Diane (1956): Miller’s Kitschy Historical Epic, Starring Lana Turner in Lavish Costumes

David Miller directed Diane, a bogus historical drama about the life of Diane de Poitiers, starring Lana Turner in her last MGM movie.

Diane
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Original film poster

It was produced by Edwin H. Knopf from a screenplay by Christopher Isherwood based on a story by John Erskine.

Robert H. Planck filmed in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor, and the exceptionally lavish costumes were designed by Walter Plunkett.

The film stars Lana Turner, Pedro Armendáriz, Roger Moore, and Marisa Pavan, and features Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Torin Thatcher, Taina Elg, John Lupton, Henry Daniell, Melville Cooper and early appearance by Stuart Whitman.

It was Turner’s last film under her longtime MGM contract, marking a stage in the decline of the studio star system.

Set in 16th-century France, the tale centers on Diane de Poitiers (Lana Turner) becomes the mistress of Prince Henri (Roger Moore, the future James Bond), second in line to throne. Their liaison continues through Henri’s arranged marriage to the Italian Catherine de’ Medici (Marisa Pavan).

Unknown to Catherine, her Medici relations arrange the death of the Dauphin and Henri’s ascent to the throne as King Henry II. The antagonism of the two women, abetted by Medici scheming, results in the death of Henri. Catherine, now ruling as regent, banishes Diane but spares her rival’s life out of mutual respect.

The film was based on a fifty-page unpublished manuscript called “Diane de Poitiers” by John Erskine, who died in 1951. Film rights were bought in 1939 by Edwin H Knopf, story editor for Sam Goldwyn.

In 1953, Knopf re-secured the film rights from Erskine’s estate and took the project to Dore Schary, head of MGM production at MGM. Greer Garson was originally mentioned as a possible lead, and at one point, Schary hoped to get Garbo out of retirement for the role, which eventually went to Lana Turner.

Turner said Diane was an interesting woman “one who used her charm intelligently. She was a forerunner of today’s modern woman, Europe’s first outdoor girl, a health fan and an advocate of the cold bath. She wasn’t afraid to use her head, but was never caught with her brains showing.”

Christopher Isherwood deplored the treatment of his screenplay, blaming Turner for her interventions.

The film was an expensive failure, earning only $461,000 in the US and $771,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $2,660,000.

Cast
Lana Turner as Diane de Poitiers
Pedro Armendáriz as King Francis I of France
Roger Moore as Prince Henri (later King Henry II)
Marisa Pavan as Catherine de’ Medici
Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Ruggieri
Torin Thatcher as Count de Brézé
Taina Elg as Alys
John Lupton as Regnault
Henry Daniell as Gondi
Ronald Green as The Dauphin
Sean McClory as Count Montgomery

Credits:

Directed by David Miller
Produced by Edwin H. Knopf
Written by Christopher Isherwood, John Erskine
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Robert H. Planck
Edited by John McSweeney Jr.

Production company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date: January 12, 1956

Running time: 110 minutes