In a long flashback, a New York publisher is in Venice pursuing the lost love letters of an early-19th-century poet, Jeffrey Ashton, who disappeared mysteriously. Using a false name, Lewis Venable rents a room from Juliana Bordereau, once Jeffrey Ashton's lover, now an aged recluse. Running the household is Juliana's severe niece, Tina, who mistrusts Venable from the first moment. He realizes all is not right when late one night he finds Tina, her hair unpinned and wild, at the piano. She calls him Jeffrey and throws herself at him. The family priest warns Venable to tread carefully around her fantasies, but he wants the letters at any cost, even Tina's sanity. Written by
James first published 'The Aspern Papers' in the March-May editions of 'The Atlantic Monthly'. In the original story the heroine's name was Tita. In later editions of the story James changed the name to Tina. See more »
When Lewis rescues Juliana from the fire, Juliana's stunt double can be seen grabbing onto Lewis and helping him carry 'her' out. See more »
Beautiful, moody, romantic love story set in Venice
The Lost Moment (1947)
A highly romanticized version of the dark and complex story by Henry James called the Aspern Papers. It's glorious in many ways, ultra moody and mysterious. It lacks some of the delirious gloss and superb acting of, say, "Rebecca" though the similarities are clear.
The leading actor, an American in Venice, is maybe the weakest link, because he comes off as more of a naive innocent than a slightly lost and duplicitous conniver, one who gets seduced by his own mission (a common James theme). But Robert Cummings has the advantage of letting the story and the scenes dominate. The leading woman, playing a complex role, is Susan Hayward, a better actor though the main side of her role is to be steely and lifeless, which she does very well. Agnes Moorehead plays the old woman, and you won't recognize her, she's so heavily made up.
It's 1947 and still the studio era, so the entire film was shot in Hollywood, but the sets are fabulous, and the photography and lighting makes the most of it. It's beautiful, above all.
But what about the story? A great and somewhat fantastic love story. Or is it so fantastic? It seems some of the time that there is something magical happening, a crossing of time zones. But our protagonist discovers the truth, and falls in love, and the problem gradually changes. The original goal, of discovering some key lover letters from fifty years earlier, seems secondary, though it rears its head (suddenly) at the climax.
Some people might find this film "old fashioned" or a little false, somehow, with the actors playing types rather than real people. I mean, they are convincing, and compelling for sure, but they only have the qualities needed for the plot. But other people will be able to buy into all this as style, which it is, and let it take over. It's a curious and beautiful enterprise, whatever its flaws.
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