In 2010, Turner Classic Movies channel (TCM) premiered “Letter From An Unknown Woman” (1948) on their network after years of making it the most requested film amongst TCM viewers. “Tv Movie Goers” claimed that it is one of the most epic love stories in film history. Here is my review of this underrated classic, “Letter From An Unknown Woman” (1948).
The film stars Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan in a romantic drama based off of the novel of the same name by Stefan Zweig. The film opens in Vienna in the year of 1900. “Stefan Brand” (Jourdan) is a retired concert pianist who returns to his hotel room to find a letter waiting for him. “By the time you read this letter, I may be dead,” the letter begins, striking the first dramatic cord in the story. Stefan continues to read the letter as we are transported back to its writer, who we are introduced to as, “Lisa Berndle” (Fontaine). Lisa reveals in her letter that she has been in love with Stefan since she was fifteen years old when they lived in the same apartment complex and she was entranced by his presence even though they never met. Then life took Lisa away from him, unable to see him again until they finally meet for one romantic night together. Years later, they meet once again at an Opera gala but Brand does not remember her. Lisa chooses to risk everything to make Brand remember her again, but the consequences were greater than she ever thought it would, as she details them in her letter. Without giving away the ending, the love story does not seriously hit you until the film draws to a close. And what a powerful close it is with a heart-wrenching ending which is predictable, but not contrived or melodramatic.
After making his debut in Hitchcock’s “The Paradine Case” (1947) in a supporting role, Louis Jourdan makes his first starring role as “Stefan Brand." Jourdan's strong performance is an exemplary one given by an actor who should be considered to be one of the greatest leading actors in film. Although Joan Fontaine had her difficulties with trying to please German director Max Opuls without speaking a word of German herself, Fontaine gives one of her strongest performances as “Lisa Berndle.”
In romantic dramas, it all comes down to chemistry between the actors. Although they do not spend a lot of “screen time” together, Fontaine and Jourdan’s chemistry so electric that it spreads throughout the film. In turn, their pairing should be ranked amongst the likes of “Gone With The Wind”’s Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara and “Casablanca”’s Rick and Ilsa. This definitely one romantic drama that should be a staple in classic film.