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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
Brooding and melancholy--worth seeing, though it's slow in unfolding.
"The Lost Moment" is one of the strangest films of the 1940s I have seen. I am not saying it's bad--just very, very different. The film is based on a story by Henry James ("The Aspern Papers") although like MOST films they liberally change the story. One of the most obvious is the character played by Susan Hayward. In the original story, she's described as plain and unattractive--something you could never have said about Hayward. In this film, she is gorgeous and is paired with an odd choice for a leading man, Robert Cummings. Now I am not complaining or saying Cummings was a bad choice--just an odd one since he was a bit older and not the dashing leading man you'd normally expect in a movie.
The story was originally based on a notion that some love letters from Percy Shelley were hidden somewhere and literary folks were drooling to find them. Here in "The Lost Moment", they use a fictional name for a guy who was clearly modeled after Shelley. But, unlike Shelley, this poet was an American and he simply disappeared in his prime! The only possible clue to his disappearance is the same woman who was in love with this man--and who supposedly has these love letters. But, she's an ancient recluse and has thus far resisted talking about her old lover and has refused to allow people to read these letters....if they even still exist.
Cummings plays a newspaper writer and an opportunist. His plan is to somehow get into this home with the old lady (who is now 105--played by Agnes Moorehead under a ton of makeup). When he learns she is greatly in need of money, he offers to rent out one of her rooms. While they receive him VERY coolly, he is able to secure a room and soon notices just how oppressively dismal the place is. It's like a morgue and a strong brooding sense of doom is well conveyed in the film. I won't discuss the plot any more--it would ruin the suspense. However, to me the plot, though interesting, isn't as important as the mood--which is really excellently conveyed. An interesting film--as there just aren't many like it.
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