Archive of films Letter from an Unknown Woman / Letter from an Unknown Woman

USA
1948, 86 min

Section: Treasures from the Film Archives
Year: 2010

Stefan Brand is a concert pianist and favourite with women who buries his talent in a superficial bohemian lifestyle, and whose winning seductive manner can’t disguise his inability to love. A "letter from an unknown woman”, however, reveals to the aging charmer the love and devotion that have passed him by. The ruthlessly melodramatic story by Stefan Zweig was recast by brilliant stylist Max Ophüls into one of the best American films of the mid-20th century. The film, which was never shown in Czech cinemas at the time, will now be screened in its newly restored version.


Synopsis

Letter from an Unknown Woman is the best of Ophüls’s American films and one of the most important to emerge in the USA during the latter half of the 1940s. Nevertheless, thanks to an ill-conceived promotional campaign, it was endorsed at the time as a film appealing to women, which discredited it in the eyes of the critics and ultimately damaged it commercially as well. In a series of flashbacks, Ophüls tells a story of love which never existed. Stefan Brand is a concert pianist and favourite with women; he buries his talent in a superficial bohemian lifestyle but his winning seductive manner can’t disguise his inability to love. The letter of the film’s title is what reveals to the aging charmer the kind of devotion that has passed him by. The director identified himself closely with his male protagonist, thus adding a self-critical, autobiographical element we won’t find in Stefan Zweig’s novella. As in the case of the celebrated film Flirtation (Liebelei), Ophüls worked with famous Austrian cinematographer and native of Karlovy Vary, Franz (Frank) Planer. Never previously put into Czech distribution, the film will now be screened in its newly restored version.

About the director

Max Ophüls (b. 1902, Saarbrücken – 1957, Hamburg) was deemed controversial during his time, particularly by the realist- and socially-oriented mainstream film critics. Not even the setting of his stories in fin-de-siècle Europe (most often Vienna) fitted their criteria, nor their leaning towards melodrama, nor their polished ornamental style. It is only today that Ophüls is recognised as one of the luminaries of classic world film. An unwilling German globetrotter on the run from Nazism and the war, he filmed in a number of European countries and in the USA. His oeuvre is topped by his French films La ronde (1950), Le plaisir (1951), Madame de... (1953) and Lola Montès (1955).

About the film

Black & white, 35 mm

Section: Treasures from the Film Archives
   
Director: Max Ophüls
Screenplay: Howard Koch, Max Ophüls podle stejnojmenné povídky Stefana Zweiga / based on the story of the same name by Stefan Zweig
Dir. of Photography: Frank Planer
Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Editor: Ted J. Kent
Producer: John Houseman
Production: Rampart Productions
Cast: Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan, Mady Christians, Marcel Journet, Art Smith, Carol Yorke

Guests

Vic Pratt

Film Institution Rep.

YouTube

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