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Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 16 July 1948 (Mexico)
1:37 | Trailer
A pianist about to flee from a duel receives a letter from a woman he cannot remember, who may hold the key to his downfall.


Max Ophüls (as Max Opuls)


Howard Koch (screenplay), Stefan Zweig (novel)
2 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »





Complete credited cast:
Joan Fontaine ... Lisa Berndle
Louis Jourdan ... Stefan Brand
Mady Christians ... Frau Berndle
Marcel Journet Marcel Journet ... Johann Stauffer
Art Smith ... John
Carol Yorke Carol Yorke ... Marie
Howard Freeman ... Herr Kastner
John Good John Good ... Lt. Leopold von Kaltnegger
Leo B. Pessin Leo B. Pessin ... Stefan Jr.
Erskine Sanford ... Porter
Otto Waldis ... Concierge
Sonja Bryden Sonja Bryden ... Frau Spitzer


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 garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


This is the love every woman lives for...the love every man would die for!


Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Louis Jourdan and Joan Fontaine did a half-hour version of Letter from an Unknown woman for radio on the "Camel Screen Guild Players" series in 1948. See more »


While most signs in the movie are written correctly in German, since the movie is set in Austria, parts of them are in English, e.g. Stefan Brand's concert flyer, which says "Concert Program" instead of "Konzertprogramm". See more »


Lisa Berndl: Now I'm alone. My head throbs and my temples are burning. Perhaps God has been kind, and I too have caught the fever. If this letter reaches you, believe this - that I love you now as I've always loved you. My life can be measured by the moments I've had with you and our child. If only you could have shared those moments, if only you could have recognized what was always yours, could have found what was never lost. If only...
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Version of Letter from an Unknown Woman (1963) See more »


Un sospiro
Music by Franz Liszt
Played on piano by Louis Jourdan (dubbed by Jakob Gimpel)
Also used as main theme in the score
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User Reviews

maybe one should coin this as "fatal romanticism"
1 July 2017 | by lasttimeisawSee all my reviews

Based on Stefan Zweig's novella, LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN is Max Ophüls' magus opus which fails to get its fair recognition upon its initial launch, but time will attest its superlative craftsmanship and stunning aesthetics.

The story itself has its beggar belief elements in its nexus prima facie, how can a man not remembering a woman who has thoroughly swept him off the feet, even just for a romantic and passionate one-night-stand? Maybe only real gadabouts can certify such occasion. But that is exactly where the story takes a leap of faith to accentuate the psychological disparity between man and woman, one is forever enticed by new possibility and ensconced in that living-for-the- moment benevolence while the other more often than not, caves in her chimera of reaching for the stars, when this occurs, thence tragedy ensues, maybe one should coin it as "fatal romanticism".

Under Ophüls' impeccable aesthetics, the film evinces great melancholy from its fin-de-siècle setting and punctilious guidelines, the swooning camera-work at hand swirls with its own propulsive vitality and takes no side-on glance at the periphery, homing in on its subjects, crystallizing every emotional pulsating to the fore of plenary niceties.

Joan Fontaine, scarcely credible to pass off as a teenager in the start (she was roughly 30 at that time), bides her time when her Lisa reaches adulthood, and buckles down henceforth, no matter what, she never loses her glamour and moderation, even in those pulverizing scenes of that twice- happened "two weeks curses", she is Hollywood Golden Age's screen goddess of profound implosion, an effort none-too elemental but totally falls in with Ophüls' soft-centred temperament. Louis Jourdan, kicks off his inchoate Tinseltown career with a character considerably shows his chops (although he is a few years junior to Fontaine, he tosses off the daunting job of acting well- above his real age without visible hiccups), a continent fop, debonair, talented and charmingly ingenuous, naturally women fall for him, and his downfall is that he can never be wisely selective, too many interludes, but no symphony.

Music, plays a heavy part to accompany the narrative flashback, solemn, stentorian and plaintive, Daniele Amfitheatrof's score cogently speaks volumes of our protagonists' inward feelings, and once more we are convinced that Max Ophüls absolutely knows how to chisel out something intrinsically dramatic and transmute it into a magnificent and endearing heartstring tugger.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

16 July 1948 (Mexico) See more »

Also Known As:

Brief einer Unbekannten See more »


Box Office

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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