‘She saw all life through the camera’s eye. Then suddenly she saw death!’
Eyes of Laura Mars is a 1978 American horror thriller feature film directed by Irvin Kershner from a screenplay written by John Carpenter, David Zelag Goodman and [uncredited] Tommy Lee Jones, Julian Barry, Mart Crowley and Joan Tewkesbury. The Columbia Pictures production stars Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois and Raul Julia.
The Eyes of Laura Mars opens with Barbra Streisand singing the theme song, letting us know that we’re about to see one of the most ’70s films ever made.
Laura Mars (played by a super intense Faye Dunaway) is a fashion photographer who is known for the way that her work mixes raunchiness with violence. Some people say that she’s a genius and those people have arranged for the publication of a book of her work. The book, naturally, is called Eyes of Laura Mars. Some people think that Laura’s work is going to lead to the downfall of civilisation. And then one person thinks that anyone associated with Laura should die.
And that’s exactly what starts to happen.
Laura has visions of her friends being murdered. Some people believe that makes her a suspect. Some people think that she’s just going crazy from the pressure. John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones), the detective assigned to her case, thinks that Laura is a damaged soul, just like him.
Neville and Laura soon find themselves falling in love, which would be more believable if Dunaway and Jones had even the least amount of chemistry. Watching them kiss is like watching two bricks being smashed together.
There’s plenty of suspects, each one of them more a ’70s cliché than the other. There’s Donald (Rene Auberjonois), Laura’s flamboyant friend.
There’s Michael (Raul Julia), Laura’s sleazy ex-husband who is having an affair with the gallery of the manager that’s showing Laura’s photographs.
And then there’s Laura’s shift-eyed driver, Tommy. Tommy has a criminal record and carries a switchblade and he always seem to be hiding something but, to be honest, the main reason Tommy might be the murderer is because he’s played by Brad Dourif.
If there’s one huge flaw with the film, it’s that the film never explains why Laura is suddenly having visions. Obviously, the film is trying to suggest that Laura and the murderer share some sort of psychic connection but why? (I was hoping the film would reveal that Dunaway had an evil twin or something like that but no.) The other huge problem that I had is that one of the more likable characters in the film is murdered while dressed as Laura, specifically as a way to distract the killer. So, that kind of makes that murder all Laura’s fault but no one ever points that out.
Personally, I think this film missed a huge opportunity by not having Andy Warhol play one of the suspects. I mean, how can you make a movie about a pretentious New York fashion photographer in the ’70s without arranging for a cameo from Andy Warhol?
The other missed opportunity is that the script was written by John Carpenter but he wasn’t invited to direct the movie. I suppose that makes sense when you consider that Carpenter actually sold his script before he was hired to direct Halloween. (Both Halloween and Eyes of Laura Mars came out in the same year, 1978.) That said, Carpenter would have directed with more of a sense of irony. Director Irvin Kershner takes a plodding and humourless approach to the material. When you’ve got a film featuring Faye Dunaway flaring her nostrils and Tommy Lee Jones talking about how sad his childhood was, you need a director who is going to fully embrace the insanity of it all.
With the glamorous background and the unseen killer, Eyes of Laura Mars was obviously meant to be an American take on the giallo genre. Occasionally, it succeeds but again, it’s hard not to feel that an Italian director would have had a bit more fun with the material. In the end, Eyes of Laura Mars is an interesting misfire but a misfire nonetheless.
“Despite drawing from the rich tapestry of the Giallo genre, Eyes of Laura Mars feels rather mundane. Jones, Dunaway, Dourif, and Julia are a joy to watch in the early stages of their careers, yet the material rarely lives up to the charisma they bring to the screen, not to mention the powerhouse of potential with Kershner, Carpenter, Goodman, and Peters behind the camera.” Alex DiVincenzo, Broke Horror Fan
“Irvin Kershner’s direction drags horribly. Each party and modelling shoot drags on as though it were the set-piece instead of the killings. Kershner diverts off in long boring attempts to develop peripheral characters but when it comes to Rene Auberjonois’s shriekingly camp gay manager and Brad Dourif’s twitchy, eye-rolling ex-con chauffeur, the results are excruciating.” Richard Scheib, Moria
“It’s the cleverness of Eyes of Laura Mars that counts, cleverness that manifests itself in superlative casting, drily controlled direction from Irvin Kershner, and spectacular settings that turn New York into the kind of eerie, lavish dreamland that could exist only in the idle noodlings of the very, very hip.” Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Eyes of Laura Mars tries to say Serious Things about fashion photography, corruption in advertising, and the violence in our society. It does not succeed, but it tries. We would not, however, hold its Serious Things against it, if the movie also succeeded as a thriller. It doesn’t, unless your idea of being thrilled is having people leap out of the shadows and then turn out to be friends.” Roger Ebert
Cast and characters:
- Faye Dunaway … Laura Mars
- Tommy Lee Jones … John Neville
- Brad Dourif … Tommy Ludlow
- Rene Auberjonois … Donald Phelps
- Raul Julia … Michael Reisler (as R.J.)
- Frank Adonis … Sal Volpe
- Lisa Taylor … Michele
- Darlanne Fluegel … Lulu
- Rose Gregorio … Elaine Cassell
- Bill Boggs … Himself
- Steve Marachuk … Robert
- Meg Mundy … Doris Spenser
- Marilyn Meyers … Sheila Weissman
- Gary Bayer … Reporter
- Mitchell Edmonds … Reporter
- Michael Tucker … Bert
- Jeff Niki … Photo Assistant
- Toshi Matsuo … Photo Assistant
- John Edward Allen … Billy T. (as John E. Allen)
- Anna Anderson … Model
- Deborah Beck … Model
- Jim Devine … Model
- Hanny Friedman … Model
- Winnie Hollman … Model
- Patty Oja … Model
- Donna Palmer … Model
- Sterling St. Jacques … Model
- Rita Tellone … Model
- Kari Page … Model
- Dallas Edward Hayes … Douglas
- John Randolph Jones … Policeman
- Allen Joseph … Policeman (as Al Joseph)
- Gerald M. Kline … Policeman (as Gerald Kline)
- Sal Richards … Policeman
- Tom Degidon … Policeman
- Paula Laurence … Aunt Caroline (as Paula Lawrence)
- Joey R. Mills … Make-Up Person
- John Sahag … Hairdresser
- Hector Troy … Cab Driver
John Carpenter’s original title was simply Eyes