man like McPherson wasn't in the service. He would likely have been rejected for military service because of the metal pin.
Clifton Webb 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 Mohandas K. Gandhi. 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 theatre."
Darryl F. Zanuck was opposed to casting Clifton Webb because of Webb's well-known (in Hollywood) homosexuality, but producer/director Otto Preminger prevailed and the 54-year-old Webb, making his first screen appearance since 1925, was nominated for an Oscar.
This film was intended to be narrated by Waldo, then Mark, then Laura, respectively. Mark's and Laura's narratives were later dropped.
Despite the Oscar snub of the score, David 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 portrait of Laura is, in fact, a photograph done over with oil paint.
This movie is famous for the haunting "Laura Theme". When asked why she had turned down the part of Laura, Hedy Lamarr said, "They sent me the script, not the score."
The first cut of the film included a sequence in which Vincent Price sings a song and accompanies himself on the piano. Twentieth Century-Fox's PR department planted stories declaring that Price (who sang with the Yale Glee Club and had a song in The House of the Seven Gables (1940)) would become the next Perry Como. The number was cut, however, and Price's singing "career" never happened.
According to Vincent Price's daughter Victoria, Price once asked Otto Preminger why he thought he was able to do a better job on the film than Rouben Mamoulian. "Rouben only knows nice people," replied Preminger, "I understand the characters in 'Laura'. They're all heels, just like my friends."
The portrait of Gene Tierney as Laura appeared in On the Riviera (1951) (in color) co-starring Danny Kaye, then later in Woman's World (1954) starring Clifton Webb, the frustrated Waldo Lydecker of "Laura". In "Woman's World" the painting hung on a wall amid portraits of several other women who were supposed to have been former romantic interests of Webb's character.
With two weeks worth of work having to be scrapped, Otto Preminger began his directing job with a purposeful vengeance. He threw out everything Rouben Mamoulian had done including the costumes, sets and even the cinematographer. In addition, the original portrait of Laura painted by Mamoulian's wife was tossed out.
According to his daughter Victoria, Vincent 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."
A June 19, 1990, "Hollywood Reporter" news item reports that two minutes of footage that had been cut from the film were restored when it 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."
Ranked #4 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Mystery" in June 2008.
According to Otto 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.
The haunting theme melody was inspired by a "Dear David" letter that composer David Raksin received from his wife. The lyrics were added later by Johnny Mercer. Otto Preminger is on record as saying he disliked the lyrics.
Artist Azadia Newman, Rouben 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, Otto 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."
Gene Tierney didn't give herself much credit for its success: "I never felt my own performance was much more than adequate. 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."
The famous theme song David Raksin wrote for the film was originally entitled "Judy" in honor of Judy Garland.
The character of Waldo Lydecker appears to be based on the columnist, broadcaster and "New Yorker" theater critic Alexander Woollcott, a famous wit who, like Waldo, was fascinated by murder. Woollcott always dined at the Algonquin Hotel, where Laura first approaches Waldo.
The film was begun by Rouben Mamoulian, but Otto Preminger, who initiated the project as producer and took over the direction, brought on a new cameraman and scrapped all of Mamoulian's footage.
Gene Tierney originally did not want to make this film but did it anyway under contract obligations.
Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck wanted Jennifer Jones for the role of Laura, Laird Cregar for Waldo Lydecker and John Hodiak for Mark McPherson. However, Otto Preminger insisted on casting Gene Tierney for Laura, Clifton Webb for Waldo Lydecker and Dana Andrews for Mark McPherson.
According to Gene Tierney, Otto Preminger was a harsh taskmaster. "I was on the set before the sun came up and tumbled home at eight or nine in the evening. He was simply tireless. When the rest of the cast seemed ready to drop from exhaustion, Otto would still muster as much vigor as when the day began."
Stars Gene Tierney, Judith Anderson, Dana Andrews and Vincent Price all died within three years of each other.
Vera Caspary's novel "Laura" falls into five sections and five separate voices, telling its story from the viewpoint of each of its principal characters. It was too cumbersome a structure for a 1940s mystery, so the script (by Jay Dratler and others) simplifies and concentrates the narrative for director Otto Preminger to play with.
When Otto 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 [Rouben Mamoulian], influenced perhaps by association [by] the Medea role for which she was famous, had dressed her in something flowing and Grecian. 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 air-mailed to Darryl F. 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 Rouben 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, Darryl F. Zanuck decided to remove Rouben Mamoulian from the film altogether. Finally the words that Otto 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."
Throughout the shoot the cast got along famously, and they all respected Otto Preminger's judgement. "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." Clifton Webb agreed. "I found [Preminger] a most sympathetic director," he said, "having had his own theatre in Vienna and having been an actor himself, he knew what a stage person could go through."
Fox asked celebrated songwriter Johnny Mercer to write lyrics to go with "Laura"'s theme, and he happily obliged. It also was a smash hit, becoming an instant standard, recorded over the years by countless artists including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
One of the film's most durable legacies was its theme song "Laura," composed over one weekend by David Raksin. Otto Preminger had originally wanted to use Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady." According to Preminger biographer Gerald Pratley, Preminger tried to get the rights to George Gershwin's "Summertime" but was unable to.
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.
According to Gene Tierney, the cast also had to endure hours of delays so that everything would be exactly as Otto Preminger wanted it. "Joe [cinematographer Joseph LaShelle] was determined to make a success of his big opportunity. 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 recalled grueling conditions shooting with Otto Preminger: "'Laura' took ten weeks to make 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."
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In his autobiography, Otto Preminger related how he re-established 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 Kidnapped (1938). Their bitter feud damaged Preminger's Hollywood career, and he did not make another film until 1943, when Fox executive William Goetz, who was running the studio during Zanuck's military service, allowed him to direct Margin for Error (1943). 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."
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Otto Preminger, seeing Clifton Webb perform the role of "Charles" in Los Angeles' Biltmore Theatre with the New York touring stage production "Blithe Spirit", cast Webb as Waldo Lydecker, replacing Laird Cregar. On 9 December 1944 Cregar died at the age of 31.
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Vincent Price was to sing "You'll Never Know" in a party scene, but the song was not included in the released film.
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Monty Woolley was the original choice to play the role of Waldo Lydecker and had signed on for the film until Clifton Webb replaced him early in 1944. The original decision to cast Woolley lends credence to the rumors that Lydecker was based on the famed critic Alexander Woollcott. Woolley had previously played Woollcott, and characters based on Woollcott, on both stage and film.
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With Johnny Mercer's poignant lyrics, David Raksin's "Laura" theme was the basis for notable recordings made in 1945 by Woody Herman and His Orchestra (vocal by Woody) on Columbia, Dick Haymes on Decca, Johnny Johnston on Capitol, and in 1947 by Frank Sinatra on Columbia.
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 October-28 November 1942), under the title "Ring Twice for Laura." In a 1971 article in Saturday Review (of Literature), 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 June 26, 1947. Preminger first worked on the screenplay with Jay Dratler, then brought in the team of poet Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt.
Rosalind Russell was offered the role of Laura, but felt it was too small and turned it down.
There was tension immediately between Otto Preminger and Rouben Mamoulian. "Mamoulian could read Hollywood politics as astutely as anyone in the business," said Preminger in his 1977 autobiography "Preminger", "and was aware that [Fox chief Darryl F. 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 F. Zanuck was in New York and not able to keep a close eye on the film's progress.
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David Raksin ended up scoring the film only after Alfred Newman determined he did not have time to score it, and Bernard Herrmann subsequently turned the project down.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Inspired by a Dear John letter he had once received from a girlfriend, Raksin wrote the haunting theme for which Johnny Mercer later wrote lyrics. It eventually became a jazz standard recorded by more than four hundred artists, including Stan Kenton, Dick Haymes, Woody Herman, Nat King Cole, The Four Freshmen, Charlie Parker, and Frank Sinatra.
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Darryl F. Zanuck and Rouben Mamoulian originally wanted Twentieth Century-Fox contract player Laird Cregar for the role of Waldo Lydecker, but Otto Preminger argued that Cregar was too well known as a heavy and would give away the plot.
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An August 3, 1943, "Los Angeles Times" 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.
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"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60-minute radio adaptation of the movie on February 5, 1945, with Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Vincent Price reprising their film roles. Lux broadcast it a second time on February 1, 1954, with Tierney reprising her film role and Victor Mature substituted for Andrews.
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George Gershwin's "Summertime," from the opera "Porgy and Bess", and Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" were Otto Preminger's early choices for the film's theme song. Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was also considered.
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According to Otto Preminger, Walter Lang and Lewis Milestone turned down offers to direct, citing a lack of enthusiasm for the script.
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Co-stars Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb have the same birthday.
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Darryl F. Zanuck was unhappy with Preminger's first cut of the film and insisted a new ending, in which it was revealed Lydecker had imagined the entire story. Following a screening of the Zanuck version, columnist Walter Winchell approached the studio head and told him, "I didn't get [the ending]. You've got to change it." Zanuck relented and allowed Preminger to reinstate his original finale, telling him, "This is your success. I concede."
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The original choice for the role of Laura was Jennifer Jones, who turned it down
"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a 30-minute radio adaptation of the movie on August 20, 1945, and February 23, 1950, with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb reprising their film roles.
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Original cinematographer Lucien Ballard was fired and replaced by Joseph LaShelle.
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Marlene Dietrich expressed interest in portraying the title character.
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According to Otto Preminger's autobiography, Darryl F. Zanuck originally wanted John Hodiak for the role of detective Mark McPherson.
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A February 24, 1944, "Hollywood Reporter" news item named Irving Cummings as director.
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Film debut (uncredited, as a secretary) of Jane Nigh.
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Laura's portrait is an enlarged photograph (taken by Fox photographer Frank Polony) of Tierney, lightly dabbed with oils for the purpose of the ethereal effect Preminger wanted.
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The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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John Brahm was asked to direct the film but declined.
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Twentieth Century-Fox negotiated with George Raft to play Mark McPherson.
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

In Otto Preminger's ending, Laura finds the gun hidden in her clock and, realizing Waldo was the murderer, hides it in her storage room. She then goes over to his apartment to urge him to flee. Although he promises to do so, he finally decides to go to her apartment instead, to kill her, in a state of apparent madness. Mark intervenes, saving Laura, and Waldo is arrested. Although this ending was shot, Darryl F. Zanuck disliked it a lot. So another ending was written under Zanuck and this was the one that was finally used in the film. However, this ending originally had a scene where Laura tells Mark that Waldo's account of their first meeting was a figment of his imagination, and that the two of them had actually met when he saw her at night court and paid her fine after she was wrongly picked up for vagrancy, having being evicted from her room, unable to find a job in New York. When Zanuck showed the film to his friend Walter Winchell in the projection room, Winchell disliked this scene and suggested Zanuck cut it. He did.
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. 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."

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