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Laura ()

Like most, I first became familiar with Laura via the classic remake, Sharky's Machine... Only kidding. Though it is a good example of how influential the original was, not just in establishing the seriousness and tropes of film noir but in successors like Vertigo, which depend on a hero falling in love with a dead woman or trying to make a living woman into someone imaginary. Otto Preminger's film version is so good that Vera Caspary's original text is largely unread. [For a great discussion of the film, check out this podcast with Titus Techera and Terry Teachout.] Indeed, the version of the novel I'm holding is a 1970 Classic Crime Collection version from Avon paperbacks. And it first ran as a seven-part serial in Colliers magazine, from October to November 1942 as a seven-part serial: Ring Twice for Laura, which is impossible to find for obvious reasons.

It did experience something of a revival though, after being included in the Library of America's Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s and there's an entertaining phenomenon on-line where Ms Caspary's novel is elevated above the film mostly for reasons of politics and political correctness. She was both a Communist fellow-traveler and a feminist and she famously quarreled with Preminger about the portrayal of Laura, so her own political compatriots naturally take her side.

But the reality is that, while the novel is quite good, it does not achieve the greatness of the film, which was pretty loyal to her story. For one thing, it is somewhat marred by its episodic original form. Succeeding sections are: first narrated by Laura's mentor, Waldo Lydecker; then by Detective Mark McPherson; followed by a deposition from Laura's fiance, Shelby Carpenter; then taken over by Laura herself; before McPherson gets the last word. If the Laura of the written work is mildly more interesting than Gene Tierney, she can hardly convey the beauty that is so central to the love/lust that she inspires in the three males. Meanwhile, Clifton Webb as Lydecker is one of the great roles in moviedom and Vincent Price had perhaps his greatest part as the charming but caddish Shelby. And Dana Andrews as McPherson masterfully captured the transition of an essentially wooden hero into a lover besotted with a woman he never met far better than does the novel.

In the end, what we have is a good enough read that birthed one of the great movies ever. The author deserves credit, but not more than the director and his brilliant cast.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Vera Casparay Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Vera Caspary
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Vera Caspary (1899–1987) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Laura (1944) (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Vera Caspary (Playbill)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Laura (novel)
    -BIO: VERA CASPARY 1899 – 1987 (Ann Kneavel, Jewish Women's Archive)
    -BIO: Vera Caspary (Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, Library of America)
    -BIO: CASPARY, VERA (The Broadcast 41)
    -ESSAY: My "Laura" and Otto's Laura (Vera Caspary, 6/26/71, The Saturday Review)
    -PODCAST: Terry Teachout on Laura (Titus Techera, ACF Movie podcast)
    -ESSAY: Sara Paretsky on Vera Caspary’s Laura (Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, Library of America)
    -OBIT: Vera Caspary (NY Times, 6/17/87)
    -ESSAY: Laura and the Art of Writing for a Second Reading (Grant Tracey, December 21, 2019, North American Review)
    -INTERVIEW: The grandmothers of "Gone Girl" : Mystery maven Sarah Weinman discusses the unjustly forgotten queens of domestic suspense and their modern-day heirs (LAURA MILLER, AUGUST 16, 2013, Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: Women in Crime: An Interview with Sarah Weinman (Cullen Gallagher October 19, 2015, Paris Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Dormant Superheroines (Steph Cha interviews Sarah Weinman, OCTOBER 10, 2015, LA Review of Books)
-REVIEW: of Laura by Vera Caspary (Emma Hagestadt, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Oline Cogdill, Mystery Scene)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (The Complete Review)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Patrick Anderson, washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Marcia Muller, 1001 MIDNIGHTS )
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Prety Sinister Books)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Bitter Tea and Mystery)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Tony's Book World)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Edge of the Precipice)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (The Invisible Event)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Dead Yesterday)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Rohan Maitzen, Novel Readings)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (His Futile Preoccupations)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (MJ Rose, HuffPo)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Diana Powell, Venetian Vase)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Jim Napier, deadly Diversions)
    -REVIEW: of WOMEN CRIME WRITERS: Eight Crime Novels of the 1940s & 1950s (dennis Drabelle, washington Post)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Laura (1944) (IMDB)
    -ESSAY: The Making of Laura (LA Daily Mirror)
    -FILM REVIEW: Laura (Arun Kumar, High on Films)
    -FILM REVIEW: Laura (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Laura (The Noir Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: Laura (NY Times, Oct. 12, 1944)
    -FILM REVIEW: Laura (Matt Thrift, Little White Lies)
    -FILM REVIEW: Laura (AMC Filmsite)
    -REVIEW: of Laura (Matthew Sorrento, Senses of Cinema)
    -REVIEW: Laura (Pop Matters)
    -REVIEW: Laura (Nick Schager, Slant)
    -REVIEW: Laura (Douglas Messerli, International FCinema Review)
    -PLAY REVIEW: Laura (Neal Weaver, backstage)
    -PLAY REVIEW: Laura (M.E. Warren, LA Times)
    -PLAY REVIEW: Laura (LA Times)
    -PLAY REVIEW: Laura (Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN)

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