ACF Critic Series #5: Teachout on Laura

 

Renowned critic and playwright Terry Teachout joins me again to talk old movies. After Hitchcock’s Vertigo, we turn to the most beautiful noir, Laura (1944), directed by Otto Preminger, starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney (Dana’s the man, Gene the woman — this was the 40s), as well as Clifton Webb, Hollywood’s version of H.L. Mencken, and a young Vincent Price, before he turned to Edgar Allen Poe horror.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Retired LA Times archivist Larry Harnisch publishes a blog of Los Angeles history. He found the making of “Laura” so emblematic of the city, the Forties, and the golden age of Hollywood that he ran a more-than-fifty part series on the making of the film. Check it out, and feel free to skip around. 

    • #1
  2. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Thanks much for this choice, Titus.  I remember falling in love with Laura (if that’s really possible for a kid) when it showed up on one of those “Dialing For Dollars” afternoon movies.  Did you know about those?

    And then I heard Johnny Mercer’s lyrics to Raksin’s theme and fell in love again.

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  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    My wife knew Raksin! By the Eighties he was a music professor teaching film composing, I believe at USC. My wife worked at the Samuel Goldwyn Company and was in charge of, among other things, distributing film prints to the large, invisible “Bel Air Circuit”, the nickname for the hundreds of wealthy people who had 35mm, theatrical home projection facilities. Los Angeles was unique in that regard in mid-century America; nowadays, of course, anyone can pop in a DVD or go online. But in 1935, 1955, even 1975, the ability to have a brand new film delivered to your home was a rare privilege. David Raksin, by that point, wouldn’t have rated membership in the Bel Air circuit. But my wife arranged for him to get 16mm prints of Goldwyn’s newest films, and other studios followed suit. David was grateful, every year calling up with his thanks. When I met him I was surprised how active he was. 

    • #3
  4. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    My wife knew Raksin! By the Eighties he was a music professor teaching film composing, I believe at USC. My wife worked at the Samuel Goldwyn Company and was in charge of, among other things, distributing film prints to the large, invisible “Bel Air Circuit”, the nickname for the hundreds of wealthy people who had 35mm, theatrical home projection facilities. Los Angeles was unique in that regard in mid-century America; nowadays, of course, anyone can pop in a DVD or go online. But in 1935, 1955, even 1975, the ability to have a brand new film delivered to your home was a rare privilege. David Raksin, by that point, wouldn’t have rated membership in the Bel Air circuit. But my wife arranged for him to get 16mm prints of Goldwyn’s newest films, and other studios followed suit. David was grateful, every year calling up with his thanks. When I met him I was surprised how active he was.

    I was fortunate to meet Raksin in Nashville in the 1990s. He was a kind and gracious man. And his score for Laura is one just superb.

    An interesting tidbit about the Laura theme song: The full 32-bar theme never played start-to-finish in the film’s score. The music was so captivating, Johnny Mercer was brought in after the fact to write lyrics, and a hit song was born.

    • #4
  5. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    If your going to do Otto Preminger I would love to hear your take on In Harms Way.  

    • #5
  6. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    If your going to do Otto Preminger I would love to hear your take on In Harms Way.

    Kirk Douglas takes a woman? Am I misremembering?

    • #6
  7. jeannebodine Member
    jeannebodine
    @jeannebodine

    OK, you caught me. I said Double Indemnity was my favorite film on your post on the same. Then you go and hit me with Laura. Laura was my favorite movie growing up, used to watch old movies on UHF on Sundays.

    Anyone who knows me well knows Laura as my favorite movie. I talked about it a lot. When young and clubbing, I would ask every pianist to play the song. OK, mostly DJs but sometimes we’d class it up. True fact: DJs of the late 70s and early 80s did NOT play the song Laura, Odd, that. They played Saturday Night Fever and It’s Raining Men, mostly. I never failed to ask for the song, however, which did make for some interesting “discussions”.

    So I’ll have to give Laura more thought. It seems my top 5 films are constantly juggling for first place. They are: Double Indemnity, Laura, The Letter, Brief Encounter. Oops, that’s 4, wonder who’s missing?

    Thank you, Titus Techera, for your fabulous posts, they bring me great joy. 

     

    • #7
  8. Eric Cook, aka St. Salieri Inactive
    Eric Cook, aka St. Salieri
    @EricCook

    Great discussion of a great film, and so much more to talk about.  You should revisit it again sometime.

    • #8
  9. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Okay, let’s lighten it up. Spike Jones was the PDQ Bach, the Weird Al Yankovic of late 40s-early 50s music. Here’s his self-titled travesty parody of the Laura theme, which Raksin enjoyed.  I don’t feel too bad about this minor threadjack, because if Titus hasn’t yet been exposed to the insanity of Spike Jones it’s about time. 

     

    • #9
  10. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    jeannebodine (View Comment):

    OK, you caught me. I said Double Indemnity was my favorite film on your post on the same. Then you go and hit me with Laura. Laura was my favorite movie growing up, used to watch old movies on UHF on Sundays.

    Anyone who knows me well knows Laura as my favorite movie. I talked about it a lot. When young and clubbing, I would ask every pianist to play the song. OK, mostly DJs but sometimes we’d class it up. True fact: DJs of the late 70s and early 80s did NOT play the song Laura, Odd, that. They played Saturday Night Fever and It’s Raining Men, mostly. I never failed to ask for the song, however, which did make for some interesting “discussions”.

    So I’ll have to give Laura more thought. It seems my top 5 films are constantly juggling for first place. They are: Double Indemnity, Laura, The Letter, Brief Encounter. Oops, that’s 4, wonder who’s missing?

    Thank you, Titus Techera, for your fabulous posts, they bring me great joy.

     

    Glad you like our conversations. I mean to get to double indemnity in another month or so. Mr. Teachout loves it, too, so it’s only a matter of scheduling…

    • #10
  11. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Titus Techera: young Vincent Price, before he turned to Edgar Allen Poe horror.

    Two years after this movie, in 1946, The Song of Bernadette came out with Vincent Price as the weary cynical French bureaucrat baffled by the naif Bernadette. So entertaining.

    • #11
  12. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Lovely film!

    • #12
  13. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    There is a lot more going on In Harms Way than Kirk Douglas tragic story in that movie.  The entire retelling of the pacific island campaign of WW2 with the Duke as the hero is pretty good.

    • #13
  14. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    There is a lot more going on In Harms Way than Kirk Douglas tragic story in that movie. The entire retelling of the pacific island campaign of WW2 with the Duke as the hero is pretty good.

    I love watching Duke and so I might go back–i haven’t seen it in at least ten years… That terrible part was memorable.

    I think Patricia Neal also played a part–head of nurses or some such? I remember liking her…

    • #14
  15. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I just realized that “Hud” deserves a re-look. When I was in high school, Martin Ritt was still regarded as a front line filmmaker, and “Hud” was one of the most intelligent of adult westerns. At one point–it’s not even the biggest scene in the film–Paul Newman more or less tries to rape Patricia Neal. She resists. Pauline Kael would write about it memorably. It’s a scene that feels true but is very disturbing, and today would play even more so. 

    • #15
  16. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    I’ve seen that one within the last year. I concur. It was disturbingly plausible as a combination of the old Western theme of freedom (with the generational conflict between men it involves) & a new trouble in America, where kids might not feel they can strike it out alone anymore, but somehow become trapped in & embittered by their parents’ lives. Unfortunately timely…

    Also, of course, seeing the delightful Melvyn Douglas in such a role is deeply disturbing. Went back to see Ninotchka again, for good measure…

    • #16
  17. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Titus, I recently got a book of 1940s tunes for the piano like “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” from Oklahoma!, “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Laura.” (My current favorite is “Skylark,” the Johnny Mercer/Hoagy Carmichael tune — the chord changes are so beautiful and perfect…)

     

     

    • #17
  18. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Going around Venice, my friend kept crooning pistol-packing mama! It’s such a fun song and the wives are amused, too…

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Cannes is the only place in the world where this ex-New Yorker was ever the target of pickpockets. Brazen, gypsy ones of the Roma variety. 

    • #19
  20. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Actually, when you come to think of it, Patricia Neal’s role in The Fountainhead didn’t exactly placate the easily placate-able, did it?

    • #20
  21. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    & Lord, Gary Cooper as an Ayn Rand hero… Crazy times in an innocent sort of way. Also worth noting Hollywood cut out all the nutty psychological stuff from the book…

    • #21

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