Reporters aren’t always heroes: Ask Laura

Despite the title of this blog, not all newspapermen (or women) in radio’s popular culture portrayals were heroes, although I think they were generally played more favorably on radio than in Hollywood movies.

But I’ve just added a 45th title to my loosely defined list of “newspaper films” adapted for radio, so here it is: Laura, a 1944 20th Century Fox film featuring a rather oily newspaper columnist as a major character. He’s the narrator of the movie trailer above.
Laura herself is in advertising, not journalism, but “bigshot columnist and radio spieler” Waldo Lydecker helped launch her career, and he reads his account of her death to a detective who narrates the opening scene of the radio adaptation.

“I am the most widely misquoted man in America, and I resent it,” Lydecker tells the detective, by way of explaining his insistence on writing down his statement. In flashback, he also tells Laura more of his philosophy as a writer: “Sentiment comes easy at 50 cents a word.”

The radio adaptation by the Screen Guild Theater in 1945 gives us a few bars of the memorable title tune, but hardly does the film justice.

Although several of the original stars appeared on the broadcast, the half-hour format didn’t leave much time for mystery and romance, the two things the film is about. To make matters worse, the MP3 copy at the Internet Archive isn’t the highest sound quality.

We do get to hear Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb, but the plot revolves around Tierney’s haunting beauty, first in flashbacks, then in a portrait that captivates the detective searching for her murderer. It’s hard for radio to compete with that.

Webb does his best as the manipulative Lydecker (“I write with a goose quill dipped in venom”), one of the detective’s first sources in the murder investigation. Some other characters were cut or reduced in the abbreviated script, most notably a one originally played by the tall and easily suspected Vincent Price. Along with reducing the number of murder suspects, there’s not as much time for the detective to fall in love with Laura’s portrait, and the script’s word-pictures don’t do Tierney justice.

But the unflattering picture of the columnist’s ego comes through. In fact, Lydecker is a bit reminiscent of another venomous columnist (and narrator) on a classic film: Addison DeWitt in “All About Eve.” Radio adaptations of that film increased the role somewhat. A journalist — even a snide drama columnist — easily fills radio’s need for a narrator. (Reginald Gardner was DeWitt for Lux; Alan Hewitt for US Steel Hour-Theater Guild on the Air.)

My advice: Watch the movie “Laura” at Amazon or somewhere, then come back and listen to the radio version mostly to envy the live audience that got to see the program on stage as a benefit for the actors’ home charity.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1940s, adaptations, columnists, crime, detectives, Drama, movies, romance. Bookmark the permalink.

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