Sight and Sound - 12/01/2006
"Ophuls' masterful balance of viewpoints allows the viewer to perceive the long flashback that constitutes the film's main body as both a literal embodiment of Lisa's romantic fantasy and a critique of said romanticism."
LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN is set in Vienna at the turn of the century, an era Ophüls loved and had used in LA RONDE and LIEBELEI. Joan Fontaine gives a moving, heartfelt performance as Lisa Berndl, a romantic young woman who falls in love with the handsome concert pianist Stephan Brandt (Louis Jourdan). After a brief affair, which she takes for love, not seeing that he is just a philanderer, he leaves for a concert in Italy and never returns to the now-pregnant Lisa. She bears the child herself and later enters into a stable marriage, although one lacking the passion and love she still feels for Stephan. Ten years later, when he returns to Vienna, Lisa attempts, at the risk of her marriage, to see if he loves, or even remembers her. Fontaine and Jourdan perfectly project the feelings of a woman in love and a man too selfish to notice or care.
Written by Howard Koch, the co-author of CASABLANCA, from a novel by Stephan Zweig, LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN is generally described as a "woman's picture" because of its theme of unrequited love. But this somewhat pejorative description hides what in acting, writing, camera work, atmosphere and emotion is not just one of Max Ophüls' crowning achievements, but one the finest examples of how all elements needed to make a great film are brought together.
A charming but philandering concert pianist receives a letter from a strange woman the night before he is due to fight a duel for offending a lady's honor. Through the letter, he comes to understand for the first time the undying love that one woman felt for him through the years, despite his cavalier attitude and broken promises.
Love Story |
Tear Jerker |
LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1992.
This was the first film for Rampart, an independent production company operated by Joan Fontaine and her husband, William Dozier.