The Eyes of Laura Mars is a brilliant and appropriately grody American entry in to the wonderful giallo genre, with all the campy-but-seductive hallmarks and tricks of that trade — ice picks to the eye, topless models in front of burning cars, erotic obsession and guns — you might expect. I feel that the cinematography helps it to transcend any of the sillier stumbling blocks it faces with script and story.
This is actually the cover of Laura’s book, not the movie poster
The John Carpenter-penned flick (he has sole story credit and shares co-writing duties with David Zelag Goodman and some half-dozen others) stars Faye Dunaway as the titular character. Barbra Streisand turned the part down, although she does perform the main song on the soundtrack, “Prisoner (Love Theme from The Eyes of Laura Mars),” which had modest chart success with its release in ’78.
The photographs seen on Laura’s walls, in her book, and in her gallery showing are all actually done by world-reknowned photographer Helmut Newton. Kick ass!
Laura Mars is a risque photographer of violent erotica who begins to have visions of brutal murders. Tommy Lee Jones has an early and steamy turn as brash young turk Detective John Neville, an art aficionado and lead investigator on the case of the serial killer whose crimes Laura is seeing. At first, Laura only sees the victims when she looks through her camera lens, but soon, she is having the visions all kinds of inconvenient places, including behind the wheel of her car.
This scene is modestly famous and has been imitated in fashion shoots and on America’s Next Top Model.
We see Laura first struck by a vision when she is photographing for an advertising client in the first part of the movie, doing a shoot with burning cars and lingerie-clad models Lulu and Michele, who later wind up murdered in various states of undress, fighting each other. Here are some more of her models, with whom she is depicted as having a very friendly but I think rather condescending relationship, topless because why not? I’ll tell you why not:
Nude girls who die. It’s giallo and all, but it wanted to be taken more seriously, so I’m going to give it a serious talkin’-to real quick.
I realize models get demeaned a lot but when you’ve got a film which treats the topics of violence, sex, and imagery as interrelated in a logical thread, then you run the risk of implying the girls deserve it when you have them parade about naked and additionally get patronized by the better-than-them, wryly maternal heroine, the “smart girl” with the camera who is superior and holds some kind of moral ace so may not be as likely to die, does that make sense? Just sayin’.
“Let’s look hella g in 3,2,1 — GO.” “Were we going on 1, or on GO?” “Forget it, Laura, I’m already hella g’er than you.”
Also featured are baby Rene Auberjonois and baby Raul Julia as Laura’s best friend and ex-husband, respectively; always great to see either of them in a cast. Rounding out the suspect/victim list is this handsome fellow, Brad Dourif, who plays Laura’s chauffeur Tommy. Tommy has a checkered criminal past, but, as you can see, he has cleverly thrown everyone off the trail by styling himself like Charlie Manson.
Brad Dourif as driver Tommy Ludlow, another red-herring suspect who ends up in the victim body-pile. They’re dropping like flies, Laura! Flies with mutilated eyes, that you could have saved.
Neville seems to suspect her initially but, already an admirer of her photography and with an inarguable chemistry between them — hard-working detectives go to gallery shows on their off-nights, happens all the time — they grow to trust one another and he becomes her lover. Raise your hand if you agree with this decision. SPOILERS FROM HERE ON: IF YOU SOMEHOW HAVE NOT ALREADY GUESSED THE INEVITABLE AND DO NOT WISH TO KNOW THE ENDING OF THIS FABULOUSLY RIDICULOUS BUT SOMEHOW TOUCHING AND MEMORABLE FILM, READ NO FURTHER!!
Look at him absolutely pimping: open shirt, check. Sideburns, check. Gun and sexy lady? check and double-check! Too great.
Has she never seen a giallo film??? Laura! He is clearly hella the killer. You always sleep with the killer, innocently making him breakfast and smiling to yourself as you watch him walk down the steps, calling him to cry later when you find your friends dead. You’re falling in love with him as he mercilessly murders everyone else in your life who matters to you, coming closer and closer to the real objective of killing you, circling in a lazy loop like a hawk who is picking off mice in your orbit in whom he has less interest, merely maiming them and dropping them in your path, just to see you scamper faster!
Laura gets in a car wreck because her eyes are busy envisioning her best friend being murdered, and naturally runs straight to Neville for some scotch and sexytimes. Dig the tartan blanket on her and the red scarf on him!
Whoa, that analogy got completely out of control. All apologies. Giallo movies are just so fun to yell at. Anyway, I loved the story that the following series of screencaps told so much that I took a cap of it myself to demonstrate the strength of the cinematography in this film, the discourse between camera and viewer which itself points up the voyeuristic relationship between the observer and the observed and sex and death in the movie.
In this scene, Det. Neville has just finished a rambling, disjointed story to Laura about how Tommy the now-dead driver’s mother was a prostitute, and how Tommy’s father came home one day, and “outraged by the condition of the child,” he slashed her throat, but as he tells the story and Laura has shades of doubt (she knows Tommy and knows he didn’t grow up the way it’s being described), Neville slowly and chillingly begins to transpose the pronoun “I” for “he.” He winds down the story with the totally creepy line,
“I sat and watched the blood dry on her face, until it was just about … well, the color of your hair.”
The series of caps themselves tell a story; reminds me of the work of Martin Arnold (Life Wastes Andy Hardy).
He throws this shocking revelation down and then just flashes her the g’est look ever, waiting for her to piece it together. And that’s the story this series of screencaps tells. How awesome, am I right? Continuing in that vein, note how the mirror in the below shot continues to toy with ideas about perception, reality, objectification, and physical verisimilitude.
Laura has finally caught on and has in her hand the gun Neville gave her when he was being a pimp several screencaps back. I will not give away the final twist of who kills who or how. See how honorable I am?
Now you see what I mean about the cinematography in this movie? Victor Kemper did a top-notch job with what is essentially a very campy and “b” quality script, almost singlehandedly raising the level of quality to the movie. It’s that and the acting (mainly) that I think have made The Eyes of Laura Mars the giallo cult classic that it is.
This may be the longest Movie Moment yet. It was more like a Movie Half Hour, huh? Sorry. To wind things down, I need to throw a major thank you out to Screenmusings.org, from where I originally got all these grand screencaps. (Any reduction in quality they have suffered in my crops and resizes has been entirely my doing — these are, like, enormous, gorgeous HD quality original screencaps on screenmusings, take my word for it.) Check it out, tons of great movies, screencapped and beautiful.