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You know the feeling of something half remembered
Of something that never happened, yet you recall it well.
You know the feeling of recognizing someone
That you've never met as far as you could tell, well.


In 1944, Otto Preminger produced and directed the film Laura. The movie has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and the American Film Laura movie posterInstiture named it one of the 10 best mystery films of all time.

The music for the theme tune was composed by David Raksin. As a pianist, Raksin started out playing in professional dance bands when he was at high school, and his father, also a musician, taught him woodwinds. But David went on to study composition and arrangement and he was picked up by Charlie Chaplin as his assistant in composing the score for Chaplin's 1936 film, Modern Times, but his composition Laura has marked Raksin's place in musical history. Described as 'uniquely atmospheric and evocative' the tune's success almost causes us to forget that Raksin also wrote the music for other films including Forever Amber, Force Of Evil, Carrie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Bad And The Beautiful, Two Weeks In Another Town and The Redeemer as well as for hundreds of TV shows.

According to author William Zinsser in his book, Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs (click here), director Otto Preminger had chosen Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady as a theme for Laura, but Raksin felt it did not suit the character. So Raksin was given the weekend to come up something new. By Sunday, with nothing satisfactory on paper, he read a “Dear John” letter from his wife, and the haunting melody seemed to write itself. During Raksin's lifetime, Laura was said to be the second most-recorded song in history following Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust. Later in life, Raksin taught at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. He died in 2004, aged 92.


Here is the trailer to the movie which ends with the main theme.




In the movie, Dana Andrews plays detective Mark McPherson who is investigating the killing of Laura (Gene Tierney), found dead on her apartment floor before the movie starts. On the apartment wall is a striking painting of the dead woman. Off screen, Waldo Laura film stillLydecker (Clifton Webb) says: "I shall never forget the weekend Laura died. A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass. It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection. I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York. For Laura's horrible death, I was alone. I, Waldo Lydecker, was the only one who really knew her. And I had just begun to write Laura's story when - another of those detectives came to see me. I had him wait. I could watch him through the half-open door. (The chiming of the antique clock on the half-hour attracts the detective's attention, and he walks over to it). I noted that his attention was fixed upon my clock. There was only one other in existence, and that was in Laura's apartment in the very room where she was murdered."

Step by step McPherson builds a mental picture of Laura from the suspects whom he interviews and gradually he too seems to fall under her spell. As he sits in Laura's apartment, ruminating over the case and his own obsessions, the door opens, the lights switch on, and in walks Laura Hunt, very much alive! As one reviewer says: 'To tell any more would rob the reader of the sheer enjoyment of watching this stylish film noir unfold on screen.'

The story evolves through flash backs where two suspects emerge, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) a dim-witted, slithery Southern playboy/gigolo from Kentucky and Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) a cynical, mannered and prickly society columnist. Also in the mix is Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson) an aging, well-heeled, matronly socialite who has her eyes on Shelby Carpenter. So who is Laura and what actually happened? You'll have to see the film to find out. (You can watch the whole film here).


Laura is the face in the misty light,
Footsteps that you hear down the hall.
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall.


The lyrics to the tune were not written at the same time as the film score. After the film had been released, Johnny Mercer was approached by Abe Olman of Robbins Music to write lyrics for Raksin’s theme. Mercer had seen the film, but did not remember the theme so Olman simply gave him the score and told him the title had to be 'Laura'. Mercer completed the lyrics we now know and by 1945, a year after the film's release, the song started to appear in the charts with Woody Herman's version becoming a million-seller.


Here is the Woody Herman 1945 version with stills from the movie (Woody Herman himself takes the vocals).




Gene Tierney is often forgotten today, but she was a significant actor and like others in the film industry, such as Marilyn Monroe, Gene Tierney had her demons. Tierney struggled for years with episodes of manic depression. In 1943, she gave birth to a daughter, Daria, who was deaf and mentally disabled, the result of a fan breaking out of rubella quarantine and infecting the pregnant Tierney. Whilst separated from her first husband, Gene TierneyTierney met John F. Kennedy, a young World War II veteran, who was visiting the set of Dragonwyck in 1946. They began a romance that she ended the following year after Kennedy told her he could never marry her because of his political ambitions.

In 1953, Gene was suffering with problems of concentration. She dropped out of the film Mogambo and was replaced by Grace Kelly. While playing Anne Scott in The Left Hand of God (1955), opposite Humphey Bogart, Tierney became ill. Bogart had personal experience as he was close to a sister who suffered from mental illness, so during the production, he fed Tierney her lines and encouraged her to seek help. Tierney consulted a psychiatrist and was admitted to Harkness Pavilion in New York. After some 27 shock treatments, intended to alleviate severe depression, Tierney fled the facility, but was caught and returned. She later became an outspoken opponent of shock treatment therapy, claiming it had destroyed significant portions of her memory.


Gene Tierney


In late December 1957, Tierney, from her mother's apartment in Manhattan, stepped onto a ledge 14 stories above ground and remained there for about 20 minutes. Police were called, and afterwards Tierney's family arranged for her to be admitted to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. The following year, after treatment for depression, she was released. Afterwards, she worked as a sales girl in a local dress shop with hopes of integrating back into society, but she was recognized by a customer, resulting in sensational newspaper headlines. She made a comback in 1962 in the film Advise And Consent and went to appear in a number of films and television shows until 1980.

Click here for a 43 minute documentary about Gene Tierney.

Count Basie recorded a short version of Laura on a 1967 album Hollywood Basie's Way and the arrangement by Chico O'Farrill is typical Basie (the flashing title disappears after a while). The band includes Harry Edison, Marshall Royal and Freddie Green.




In contrast, check out this Chet Baker recording of a very nice version of Laura from the album Incredible Chet Baker Plays and Sings. just as romantic and poignant as you would expect from the trumpet player. On this recording he is accompanied by Bruce Thomas (piano), Jacques Pelzer (soprano sax), Gianni Basso (tenor sax) and Giancarlo Pillot (drums).





This next video by the Dexter Gordon Quartet shows the saxophonist interpreting the tune in a live performance with George Cables (piano), Rufus Reid (bass) and Eddie Gladden (drums). One commentator guesses that this came from around 1978 - 1980. Dexter had moved to Europe in the early 1960s saying that he experienced less racism and greater respect for jazz musicians there. He also stated that on his visits to the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he found the political and social strife disturbing. But in 1976 he returned to the United States and recorded a series of live albums that were released by Blue Note from his stands at Keystone Corner in San Francisco during 1978 and 1979. They featured Gordon, George Cables, Rufus Reid, and Eddie Gladden. His return also renewed promotion of the Dexter Gordon catalog by Columbia (Savoy) and Blue Note.

Thorbjørn Sjøgren in Denmark says:

As for the fine page on Laura, I can tell you that the Dexter Gordon version was recorded in Copenhagen on February 27th, 1978. On that occasion Dexter also played Fried Bananas (quartet) and The Jumpin’ Blues (with the Danish Radio Big band, conducted by Thad Jones). Actually you can spot Jones in the background (extreme right) at around 4:45. By the way, this was done on Dexter’s 55th birthday, and the big band start out by playing Happy Birthday (not sure whether this was included in the broadcast).



Charlie Parker also featured Laura on his album with strings but my final choice for this article goes to a recording by trombonist J.J. Johnson. This is primarily a fine trombone solo but the other musicians are Tommy Flanagan (piano), Wilbur Little (bass) and Albert Heath (drums). The link below will ask you to click another link to listen on Youtube.




Writing about the film Laura on the Rotten Tomatoes website, Sean Axmaker says: 'I’m a big fan of film noir, those shadowy, often hardboiled crime dramas, a morally-tarnished urban world of the forties and fifties. Laura (1944) is elegance incarnate in a genre known for its hard edge, the sleekest, silkiest noir of all ... In the gritty world of film noir Laura remains the most refined and elegant example of the genre, but under the tasteful decor and high society fashions lies a world seething in jealousy, passion, blackmail, and murder.' The tag line for the film Laura said: 'The story of a love that became the most fearful thing that ever happened to a woman!'

Well, Laura is a winner. The derivation of the name is the feminized form of the word laurus, Latin for "bay laurel plant", which in the Greco-Roman era was used as a symbol of victory, honour or fame. The name represents the embodiment of victory and strength.

In 1653, the herbalist Nicholas Culpeper described Laurel as : 'A tree of the Sun, and under the celestial sign Leo, and resisteth witchcraft very potently, as also all the evils old Saturn can do to the body of man, and they are not a few.'


And you see Laura on the train that is passing through.
Those eyes, how familiar they seem.
She gave your very first kiss to you.
That was Laura but she's only a dream.


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More Tracks Unwrapped:

Sophisticated Lady
Jumpin' With Symphony Sid
Just A Gigolo
List of Tracks Unwrapped

© Sandy Brown Jazz