This book by Hollywood historian Rudy Behlmer goes behind the scenes on the making of a group of Hollywood classics,using studio archives where possible, and oral histories recorded by the American Film Institute, the Directors Guild of America and the University of California at Los Angeles.
If like me you want to know anything and everything about a favorite movie, Mr Behlmer’s book is a must read.
I’ve chosen LAURA to show the fascinating detail in each chapter..
A full list of films is at the end of my review.
The origin of LAURA is the novel by Vera Caspary published in 1943. It had been serialised in Collier’s magazine in 1942 as “Ring Twice For Laura”.
Rudy Behlmer interviewed Ms Caspary who explained she originally wrote her story as a play.Otto Preminger wanted to produce the play on Broadway. Preminger would later say, “The gimmick – a girl you thought was dead automatically becomes a murder suspect by walking into her own apartment.”
Vera Caspary said Marlene Dietrich expressed interest in playing Laura on film. Vera said, “It seemed odd casting, but dazzled by Marlene in blue jeans and quantities of perfume,I decided that with certain adjustments,the idea was not impossible.”
A pre-Broadway tour was discussed with Marlene,but Vera decided to offer Laura as a movie.
Only two studios showed even faint interest – MGM,with plans for a B mystery.And Fox. Preminger had recently signed with Fox and convinced them to buy the book in 1943 for $30,000.
Caspary and her collaborator George Sklar retained play rights.
(It was produced in 1947 with Otto Kruger as Waldo,K.T.Stevens as Laura and Hugh Marlowe as Mark.)
Darryl Zanuck wasted no time in commenting on the first screen draft by Jay Dratler: “All of the people,Mark included,should seem as if they stepped out of The Malteses Falcon – everyone a distinct,different personality.”
Ring Lardner did a re-write and Rouben Mamoulian was assigned to direct. Mamoulian liked to rehearse with the actors for a week or two before the start of shooting. But tension between Mamoulian and Preminger seem to have led to Mamoulian resigning and Preminger taking over as director.
Zanuck seemed to see Reginald Gardiner as Shelby and said: “Shelby would have to be re-written slightly to fit Reginald Gardiner – I am sure Reggie will give it a splendid flavour.” In any event, Vincent Price was cast and there is a picture of a rare deleted scene showing Vincent at a piano, singing ‘You’ll Never Know’ !
Gene Tierney was cast in the central role, but later wasn’t enthusiastic about her part – “Who wants to play a painting.”
Preminger had a photographic portrait of Gene Tierney shot by Fox still photographer,Frank Polony. It was enlarged and painted over to make it appear like an original painting.
One important plot element which wasn’t in the novel was the sawn-off shotgun hidden in the antique clock in Laura’s apartment.
Preminger wanted Fox’s top composer Alfred Newman to do the score. When Newman refused, Bernard Hermann was approached but also declined.
Then David Raksin was assigned.Preminger wanted to use, first Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ ,then Duke Ellington’s ‘Sophisticated Lady’ as the theme. But in the end, Raksin composed that haunting theme we know today. He said: “The melody is about love,specifically about that yearning particular to unrequited love.”
When the film was released, the studio received so much mail about the music that Johnny Mercer was engaged to write lyrics to the music. The song went to No.1 on the Hit Parade and was a phenomenal record seller.
Another composer,Elmer Bernstein said: “The film portrayed a man falling in love with a ghost….the detective could not escape the haunting melody. We may not remember what Laura was like,but we never forget that she WAS the music.”
There’s lots more on LAURA in this excellent book, plus the same amount of detail on – FRANKENSTEIN, LOST HORIZON,SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS,THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD,,GUNGA DIN,STAGECOACH,THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA, ALL ABOUT EVE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE,THE AFRICAN QUEEN,SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN,HIGH NOON.
That first shot of Clifton Webb as he,so innocently, describes how he first met Laura.
Waldo Lydecker first encounters the young Laura.
A shot showing Dana Andrews as Mark engrossed in that little game he keeps playing.
P.R.C.’s MEN ON HER MIND suggests Mary Beth Hughes is going to be her usual hard boiled blonde, but not at all. It’s a light hearted story with several songs. ( I think Mary Beth was dubbed).
She plays Lily Durrell a sweet,trusting young woman who has been brought up in an orphanage and has stayed on to help with the younger children. But she really wants to be a singer.
The lady who runs the orphanage (she is only ever referred to as ‘Mother Goodwin’) advises Lily that marriage and parenthood are a woman’s greatest career. But she gives her blessing to Lily who, for some unknown reason, decides to leave the orphanage in the middle of the night!
The film is told mainly in flashback and through letters Lily writes to ‘Mother Goodwin’ . The film actually opens with Lily on her first radio show,singing “Heaven on Earth”. She has three suitors – a rich,older man Roland Palmer (Alan Edwards), a sophisticated rogue,Jeffrey Wingate (Edward Norton) and a young school teacher,Jim Lacy (Ted North). They all want to meet her after the show.
Then the flashback starts, from the time when Lily leaves the orphanage and gets a lift from a lorry driver who falls for her (of course) and gets her a job in a laundry! His family close in and eventually she’s on the go again. She gets an audition at the Club Savoy and sings ‘Once Around the Clock’ for the manager. They are interrupted when a mysterious woman bursts into the manager’s office and shoots him dead in front of Lily!
Lily,in a panic, flees. This time she goes to secretarial school and lands a job with Roland (the older man at the start of the film). His snooty sister tries to get rid of her,but Roland gets her singing lessons (which she really doesn’t need) – and cue for another song,’Ave Maria’.
When the bad sister threatens to investigate Lily’s past, Lily leaves again and immediately meets Jeffrey (Edward Norris) – (this film is pure P.R.C., not a second wasted! ). He not only gets her a singing job but finds out that the real killer of the club manager has confessed. (Phew, Lily’s off the hook). Jeffrey falls for her ( she really is a siren!) and gives her a diamond bracelet which Lily reads has been stolen.
So, again,she heads for the hills (the bus station actually) and here she meets Jim Lacy (Ted North),a music teacher who mistakes her for a physical education instructor and drives her to the girls’ school where she is an immediate success. Jim of course falls for her and conceals the letter from the real teacher who has turned down the post. Jim also arranges the return of the stolen bracelet to its owner.
Lily decides she cant go on pretending at the school and being in the habit of leading places at night, she starts off but is stopped by Jim. He knows she wants to be a singer and gives her a song he has written, ‘Heaven on Earth’.
Her older suitor Roland finds her at the school (heaven knows how) and tells her his sister is sorry, and that he has a radio contract for her.
So,end of flashback. All three men are waiting in different locations for Lily to join them, and she chooses the man she loves! (Clue, in real life Mary Beth was married to Ted North).
I know I’ve made fun of it, but MEN ON HER MIND is an enjoyable fairy story. It’s Mary Beth Hughes’s film and she is very good,though I prefer her smart and sassy.
Another actress I’ve discovered lately (in addition to Marian Davies) is Bebe Daniels whom I only knew from her life in the UK with her husband Ben Lyon. Their BBC radio series “Life With The Lyons” was very popular in the 1950s.
I had no idea Bebe had been a big silent star and made a smooth transition into talkies, with a lovely singing voice.
I’ll be writing more about Bebe in the future.
Reaching For The Moon was of interest as it was originally to have had 5 or 6 Irving Berlin songs. .The version released by Oldies.com ran 57 minutes and had one (great) song. The film was originally 20 to 25 minutes longer.
The print is pretty poor, and it looks as if more was spent on the dvd cover.
The plot is so weak,I felt sorry for Bebe and Douglas Fairbanks. She is a rich man’s daughter (and aviatrix!) and for a prank, says she’ll make financial wizard Fairbanks fall for her – which he does. She quickly leaves for Europe,only to have him follow her and board the liner she is on.
Fairbanks is supposed to be a man with little interest in women, and his valet,Edward Everett Horton, gives him some pointers for wooing Bebe.
I liked Fairbanks’ style though throwing in some acrobatics seemed a bit silly.
Best 5 minutes of the film is when Bing Crosby appears (on the liner) and he and Bebe do a song called “When the folks high up do a Mean Low-Down” – great Berlin song , so well sung by the two of them.
TOP HAT poster from Spain.
Not much of a likeness of Fred or Ginger, but the colors are vibrant.
Translation – THE ROAD TO HIS HEART! ( If You Could Only Cook.1935)
Jean Arthur is all set – she plays a cook!
Love the Art Deco design.
Cute photo of Norma Shearer and husband Irving Thalberg on board ship and enjoying a stroll along the deck.
Fencing master Fred Cavens shows Maureen O’Hara a few moves for SONS OF THE MUSKETEERS.
Not in that dress,Maureen!
Doesn’t look too good for the Norwegian resistance fighters played by Walter Huston, Ann Sheridan,Errol Flynn and Judith Anderson in a scene from EDGE OF DARKNESS – they are being forced to dig their own graves as the German soldiers look on.
Comical pose from Fred Astaire and Joan Crawford on the set of DANCING LADY.
Fred would soon be a big star over at RKO and have a new dancing partner,Ginger Rogers.
Randolph Scott getting rough with Donna Reed. He’s actually protecting her from the unwelcome advances of the villainous Lee Marvin in HANGMAN’s KNOT.
Doesn’t James Cagney look as if he is saying the legendary line, “YOU DIRTY RAT!”
James Stewart looks a little dazed. Maybe he wasnt expecting to win that Oscar for THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.
There’s a nice quote in this book. Robert Mitchum once said about his movies of the 1940s and 50s: “Hell,we didn’t know what Film Noir was in those days. We were just making movies. Cary Grant and all the big stars at RKO got all the lights. we lit our sets with cigarette butts.”
The author of this book points out than when Audrey Totter,Marie Windsor,Jane Greer and Coleen Gray were interviewed for a TCM celebration of Noir in 1999,they said they were making B movies.
Mr Lyons spends a fair bit of time discussing what Noir is,but ,like a B movie, I’d rather get on to the main event – talking about the films. So it’s page 67 before things get going.
By 1935 the double bill in cinemas was here to stay. as the author says, “B’s were simply intended to provide the public with three hours of entertainment as economically as possible.”
B production units were formed within studios, and independent production companies sprang up – Mascot,Monogram,PRC,Republic.
This book gives details of over 100 B thrillers (sorry, noirs), films which hardly ever get written about and some of which are very good.
I’m already making a list of some which I’d like to see – Accomplice (1946) has Richard Arlen and Veda Ann Borg. Mr Lyons’ view – “typically weak product of PRC”. Doesn’t matter to me. Still want to see it!
Being a Frank Lovejoy fan, I’d like to catch Finger Man (1955).
I’ve somehow managed to miss I Love Trouble (19470, with Franchot Tone, Janet Blair,Janis Carter,Adele Jergens,Glenda Farrell,Raymond Burr,Steven Geray - that’s a cast.
The author doesn’t like No Escape(1953) with Lew Ayres, but his description makes it worth looking for – “Ayres is a down-on-his-luck songwriter who ekes out a living as a piano player in a San Francisco bar.”
I know Shack Out On 101 (1955),with Frank Lovejoy and Lee Marvin is available – “It’s in the so-bad-it’s-great category“, says the author.
There are films I’ve never heard of – Rio(1939) with Basil Rathbone and Victor McLaglen, or Second Chance (1947), with Kent Taylor. Unmasked (1950) with Raymond Burr.
Without Honor (1949) has quite a cast – Laraine Day,Dane Clark,Franchot Tone,Agnes Moorehead,Bruce Bennett, but is described as “A total clunker“! Still……
The book ends with a listing of the films by year and studio. It’s obvious Columbia and RKO made the most.
It’s great to have a book celebrating the world of B thrillers.
I was sorry to read that Mr Lyons passed away in 2008. He was a writer of detective fiction and founded the Palm Springs Film Noir Film Festival which is still going strong. Dates for 2015 are May. 14-17.