Peking, 1948. A winter night. A man returns home to find a letter awaiting him written by a woman before her death. in the letter she tells him the story of her love for him -a life-long ... See full summary »
In Vienna in 1900, Stefan Brand must face a duel the following morning. He has no intention of defending his honor however and plans to flee the city when he notices that he has received a letter from someone in his past. A struggling concert pianist at the time he met Lisa Berndle when she was just a teenager living next door. Brand has had many women in his life however and unaware that Lisa is genuinely in love with him, forgets all about her. They meet again but he only vaguely remembers ever having met her. Unknown to him she bears his child and eventually marries a man who knows of her past but loves her very much. When she runs into Brand many years later her love for him resurfaces and she is prepared to abandon her son and husband for him. Tragedy follows. Written by
Both Louis Jourdan and Joan Fontaine had been put under contract by David O. Selznick (Jourdan had been in the resistance during the war) - and thus were loaned out for Letter from an Unknown Woman. See more »
An admirable scene sums up the whole movie:Stefan and Liza are aboard a "train" and they "travel".It's actually a fixed train,and some kind of stagehand forwards a chocolate box scenery :Venice ,Switzerland... In the real world ,trains are ominous messengers of death and despair:it's a train which takes Stefan away after their affair,a train which takes the young boy to his death.
Stefan (Jourdan)lives his selfish life without seeing anything.Ophuls(spelled Opuls in the cast and credits) shows him as a handsome nice young man,but if you look with care,you'll notice it's always Liza(Fontaine)who's looking at him with love.Jourdan seems to care but actually he knows so many women that he acts as if he's in a play:Liza's admiration means nothing to him who is a ladykiller-see the scene when Liza comes back from the station- and a celebrated musician adulated by the crowds.Liza is the romantic woman,with a zest of touch of Madame Bovary thrown in -it's not a coincidence if Minnelli chose Jourdan as Madame Bovary's lover in his eponymous movie the very same year-For her,there must be only one love ,and she's prepared to give it all.
Joan Fontaine had perhaps never been so good as here.Her whole life ,as she writes her letter (the movie is a flashback ) could have been written in the past conditional.Main influence is certainly that of John Stahl and his "only yesterday" (1933)in which Margaret Sullavan wrote John Boles such a letter.Even the young boy is present in both movies.The last page of the letter,ink-stained (or tear-stained?)takes the audience to a peak of emotion.The final predates the ending of Ophuls's "Madame de" (1953),and the scene on the "train" ,an imitation of life ,the big circus of "Lola Montes" (1955)
This is probably Louis Jourdan's best part as well.A French actor,he was never that much popular in his native country ,and he found his best parts in the US ,be it artistically (Ophuls ,Hitchcock and Minnelli) or commercially (Octopussy) speaking.
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