On Sunday, April 26th, at 6:30 PM, we will be screening Laura, directed by Otto Preminger and based on the novel by Vera Caspary, as part of our Double Feature film series. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.
– Post by Molly
Laura, first published in 1942, was Vera Caspary’s breakthrough novel. She turned the novel into a play, which was then adapted into a hit 1944 film, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb (in his first appearance in a film since the silent era) and a young, handsome Vincent Price. Many today have seen the film; fewer have read Caspary’s fascinating novel, reprinted by The Feminist Press in 2005 as part of their stellar Femmes Fatales imprint. The film and book, despite their gap in fame, are equally fascinating in their context and themes.
Laura begins, like many a detective novel, with the murder of a woman. Laura Hunt is found dead in her apartment, shot in the face with buckshot, with her portrait looming large above her. Detective Mark McPherson is assigned the case after his antagonistic boss decides to keep the young detective from going to the ballgame (just one example of Caspary’s acerbic wit and care for detail) and as he enters Laura Hunt’s world, his admiration for the murdered woman grows in proportion to his disappointment in virtually all of her companions, male or female.
Laura, in her life, was surrounded by a host of characters who alternated between worshiping her, controlling her, using her, and deceiving her. From Laura’s aunt, a faded beauty with designs on Laura’s fiance, to Laura’s best friend, a cynical society columnist who, before her death, destroyed each of her relationships with cutting remarks, to Laura’s gold digging fiance, a penniless Southern aristocrat who uses his good looks to gain Laura’s financial support while looking for a bit on the side – all combine an obsessive love for Laura with the need to exploit her talents and charm. Added to this host of callous, covetous characters, the policeman himself develops a growing interest in in the victim that gets in the way of his ability to solve the case.
I can’t get too much further into the plot – the book and film both have enough surprises that all I can provide is the basic set-up, but trust me, this film and book both have enough subtle nods at taboo topics to make for great between-the-lines reading. The film and book represent a variety of attitudes towards gender, sexuality, class and work. Sometimes, the story reads like a hardboiled version of a 19th century novel in its scathing critique of the Gilded Age upper classes.
The differences between the film and book are subtle, yet worthy of discussion.The story remains basically the same, with the usual shrinking of narrative time in a book-to-film adaptation and more differences introduced in the portrayal of characters than in the plot itself. There’s a rumor that a remake of the film may be in the works, and it would certainly be fascinating to see Laura adapted in post-code Hollywood for modern sensibilities. In the meantime, come watch this classic noir with us – we screen the film on Sunday, April 26th, at 6:30 PM on our third floor.
Copies of Caspary’s novel are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. We screen Laura on Sunday, April 26th, at 6:30 PM on our third floor. The screening is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a discussion of the book and film in contrast.