Adapting Pulp Laura !

image of Laura novel by Vera Caspary
Image of Laura novel by Vera Caspary. Notice how Laura is presented in a crystal ball, implying that she portrays herself as a vision.

            Vera Caspary’s novel Laura has many interesting elements that range from text structure (POV from different characters) to thrilling plot twists, hence it being no surprise that people from all over the world want the novel to be adapted into a film (Wikipedia). Although each scene in this adaptation will be crucial to the development of this stimulating story, there is one scene in particular that has the most merit. This scene is, in fact, not an intense action scene (looking at the fight between detective Mark McPherson and Waldo Lydecker) but is instead one that illuminates two overall themes of Laura.

            The scene that I am referring to is when McPherson first meets Laura. Leading up to this point, he developed a fascination of Laura throughout his accumulation of knowledge about her, which is obvious through his shared thoughts with the reader. At one point while eating dinner together, Lydecker even teases McPherson for being so interested in and falling for a dead girl. During his first interaction with Laura, McPherson becomes even more interested in Laura not only because she’s surprisingly alive, but also because of the physical manifestation McPherson’s mental image of Laura is right before his eyes. She is the beautiful, elegant, and smart woman that McPherson has heard and fantasized about. Her delicate charm constantly catches McPherson off-guard and makes her hard to resist even for a strong-minded person like McPherson. When McPherson was alone with her for a brief while in her apartment, his thoughts were: “My mind was filled with a miracle life and resurrection, and I had to battle my way through clouds before I could think like a human being” (Laura, part 2, chapter 2, page 67). 

            This scene is utterly important in that it introduces one of the overarching themes of the novel: fascination. Throughout the first half of the book, McPherson, and the reader, learn about Laura from chatting with a mostly male group of her admirers. But then again, what they think they know about Laura is simply a vision each of them has created of her. Although Laura is “brought back to life”, what the reader and McPherson learn about Laura that they previously didn’t know is all part of an elaborate fantasy figure McPherson has created in his head. In fact, the “real” Laura is never revealed in the story. The “real” Waldo (revealed when Waldo and Laura talk before Waldo attempts to murder Laura again) and the “real” Shelby (shown when Shelby and Laura have intense arguments the second half of the novel) however are revealed. Laura is simply a fantasy of what other men want her to be. Another theme present in this scene is exploitation, particularly of character flaws and human weaknesses. Leading up to their first interaction, McPherson developed an attraction towards Laura, which Laura appears to exploit through her elegant charm and wit. This allows her to deter his otherwise logical brain and evade questioning.  

page of laura book
Dialogue between Laura and McPherson highlighting how McPherson is falling for Laura and how he is unable to seriously interrogate her for the case.

            This scene relates to the book as a whole with its focus on mystery and fantasy. Much of what the reader believes about each character is altered every time new information is revealed. This scene also serves as an introduction to one of the many fantasies starring the mysterious Laura, and it also confirms the strange feelings McPherson has towards her, which drives McPherson to get to the bottom of the case.

           I would have the camera angles set up to accentuate McPherson’s fascination with Laura and Laura’s quick wit, with McPherson receiving more screen time and Laura rarely within camera view. When the camera is on her, however, it would only be for a short amount of time. This would further develop Laura’s mysteriousness by having her rarely being seen by the viewer. I would also incorporate many extreme close-ups of McPherson which would block out all other aspects of the world and represent his tunnel-vision for Laura. Considering that my version of this scene would be enticing and relevant to the original novel, it would undoubtedly ensure the film’s success.

Citations

“Part 2, Chapter 2.” Laura, by Vera Caspary, Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2006, pp. 66–68.

“Laura (Novel).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Oct. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_(novel).

Eyquem, Olivier. “Mark McPherson – a ‘Dual’ Reading *.” Preminger Films Noirs, Preminger, 29 Dec. 2013, https://premingernoir.co/2013/11/28/mark-mcpherson-a-dual-reading/.

One Reply to “Adapting Pulp Laura !”

  1. Thank you, Dr. Alexandra Edwards, for this in-depth reading of Vera Caspary’s book. In our Preminger noir blog written “à deux mains”, my partner Despina Veneti did most of the work on Caspary, since I had not reread the novel for many years.

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