Kino Lorber: Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Just a few years before making cinema history with The Empire Strikes Back as well as the James Bond film Never Say Never Again before concluding his career with Robocop 2, director Irvin Kirshner had a sizable track record dating back to the late 1950s before he landed on his 1978 American supernatural-infused giallo thriller Eyes of Laura Mars.  The brainchild of John Carpenter who wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay with David Zelag Goodman (much to Carpenter’s chagrin) after Jon Peters caught wind of the project thinking it would be a good vehicle for then-girlfriend Barbara Streisand to star.  Despite already having worked with Kirshner on Up the Sandbox, Streisand passed on the film but that didn’t stop Columbia head Peter Guber from pursuing another actress (ultimately going with Faye Dunaway) or the Jon Peters from getting an original song out of her with the theme track Prisoner.  

Controversial New York based fashion photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is a hot button topic for the art world, often depicting her young models into violent scenarios with a sexualized emphasis on their outfits or lack thereof.  On the cusp of a press tour for her newly released photography book The Eyes of Laura Mars attended by scoffing Lieutenant John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones), the titular camerawoman amid a haughty press tour begins experiencing bizarre, increasingly violent first-person visions of a masked assailant murdering close colleagues of hers.  Convinced they’re clairvoyant psychic visions and believing she herself might be the killer’s next victim, she joins forces with the Lieutenant trying to solve the mysterious murders and make sense of her premonitions before landing on an unspeakable discovery.

Co-starring Brad Dourif as a suspicious close confidante, Rene Auberjonois as Laura’s longtime boss Donald Phelps and a young Raul Julia as her sleazy ex-husband now turned prime suspect on the run, The Eyes of Laura Mars has all the story beats and rhythms of a classic Italian giallo.  From the production design depicting high luxuriousness by Gene Callahan to the art direction and set decoration by Robert Gundlach and John Godfrey, all reflecting the gaudiness of the world shot brilliantly by Dog Day Afternoon cinematographer Victor J. Kemper.  The costume designs by Theoni V. Aldredge are almost like a character unto themselves, playing to increasingly wild and even zany heights over the course of the film.  Artie Kane’s soundtrack appropriately captures the low-key splendor of the world but dives deeply into nerve-wracking strings of terror during the horrific psychic visions which would make Penderecki blush.

Despite reported tensions between Jon Peters and his not-first-choice of actress Faye Dunaway, the actress having shortly wrapped Sidney Lumet’s Network is arguably at the peak of her powers here as a powerful countercultural icon whose world starts coming apart at the seams in slow motion.  Imbuing her scream queen with a Florinda Balkan quality, Laura Mars comes across as a resourceful heroine trying desperately to prove her visions to someone else while professional colleagues sense an impending nervous breakdown.  Tommy Lee Jones as the homicide detective and skeptic John Neville in a way performs a dress rehearsal for what would or wouldn’t become his Oscar-winning role in The Fugitive.  Brad Dourif as a suspicious bearded assistant with a violent past was also hitting his character-actor stride having just finished One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Released theatrically in 1978, the film became an instant box office success, grossing around $20 million against a $7 million budget with strong soundtrack album sales and over the years garnering a cult following as another rare example of the American giallo film with overarching Italian influences on full display.  Sadly it was among the last (for awhile) respectable films for Faye Dunaway as her career took an unfounded nose dive with the poorly received and misunderstood Mommie Dearest but nevertheless remains a high note on the actress’ filmography.  While Kirshner would dive head over heels into the Star Wars universe as well as bit parts in acting like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, Eyes of Laura Mars represents perhaps one of the director’s last top-to-bottom films without the creative baggage his later works would bring to his output.  It also, despite John Carpenter’s misgivings, also stands as one of the eventual horror icon’s first real brushes with Hollywood, forecasting what would or wouldn’t become the director’s greatest film with The Thing.

--Andrew Kotwicki