Letter From An Unknown Woman

Letter From An Unknown Woman


Reviewed by: Nicola Osborne

This is a classic three-tissue melodrama with Joan Fontaine and Luis Jourdan set, around 1900 in a very beautifully staged Vienna.

Opening with consummate gentleman Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan) arriving home after a very late night's socialising with a duel to fight the next morning, our anti-hero finds a letter has been left for him by an unknown woman detailing her life and how it has all revolved around her love for him. Somewhat reminiscent of Kind Hearts And Coronets, the film continues through flashback with the unknown woman, played by Joan Fontaine, narrating the story until we arrive back at the film's present.

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As a girl Lisa (Fontaine) develops a serious crush on her new neighbour, concert pianist Stefan, who barely notices her gradual progression into constant but loving stalking. For years she dutifully watches his comings and goings... and those of his many female companions.

She is utterly enchanted by his music and well-practiced charm, and is devastated when she has to move away with her mother. Rejecting several offers Lisa remains faithful to her unknowing love, returning to Vienna so she can resume her silent pursuit.

Joan Fontaine is wonderfully understated in her portrayal of the innocent and loving obsessive (Fatal Attraction this is not), and manages not to grate the nerves despite remaining painfully worthy throughout. Jourdan does his standard charming man about town turn (given the time and setting you can't help but think of Gigi) who remains surprised and moved by Fontaine each time he believes he is just meeting her a new. Despite his caddish behaviour and a formulaic whiff to his seduction techniques (he has longer standing relationships with the staff at his favourite restaurants than with any of his dinner dates) he remains a scatty, boyish character. You can't help but feel sorry at the easy, but lonely life he has doomed himself to lead.

Few other actors have a look in (it is really Fontaine's film) but the cameos in the earlier portions of the film lead to a few lovely little comic scenes, and Jourdan's butler/manservant remains satisfyingly all-knowing throughout. With other characters all helping the plot along nicely without distracting from the convincingly ageing leads. Though the final resolving of the story is perhaps over redemptive (and not a little over-the-top), Letter From an Unknown Woman remains a beautifully shot and involving tragic classic.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A woman falls for her neighbour and maintains her unrequited love down the years.
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Chris *****

Director: Max Ophuls

Writer: Howard Koch, Max Ophüls, Stefan Zweig

Starring: Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan, Mady Christians, Marcel Journet, Art Smith, Carol Yorke, Howard Freeman, John Good, Leo B. Pessin, Erskine Sanford, Otto Waldis

Year: 1948

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: USA


EIFF 2000
EIFF 2005

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