Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), een succesvolle carrièrevrouw en protegé van de cynische Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), wordt kort voor haar huwelijk met de jonge playboy Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) op gruwelijke wijze vermoord in haar appartement. Rechercheur Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) wordt belast met het moordonderzoek en raakt volledig geobsedeerd door het “aantrekkelijke” slachtoffer en de cultus rondom haar persoon en dood. De zoektocht naar de dader wordt hierdoor ernstig gecompromitteerd.
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 Vera Caspary’s novel “Laura”. 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.”
So Laura was originally to be filmed by Rouben Mamoulian. When Otto Preminger had a chance to look at the first batch of dailies that came back, he was aghast. “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. Zanuck agreed that it was a mess and ordered Rouben Mamoulian to shoot everything over again. When the second set of dailies proved to be just as bad as the first, if not worse, Zanuck decided to remove Rouben Mamoulian from the film altogether.
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 Lucien Ballard (replaced by Joseph LaShelle). In addition, the original portrait of Laura painted by Mamoulian’s wife Azadia Newman was tossed out and replaced by a photograph (taken by Fox photographer Frank Polony) done over with oil paint.
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.”
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, although he looked as gay as anyone could be in a role that was clearly meant to be for a heterosexual. On the other hand, 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.”
Vincent Price always considered this to be the best film he ever made. 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.” Gene Tierney, however, who originally did not want to make this film but did it anyway under contract obligations, 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.”
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. In fact, this movie is so famous for the haunting “Laura’s Theme” that, when asked why she had turned down the part of Laura, Hedy Lamarr said, “They sent me the script, not the score.” 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 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. Otto Preminger, however, is on record as saying he disliked the lyrics. Otto Preminger had originally wanted to use Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”, Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” or George Gershwin’s “Summertime” but was unable to.
The first cut of the film included a sequence in which Vincent Price sings “You’ll never know” 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) would become the next Perry Como. The number was cut, however, and Price’s singing “career” never happened. (Internet Movie Database)
In “Twin Peaks” van David Lynch zitten nogal wat verwijzingen in naar “Laura”. Uiteraard de naam van het hoofdpersonage (Laura Palmer), maar ook het feit dat ze een dagboek bijhield, dat de sleutel bevat om de identiteit van de moordenaar te ontraadselen. Bovendien heet het personage van Clifton Webb in de film van Preminger Waldo Lydecker en men herinnert zich nog wel dat een vogel die Waldo heet een belangrijke rol speelt bij de ontknoping. Deze vogel wordt verzorgd door een dierenarts met de naam… Dr.Lydecker.