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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948)

A dissipated pianist (Louis Jourdan) arrives home late one night after being challenged to a duel early that morning. Upon his arrival, his servant (Art Smith) gives him a letter. The letter chronicles the lifelong love for the musician by the letter's writer (Joan Fontaine), who is dying. Max Ophuls' elegant and tragic tale of an obsessive love that's never returned in kind is his greatest American film and with the possible exception of the exquisite THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE..., perhaps his greatest film period. On the technical level alone, it's an awesome achievement. The detailed recreation of 19th century Vienna by art director Alexander Golitzen (SPARTACUS), the set decorations by Russell Gausman and Ruby Levitt, the meticulous costumes of Travis Banton and the polished B&W cinematography of Franz Planer (BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S) are impeccable. But it's not just a handsome costume picture. Ophuls' portrait of the compulsive passion of its heroine is probably matched only Hitchcock's VERTIGO in its intensity and ultimate tragedy. Fontaine gives one of her very best performances, far more believable here as a 14 year old than in THE CONSTANT NYMPH. With Mady Christians and Howard Freeman.

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