Het is vandaag al 35 jaar geleden dat de Oostenrijks-Amerikaanse filmregisseur, producer en acteur Otto Ludwig Preminger (foto Allan Warren) is overleden. Hij werd bekend met gestileerde misdaadfilms zoals Laura (1944), Fallen Angel (1945), Anatomy of a Murder (1959) en Angel Face (1952) en maakte in totaal meer dan vijftig langspeelfilms.

De Joodse Otto Preminger werkte oorspronkelijk voor de Oostenrijkse theaterdirecteur Max Reinhardt. Door de nazidreiging vluchtte hij in 1935 naar de Verenigde Staten. Hier werkte hij bij 20th Century Fox als acteur en regisseur.


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 in Laura because of Webb’s well-known (in Hollywood) homosexuality, but producer/director Otto Preminger, seeing the 54-year-old 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.
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. Besides, 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.”
Clifton Webb himself 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 detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), Webb nearly had a heart attack: “When I saw myself sitting in the bathtub looking very much like 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. (…) 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.”
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.”
And 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. 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. (The 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.


In “Carmen Jones” van Otto Preminger uit 1954 is Bizets overbekende opera naar moderne Amerikaanse normen en toestanden vertaald, met een bokser, Husky Miller genaamd, i.p.v. een stierenvechter en met een aanpassing van Bizets muziek aan het zwarte idioom dat soms opvallend dicht in de buurt komt, maar soms ook, b.v. bij een wals, als een tang op een varken slaat. Opera is musical geworden (met lyrics van Oscar Hammerstein), het resultaat is een soort Broadway‑show met een Afro‑Amerikaanse cast met Harry Belafonte als Joe en Dorothy Dandridge als Carmen Jones, straatscènes in Chicago, boksers, soldaten, bloedmooie meiden en natuurlijk veel passie. De filmversie kwam 11 jaar nadat de theaterversie op Broadway een matig succes had gekend. “Carmen Jones” was Premingers tweede Cinemascoopfilm en werkt dan ook een paar keer met breedbeeld en long takes. Bekende songs bleven “Dere’s A Cafe On the Corner”, “Beat out Dat Rhythm On A Drum”, “Dat’s Love” en “Dis Flower” (die “d” i.p.v. “th” dient om het “race effect” meer te beklemtonen).
Dorothy Dandridge kreeg hiervoor een oscarnominatie, maar later zou zij zich zodanig ergeren aan de typecasting, dat ze dus uiteindelijk zelfmoord pleegde met een overdosis drugs. Het was wel gek dat uitgerekend zangeres Whitney Houston haar rol zou vertolken in een biopic. Janet Jackson had reeds foto’s van zich laten publiceren als deze zwarte Carmen, maar het mocht niet baten, zelfs niet na de dood van Houston door verdrinking, mogelijk na een hartaanval te wijten aan een medisch probleem en… het gebruik van drugs.
Eén van de problemen van Dandridge was dat ze niet kon zingen en toch steeds in musicals werd gecast, waarbij haar stem dus werd gedubd (Marilyn Horne nam de zang van Dorothy Dandridge in “Carmen Jones” voor haar rekening). Zong Belafonte wél zijn eigen rol in “Carmen Jones”, dan kreeg ze in “Porgy and Bess” een tegenspeler die evenmin kon zingen als zij: Sidney Poitier.


“Bonjour tristesse” van Françoise Sagan is een typische roman in de Franse existentialistische traditie geschreven (zoals veel van haar boeken in het Nederlands vertaald door Hubert Lampo, een andere vertaler was Remco Campert). De titel is ontleend aan een gedicht van Paul Eluard.
De ik-persoon, een jong meisje, gaat met haar vader, weduwnaar, en zijn minnares, Elza, naar de zee. Het meisje wordt daar verliefd op een jongeman en beleeft voor de eerste keer de liefde. Een vroegere vriendin van haar vader, de Zweedse Anne Larsen, komt zich bij het stel voegen. Met haar vrouwelijke charmes neemt zij al gauw de overhand op de nog jeugdige en onbeholpen Elza. Daar zij ten zeerste bekommerd is om de studies van de schrijfster neemt deze het op voor Elza, want ze voelt dat het bohémien-bestaan van haar vader in het gedrang komt. Daarom ze ze haar geliefde aan net te doen alsof hij Elza het hof maakt. Haar list slaagt, haar vader wordt jaloers en wil “zijn” minnares weer afhandig maken van die bengel. Anne betrapt hen beiden terwijl ze de liefde bedrijven en vlucht weg. ’s Avonds wordt hen gemeld dat zij een “auto-ongeluk” heeft gehad… Naar verluidt baseerde Paul Simon zijn “Sounds of Silence” op dit boek, of op zijn minst toch op de verfilming door Otto Preminger in 1957 met Jean Seberg in de rol van Cecile en David Niven als haar vader Raymond. Deborah Kerr is Anne en Mylène Demongeot Elza. De film was echter geen succes en dat moet ik helaas beamen. Hij was te zien op televisie in de tijd dat ik op kot zat (wellicht in 1969) en ik ben speciaal gaan kijken bij mijn kotbaas (diezelfde als die van Paul Jambers, maar die zat daar toen al niet meer) en ik weet nog hoe gegeneerd ik was dat ik die mensen daardoor “dwong” om naar dat gewrocht te kijken.


“Advise and consent” van Otto Preminger uit 1962 wordt door Daniel Bubbeo  als volgt samengevat op de Internet Movie Database: “Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) is the president’s candidate for Secretary of State. Prior to his approval, he must first go through a Senate investigation to determine if he’s qualified. Leading the Senate committee is idealistic Senator Brig Anderson (Don Murray), who soon finds himself unprepared for the political dirt that’s revealed, including Leffingwell’s past affiliations with a Communist organization. When Leffingwell testifies about his political leanings, he proves his innocence. Later, however, Anderson learns that he lied under oath and even asks the president (Franchot Tone) to withdraw Leffingwell for consideration, especially after the young senator begins receiving blackmail threats about a skeleton in his own closet.”

The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Allen Drury, who was a congressional correspondent for The New York Times during the 1950s, while he was writing the book. Nearly every character is based on a real person: Lafe Smith is based on John F. Kennedy; Orrin Knox (Edward Andrews) is based on Robert A. Taft, Fred Van Ackerman (George Grizzard) is based on Joseph McCarthy and the president is modeled on Franklin D. Roosevelt).  And the Leffingwell nomination is based on the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of Alger Hiss. Even the blackmailing of Brig Anderson, and how it’s resolved, is based on a real incident.

The blackmail attempt is based on the case of Wyoming Senator Lester C. Hunt, who was blackmailed by members of the Republican Party. Hunt was told by Senator Styles Bridges that if he ran for re-election that November, the details of his son’s arrest (for soliciting prostitution from a male undercover officer) would end up “in every mailbox in Wyoming”. Hunt eventually agreed to step down, but eleven days later committed suicide in the Capitol. (“Advise and Consent” was the first mainstream film to feature a scene set inside a gay bar.)

When Allen Drury was writing the novel on which this film is based, John F. Kennedy, upon whom the character Senator Lafe Smith was based, was a young senator with ambitions to be President. When the movie came out Kennedy was President, and Lafe Smith was played by Peter Lawford who was, at that time, married to Kennedy’s sister Patricia Kennedy.

Burgess Meredith, as Herbert Gelman, testifies against Leffingwell (diens zoon wordt gespeeld door child actor Eddie Hodges, die op dat moment een hit had met “I’m gonna knock on your door”) at the latter’s confirmation hearing, claiming that the two of them were members of a Communist cell. In real life, Meredith was himself named an “unfriendly witness” by the House Un-American Activities Committee, which nearly ruined his career. Will Geer, who plays the Senate minority leader, was also blacklisted for refusing to name names before the same Committee.

Director Otto Preminger offered the role of a Southern senator to Martin Luther King Jr., believing that the casting could have a positive impact (despite the fact that there were no black senators at the time). King declined after serious consideration, as he felt playing the role could cause hostility and hurt the civil rights movement. (Een zwart parlementslid komt wel even in beeld in het begin van de film.)

Ronny De Schepper

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