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 sex 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 The Eyes of Laura Mars.) Some people think that Laura’s work is going to lead to the downfall of civilization. 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 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 The Eyes of Laura Mars came out in the same year, 1978.) That said, Carpenter would have directed with more of a sense of humor. Director Irvin Kershner takes a plodding and humorless 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, The Eyes of Laura Mars was obviously meant to be an American giallo. 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 The Eyes of Laura Mars is an interesting misfire but a misfire nonetheless.