Very Caspary's 1943 book "Laura" became a classic mystery novel. Caspary's "Laura"was included as the first book in a two-volume collection of women's crime fiction from the 1940s and 1950s published in 2015 by the Library of America in an outstanding anthology edited by Sarah Weinman.. "Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s: A Library of America Boxed Set." The LOA anthology gave me my first opportunity to get to know Laura and inspired me to look further,
In 1944, Otto Preminger directed this famous film based on Caspary's novel. The film included music composed by David Raksin, including a melody called "Laura's Theme" played when the heroine was at the center of attention . Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics for the music after the film's success and the resulting song "Laura" became even more famous than Caspary's book or Preminger's film. Laura and her story in their three-fold interpretations have become part of American culture.
"Laura" is a detective story and who-done-it, but it is also much more. It quickly becomes transformed into a romance and a character study. Laura is a beautiful, ambitious young career woman in New York City who has attained hard-won success in advertising but who is lonely and searching for love. The hard-boiled detective assigned to investigate her apparent murder falls in love with what her learns of Laura during the course of his investigation. If is difficult not to do the same. Laura's independence, beauty, and need for love all remain part of many Americans' vision of themselves.
In Preminger's movie, Gene Tierney plays the title character while Dana Andrews plays the detective, Mark McPherson. Suspects for the crime include Waldo Lydecker played by Clifton Webb, an older, crusty columnist and Shelby Carpenter, played by Vincent Price, a playboy to whom the lonely Laura has become engaged. Laura's maid Bessie (Dorothy Adams) and Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) another love interest of Carpenter. also play important roles in the film.
The film follows the course of McPherson's investigation and gradually builds in intensity. In a famous moment in the film, McPherson who has taken to coming to Laura's apartment in the evenings, sits beneath her radiant portrait painted by a former suitor when the taken for dead Laura walks in. The task of identifying the killer and the dead woman become more pressing as does the budding love between Laura and McPherson.
The film has become an American classic in its own right through its acting, music, and portrayal of Laura and McPherson. The film is a romance which shows love in a tarnished, materialistic world. Vera Caspary, the author of the book, was politically a radical but her story captures something that spoke to many people and became an ideal.. Each interpretation of Laura, novel, film, and song captures something of her and of American art. I was moved by Preminger's film both for itself, and in thinking about Laura in the related contexts of Caspary's novel and the Raskin/Mercer popular song.