Laura: A Stigmatizing Mystery of Power and Romance

With Laura being Vera Caspary’s most esteemed published novel, it is imperative that we place the utmost emphasis on perfecting its adaptation and properly conveying its inherent thematic messages. Published during the height of the second world war, Laura highlights many of the social and interpersonal stereotypes of the time. With many men off to support the U.S. war effort in Europe, a Mystery Scene article suggests that infidelity was likely common in the atmosphere and housewife affairs were rampant. Since Laura is filled with the drama between Laura, Waldo, Shelby, and Detective Mark McPherson, I suggest that the scene in which Laura comes back to her apartment to find Detective McPherson in her apartment to investigate her murder after she discovered Shelby’s affair with Diane Redfern.

Detective Mark McPherson as he suspiciously mills about Laura’s apartment in the 1944 film adaptation.

 

This scene depicts Laura, who is engaged to Shelby after splitting off from her ex-lover Waldo, strutting about her skyline office in absolute disbelief. After speaking with Mark, Laura realizes that she is believed to be murdered and dead by the public. She speaks with both Shelby and Waldo to handle her emotions, which are beginning to overflow even through her strong, independent nature. After she recedes to her apartment for the night, Laura hears her mother’s voice in her head, speaking of her utter desperation. This ironically presents Laura with an incoming headache, just as desperation did for her mother. Although she mills about in a bit of a frenzy before calming to a more depressive state, her cognizance of the issue shines through her temperament as she plans to visit her country home and officially decides to call off her marriage to Shelby once and for all.

The importance of the scene lies in the way that Laura reveals some of her flaws that take away from the audience’s view of her being a completely infallible, elaborate identity that comes along with her position as a premier New York advertiser. This scene must show Laura walking throughout her luxury apartment with the view of mansions in the background while talking about her immature feelings. This will powerfully contrast her seemingly desirable lifestyle with the romantic issues she is struggles with.

With one of the major themes of the film being the sophisticated nature of women, this scene directly contradicts all of the sophistication that Laura has accredited to her name until this point. She now appears as a beautiful, omniscient woman at the top of her field, who is continuously bogged down by her poor romantic choices. Her conversation with Shelby in this scene also reveals that she has compensated for the fact that she still had dinner with her ex-lover by allowing Shelby to cheat on her with Diane all this time. The differences in sexuality involved in their side affairs highlights the powerlessness Laura experiences in this situation.

This film adaptation can better communicate the major themes by including technicolor to better show Laura and her lovers’ emotions, Laura’s innate beauty, and the growing power held by the city of New York. Special effects would be most useful to portray the action scenes in which Diane is murdered and Waldo is killed in his second attempt to kill Laura. Finally, multiple camera angles and a rolling camera will better portray the emotions that Mark, Waldo, Shelby, and especially Laura show in this pivotal scene. Since this scene serves as a major turning point in the plot, its proper production will ensure the film’s success as it will form a lasting memory in the audience’s minds.

Works Cited

Cogdill, Oline. “Laura by Vera Caspary.” Mystery Scene, KBS Communications, https://www.mysteryscenemag.com/blog-article/2845-laura-by-vera-caspary.

Dirks, Tim. “Hollywood During the War Years.” Film History of the 1940s, https://www.filmsite.org/40sintro.html.

“Laura.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 15 Jan. 1945, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037008/.

Pierce, Kimberly. “Feminist Friday: Laura (1944).” Citizen Dame, 10 July 2018, https://citizendamepod.com/2018/07/13/feminist-friday-laura/.

Dreamers Often Lie

The whole trajectory of Laura changes after Detective McPherson wakes up in Laura’s house. Up until then, the investigation into Laura’s death was progresses slowly with the answer to the mystery far out of reach. However, McPherson falls asleep in Laura’s house after inspecting it only to wake up to find Laura herself, a revelation shocking to both the reader and detective. This scene is crucial for establishing what happens in the rest of the story, especially considering that Laura herself becomes the prime suspect. This plot twist adds the flair needed for a pulp fiction; however, this scene also opens up a wildly different interpretation of the following chapters. More precisely, it leaves us with the possibility that all of what happens after McPherson falls asleep is just a dream.

Those comfortable with a straight reading of the story might be skeptical of this interpretation; however, it can be logically derived from the text. The idea that Laura simply comes to McPherson after being dead seems almost too good to be true. Additionally, the speed of the investigation conveniently increases after Laura arrives.

Rather than run counter to the main themes found in the book, this alternate interpretation adds to it. For one, mystery is added to a mystery novel. More importantly, the theme of idealization is further emphasized. This theme is most obviously seen through the large portrait of Laura found in her house. Everyone who lays eyes on the glamorous photo of Laura is instantly captivated by it. When they think of her, they think of the idealized portrait of her instead of who she really is. Additionally, the men around Laura are idealizing her in their own ways. For example, Waldo envisions Laura as this pure and professional woman that he has built and now controls. In the same way, Detective McPherson dreaming up a scenario in which Laura comes back to life could very well be another idealization. After all, following his awakening he becomes emotionally entangled with Laura, protects her from Waldo, and solves the case surrounding her.

To use this scene to its full potential, the possibility of it all being a dream must be readily discernible. A good example of this can be found at the end of the movie Inception with the spinning top. As the top walks a thin line between spinning indefinitely and toppling over, viewers are left to guess whether the characters are dreaming or if they are in the real world. This same effect can be accomplished in the film adaptation of Laura through subtle visual effects or extra emphasis on McPherson sleeping.

Spinning top in Inception

We can get an idea of the effect the sleeping scene will have in the Laura adaptation if we look to the fan reception to the end of Inception. Fans were left on an enormous cliffhanger and thus argued and thought about the ending scene extensively. Adding this same effect in the film adaption will force people to analyze the film and argue about its meaning. Emphasizing the possibility of the dream interpretation will almost guarantee the films success.

When Frail Manhood is Threatened, His Malice Seeks Her Destruction

Unfortunately, determining a single novel-defining, most important scene in the novel Laura, written by Vera Caspary, proved to quite difficult, because what defines the novel is a close intertwining of various different aspects and facets that appear at different points in the novel; however, they are all present in Part 5 of the novel, so Part 5 will serve as the facade for what is really the most important scenes and aspects of this novel. Although the novel has quite a cheesy, cliche, and somewhat predictable ending, the true beauty of this novel lies in the quite riveting mystery which Mark McPherson bolsters with his narration as a detective. Moreover, the novel benefits greatly from the character that is the quirky, eccentric, and egotistical Mr. Waldo Lydecker; however, in this final part of the book, Waldo’s true colors are exposed by Mark’s detective work and Laura’s eternal rejection of him, leading to the complete breakdown of his character.

By Part 5 of the novel, Waldo really wears his heart on his sleeve in the way he acts around Mark, and in his odd antique glassware collection. Mark, being the accomplished and insightful detective that he is, extracts Waldo’s inner feelings and drive solely from his behavior and is antique collection. Waldo also experiences what appears to the reader as a minor psychotic break from the knowledge that Mark was interested in “the dead girl.” According to Mark, “He had made a great romance of my interest in the dead girl; it gave him a companion in frustration. But with Laura alive, I had become a rival” (Caspary 161). Waldo’s change in demeanor towards Mark occurs in Part 5 with him beginning to constantly berate and insult Mark, thus displaying his overt jealously.

Mark not only exposes Waldo’s true feelings in Part 5 but he also explains his method of investigation into Waldo, which he obviously does in a covert manner so that Waldo does not realize it. According to Mark, “while I asked questions about Laura’s habits, I studied his. What made a man collect old glassware and china? Why did he carry a stick and wear a beard?” (Caspary 158). As previously mentioned, a good portion of the beauty of this novel lies in Mark’s incredible detective skills and character-reading abilities. Mark finds some significance in both the fact that Waldo collects antique glassware and that he walks with a stick, which later becomes relevant to Laura’s attempted murder.

Waldo’s apparent descent into madness and obsession is metaphorically represented in the vase, which belongs to Claudius, that he smashes out of spite. Waldo deliberately smashes the beautiful vase because he can never have it, and he wants to ensure that no other man can ever enjoy it. This vase also serves as an exact metaphor for how Waldo views Laura. Unfortunately, Waldo recognizes that Laura will never love him, so he decides to try to kill her so that no other man can ever have her.

Ultimately, Part 5 ends with what is the single most important quote in the novel, written by Waldo on a piece of paper before he attempts to kill Laura the second time: “And when that frail manhood is threatened, when her own womanliness demands more than he can give, his malice seeks her destruction. But she is carved from Adam’s rib, indestructible as legend, and no man will ever aim his malice with sufficient accuracy to destroy her” (Caspary 171). Although Waldo’s character, from the reader’s point of view, has completely been broken down up to this last quote, Waldo is almost, in a very twisted way, somewhat redeemed because he realizes that he isn’t capable of killing a woman as amazing and beautiful as Laura Hunt. Moreover, as Waldo draws his final breaths, Laura recognizes that the malice is dying with him, and she remembers the kind friend he once was.

Overall, Part 5 as a whole is the most important collection of scenes in the novel as it includes and portrays Mark McPherson’s incredible detective work, Waldo’s metaphorical character breakdown and possible redemption, and the most important quote in the entire book. Part 5 really adds to the murder-mystery aspect of the novel as well, with Mark’s explanation of his character analysis of Waldo. Furthermore, Part 5 emphasizes the theme of frail manhood and strong womanliness, which is a theme present throughout the novel with the characters of Waldo and Laura. Finally, in a film adaptation of this novel, I would employ parallel editing in the final few scenes to show the flashbacks of Mark explaining how he discovered Waldo’s true intentions. This would be cut simultaneously with Waldo beginning to sneak back into the house to attempt to kill Laura for the second time. A scene like this would build extreme suspense, which would please the audience, and it ends with Mark stopping Waldo, which would further please and impress the audience. More suspense means more entertainment, which could help to ensure the film’s success.

Laura (1944) Film Depicting Mark McPherson

Laura (1944) film depicting Mark McPherson staring at the painting of then though to be deceased Laura.

 

Works Cited:

Caspary, Vera. Laura. Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2006.

“Laura (1944).” ‎Laura (1944) Directed by Otto Preminger • Reviews, Film + Cast • Letterboxd, letterboxd.com/film/laura/.

Jagernauth, Kevin. “Watch: Otto Preminger’s Film Noir Classic ‘Laura’ In Full; James Ellroy Penning Remake.” IndieWire, 26 Aug. 2014, www.indiewire.com/2014/08/watch-otto-premingers-film-noir-classic-laura-in-full-james-ellroy-penning-remake-273168/.

Is Waldo Really on Laura’s Side?

The novel Laura by Vera Caspary is split into 5 distinct parts, each providing different points of view on the murder-mystery at hand. Part 4 is the only section which is based on the title character – Laura Hunt’s – point of view, and it is therefore the only time in the story when we really get to see exactly what she thinks about the people and situation surrounding her. In my opinion, the most important scene in the novel as a whole is in this part, and it is when the way Waldo Lydecker acts makes Laura and the reader shift their opinion against Waldo, who actually does end up being the murderer.

This scene is the most important in the novel as it not only strongly conveys the themes of a male-female power dynamic and the objectification of women that Caspary wanted to highlight – it also contains a major shift in the story’s plot. The objectification can be seen clearly through the sexual tropes in the language being used by Caspary to represent Waldo in this scene, which can be seen when she decides to use words such as “grope,” “a clean blow,” “soften,” “came toward me,” “you are mine,” and more (Caspary 254). This word choice gets across to the reader what Waldo’s real intentions with Laura are, and Caspary’s choice of words to represent Laura’s response to Waldo’s sexual intent, such as “I shrank deeper,” “I did not pull away,” “I submitted,” and “I endured,” clearly depicts a power-dynamic between the two which represents the same dynamic between men and women found throughout the novel (Caspary 255). Laura’s obvious discomfort due to Waldo’s behavior in this scene portrays a shift from how she had previously perceived him, as she thought “I had never felt anything but respect and tenderness for this brilliant, unhappy friend” (Caspary 255). This  scene shows Laura turning against Waldo in her own mind, and because we are a part of Laura’s thoughts in this section of the novel, we begin to turn against him too and possibly suspect him more of the murder. So, this scene is a major shift plot-wise too.

In order to portray a scene like this in a film, I would suggest a few different techniques. Firstly, audio-wise, I think there should be no music involved in this scene so that all the viewer can focus on is the tension and discomfort between Laura and Waldo. Then, I think while even though dolly zooms weren’t popularized until Alfred Hitchcock used it in his 1958 film Vertigo so it makes sense that it wasn’t used in the 1944 adaptation of Laura, this film could include a slow reverse dolly zoom while focused on Laura to make it seem as if the world was growing around her, which would depict her “shrinking” feeling (Caspary 255). In addition to this technique, I think close-up facial shots should be taken advantage of in order to capture every emotion portrayed by Laura’s and Waldo’s facial expressions, so that the viewer would feel more inclined to feel and understand those emotions as well. So, these filming and audio techniques would also help to portray the themes of objectification and harassment through the male-female power dynamic by focusing the viewer on the emotions, expressions, and dialogue in the scene.

A example of the change in perspective due to a dolly zoom from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo. Source: GIPHY

My version of this scene will ensure the success of this film as the tension built up in this scene by the techniques used will even further build upon both the tension already present due to the murder-mystery, and due to Laura’s previous interactions with the men in the film. Typically, a movie is successful when it can make a viewer feel strong emotions in some way, so the emotion caused by this extreme tension would draw viewers into the film, making it successful, so I suggest that the producers invest in my version of the film.

Works Cited:

Caspary, Vera. Laura. Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2005.

“Dolly Zoom” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Oct. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolly_zoom.

“Shocked Jaws GIF.” GIPHY, giphy.com/gifs/reactiongifs-FzV61A4U3guAw.

In Sickness and in Death: A Close Analysis of Laura

Vera Caspary’s novel Laura is arguably one of the deepest and most compelling murder mysteries ever written.  It explores themes that go far beyond the surface level of the plot itself, introducing an introspective view of human nature and social norms through Laura Hunt and those around her.  The novel opens with Laura’s high profile homicide, and the ensuing events take her, her fiancé Shelby Carpenter, long-term friend Waldo Lydecker, and detective Mark McPherson on a truly riveting investigation.  Laura’s mistaken identity and apparent return from death, Shelby’s gaping lies, and Laura’s own motives all line up to distract Mark from his true target: Waldo, a desperate and uncertain man under the guise of culture.

A shot from the 1944 adaptation of Laura (link in image)

Of the many aforementioned crucial scenes in the novel, Mark’s realization of Waldo’s murderous motives stands out as the most essential turning point of the entire storyline.  He sees Waldo’s possessiveness and jealousy of Laura through his mask of kindness and loyalty, as well as his inability to psychologically handle her life outside his tight circle of control. Mark’s discovery works in conjunction with a similar realization made by Laura: Waldo had warned of her being attracted to weak and corrupt men, and she finally sees that he was the single most corrupt man in her life.  Purely regarding the plot, the portrayal of their near-simultaneous enlightenment connects readers from the preceding events straight to the novel’s climax as Mark saves Laura from Waldo’s second murder attempt just in the nick of time.  This scene builds suspense and allows readers to reflect on Waldo’s previously unsuspicious, albeit slightly strange, behaviors, and point to him as the true murderer, thereby closing the case that had baffled everyone–including the readers–from the beginning.

In the bigger picture, this important scene also points to larger themes beneath its plot through the mentality of Waldo.  In one moment of this scene, Mark returns to an antique shop where Waldo had previously broken a glass vase, allegedly by accident, because the storekeeper would not sell it to him.  From here, Mark draws a parallel with Waldo’s inability to keep Laura and his intent to destroy her as such.  This brings about the themes of the fragility of masculinity and the poison of jealousy, providing fair warnings of the dangers in both.  Combined together, they also serve as a broader criticism of one of the byproducts of high culture: weak character.  Furthermore, this scene and the subsequent failure of Waldo’s second murder attempt show the consequences of acting vengefully with a weak character like Waldo’s.  Perhaps this idea is best defined in Waldo’s own words as he writes “when that frail manhood is threatened…he seeks her destruction.  But she is…indestructible as legend, and no man will ever aim his malice with sufficient accuracy to destroy her.”  Through Waldo, Caspary emphasizes that acting with vengeance, especially against a woman, is surely never worthwhile, and this is the capstone to her other arguments concerning jealousy fragile masculinity.

In my own version of this scene, I would ensure that the storyline is presented in a meaningful manner and the themes are effectively emphasized through the implementation of lighting and camera angles with careful editing.  Because this scene is a connecting point between the climax and its preceding events, it would be an excellent opportunity to interweave short clips of previous important plot points in the investigation and trace out Mark’s logical process.  His flashbacks of previous events would appear monochrome and out of focus, and when he arrives at his realization about Waldo, colors would saturate and he would be sharply in focus.  To add to the effect, and to pay homage to the style of the original work, I would include first-person shots, such as Waldo talking to himself while pacing the streets, seeing people through near-sighted lenses and avoiding them.  All in all, this scene’s power comes from placing the viewer in the perspective of the characters, and perfecting this would effectively solidify the quality of the film and ensure its success.

Even so, almost any scene from Laura is worth analyzing, as there is no detail without at least some significance.  This scene in particular is the most important of them all, and it stands out as a unique place in the novel to allow readers to take an inward inspection of themselves before the explosive climax, and hopefully long after it as well.

 

 

Works Cited

Caspary, Vera. Laura. The Feminist Press, 1942.