‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 26



An unidentified actress appears as Diane Redfern in “Laura.”

In case you just tuned in, I’m using Louella Parsons’ May 15, 1944, item on Rouben Mamoulian being replaced as the director of “Laura” to take a meandering look at the making of the film, which was released in Los Angeles in November 1944. Previous posts have examined the writing career of “Laura” novelist Vera Caspary and the state of the detective story in 1941, when she was writing the novel. We also explored some of the locations Caspary used in the book.

In the next few posts I’m going to look at the characters as portrayed in the novel, starting with the smaller roles and working up to Waldo Lydecker (played by Clifton Webb in the film). Although the book and film are titled “Laura,” Waldo is the most important character and the one who required the most work, as Caspary noted in her autobiography, “The Secrets of Grown-Ups.”

The Making of “Laura” Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26

James Ellroy to script remake of ‘Laura’

Spoilers ahead


This post will examine the character of Diane Redfern, the murder victim who is mistaken for Laura Hunt (played by Gene Tierney in the film). Diane is discussed frequently in the movie, and is apparently infatuated with Laura’s fiance, Shelby Carpenter (played by Vincent Price in the film) but her only appearance is in a magazine ad.

Although Diane is never presented as a living person in Caspary’s novel, she plays a more significant role in the book and there’s no question that she is Shelby’s lover while he is engaged to Laura. We previously looked at the description of her room in the West Village (Part 21), which is the most detailed description of  any location in the book. In the same way, Caspary paints a detailed picture of someone who only appears in the novel as a corpse.

Diane is introduced to readers during a conversation between Shelby, Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews in the film) and Laura’s aunt Susan Treadwell (renamed Ann Treadwell and played by Judith Anderson in the film)

Susan says (Page 29-30):

”The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft buried with their bones,” she misquoted, and giggling lightly, added, “although her poor bones aren’t buried yet. But we must be truthful, even about the dead. It wasn’t money principally with Laura, it was people, if you know what I mean. She was always running around, doing favors, wasting her time and strength on people she scarcely knew. Remember that model, Shelby, the girl with the fancy name? Laura got me to give her my leopard coat. It wasn’t half worn out either. I could have got another winter out of it and spared my mind. Don’t you remember, Shelby?”

Shelby had become infatuated with a bronze Diana who had been threatening for years to leap, with dog and stag, from her pedestal.

In a macabre scene in the novel that was cut from the screenplay, mourners attend a funeral with Diane in the open casket instead of Laura, a bizarre moment in which the victim is presented with a veil disguising the fact that the killer blew away her face with a shotgun.

The body is described this way (Page 51):

She lay in a coffin covered in white silk. Pale ringless hands had been folded against the lavender-tinted white moire of her favorite evening gown. An arrangement of gardenias, draped like a confirmation vein, covered the ruined face.

What’s most interesting about Diane is that Caspary delineates her more clearly than Laura, who is something of a nonentity. As we saw repeatedly in her original movie stories, Caspary had a tendency to let her minor characters overwhelm the story and we find that Diane – who never appears in the book – is more three-dimensional than several of Caspary’s leading characters.

Using Mark’s point of view (recall that the novel is told in multiple viewpoints) Caspary writes (Page 114-115)

I had known girls like that around New York. No home, no friends, not much money. Diane had been a beauty, but beauties are a dime a dozen on both sides of Fifth Avenue between Eighth Street and 96th. Mooney’s report gave facts and figures, showed an estimate of Diane’s earnings according to figures provided by the Models’ Guild. She could have supported a husband and kids on the money she earned when she worked, but the work was unsteady. And according to Mooney’s rough estimate, the clothes in her closet had cost plenty. Twenty pairs of shoes. There were no bills as there had been in Laura’s desk, for Diane came from the lower classes, she paid cash. The sum of it all was a shabby and shiftless life. Fancy perfume bottles, Kewpie dolls and toy animals were all she brought home from expensive dinners and suppers in night spots. The letters from her family, plain working people who lived in Paterson, N.J., were written in night school English and told about lay-offs and money troubles.

Her name had been Jennie Swobodo.

The contents of her black silk bag:

There was $18 in it, they key to her room, lipstick, eye shadow, powder, a little tin phial of perfume and a straw cigarette case with a broken clasp.

To be continued.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1944, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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