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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Trouble With Laura, April 3, 2011
This review is from: Laura: Play in Three Acts (Paperback)
Vera Caspary (1899-1987) struggled to make a living by writing "how to" pamphlets, magazine articles, and the occasional novel that didn't sell well enough--but in 1933 she went to Hollywood, where she slowly but surely emerged as a noted screenwriter. At the same time she continued to work on her own novels, and in 1941 she completed her best known work, LAURA. Although it ran as a serial in a magazine, the book was not an immediate success--but Caspary, working with George Sklar, adapted it to a stage play that had directors stumbling over themselves to get the rights. Unfortunately, producers were far less interested, and Caspary, frustrated, sold the film rights to the novel to 20th Century Fox. The 1944 project was directed by Otto Preminger and starred Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, and Judith Anderson. It is generally considered one of the great suspense films of that decade, and has been preserved by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

And then there is the original book and the play. The book has fallen in and out of print over the years; at present it is print again, most readily available in an omnibus with two other Caspary novels, BEDELIA and EVVIE. The play eventually received a 1947 performance with K.T. Stevens, Otto Kruger, and Hugh Marlowe--but it was not a success, running a mere 44 performances. Reviews of that production are hard to come by, but it seems likely that the play, which so many directors had wanted five years earlier, had now been completely eclipsed by the the film, which told the story to considerably greater effect. And there is a significant problem with LAURA. It has several gimmicks, and they are better supported by film than by the stage.

The basic story concerns a police detective's investigation into the murder of a popular and beautiful career woman, Laura Hunt, who was found five days ago on the floor of her apartment, her face blown off with a sawed-off shotgun. A number of suspects emerge: Waldo Lydecker, an acid-tongued writer who may or may not have been Laura's lover; Shelby Carpenter, a southern-accented gentleman who may or may not be a con-man and claims to be Laura's fiancee; and Danny Dorgan, a young man who lives down stairs and is secretly in love with Laura. In Caspary's original novel, and in the film based on it, the story was told from multiple points of view as people recalled Laura. This is not an effect the play attempts to duplicate, and more's the pity, for the result is more akin to a standard drawing room drama than the mysterious, seductive quality created in novel and film.

Even so, the big trick in LAURA is that Laura is not dead at all: she has apparently loaned her apartment to a friend, and it is her friend's body that was discovered and mistaken for her own while Laura herself was at her country house without radio or newspaper and completely unaware of the murder--so she says. But it now transpires that, while Waldo, Shelby, and Danny might have had motive to murder Laura and killed the other woman by accident, Laura might have motive to kill the other woman by design. And police detective Mark McPherson, who has fallen in love with Laura, finds himself in the awkward position of having her become the leading suspect in the murder case.

There are several problems with this stage production, and the biggest one is that the film looms so large it creates certain expectations, many of which--most particularly the multiple narratives--aren't in the script. The film's music was singular, and set the tone for the film, and does not occur in the play, which relies on blues and jazz. The character of Ann Treadwell, so memorably played by Judith Anderson, doesn't occur in the play, and the role of Danny, which doesn't occur in the film, is a poor substitute. The actress playing Laura has to be a drop-dead beauty, and her portrait must equal her beauty, for it is through the portrait that McPherson first falls in love with Laura. And so on. When all is said and done, the play LAURA is a well-written 1940s melodrama--but it falls in the film's shadow. What actress could be as beautiful as Gene Tierney? Who could play Waldo Lydecker better than Clifton Webb or Shelby Carpenter better than Vincent Price? What music could be more seductive than the legendary song that haunts the movie's every scene? There's no comparison at all.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 2, 2015 5:55:40 AM PST
Tab says:
You could have said SPOILER in your review title!!!!!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2015 7:04:47 AM PST
You must not get out much, dear. Everybody already knows it.


Posted on Feb 9, 2015 7:54:12 PM PST
I don't think everyone knows it, Gary. I've seen the movie, and I'd forgotten. I was just scanning the review, not reading it, to avoid any spoilers and I saw it anyway, and I feel pretty disgruntled. I think there should be a spoiler alert.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 10, 2015 1:08:44 PM PST
You've seen the movie but you don't remember the point of the movie? Okay.

Posted on Jul 26, 2015 5:27:31 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 26, 2015 6:02:29 PM PDT
Arual says:
Gary, not everyone "gets out much." I am one who did not see the movie or play, and did not know the twist in the story - until now. Thanks a lot. Would you PLEASE edit your review with a spoiler warning for future potential readers? I might have enjoyed this book, but I'll never know, will I? - since I won't be reading it now.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 27, 2015 2:49:11 PM PDT
I find it very hard to believe that anyone who has not seen the film or read the novel will go out of their way to find and read a very obscure playscript that has never had a successful performance.
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Review Details



Gary F. Taylor "GFT"

Location: Biloxi, MS USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 257