Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

Max Ophuls brought his trademark flowing camera style and a taste of the old Vienna to Hollywood for this tragic story of unrequited love.

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“Ophuls enters a woman’s heart and a man’s soul with breathtaking delicacy. Everything counts and everything matters in this unadulterated gift from European culture to the Hollywood dream machine.”
Andrew Sarris, You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet: The American Talking Film, 1998

Leaving Germany after the ascendancy of the Nazi party, Max Ophuls made films in France and Italy before emigrating to Hollywood in the late 1940s. Letter from an Unknown Woman is perhaps the best known of the four films he made there before returning to Europe. It’s an immensely moving tale of a young woman’s (Joan Fontaine) periodic encounters with concert pianist Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan), including a love affair that some years later Brand will wretchedly not even remember.

Adapted from a novella by Stefan Zweig, the project gave Ophuls the opportunity to recreate turn-of-the-century Vienna, an old world he had left behind. The sentimental material is elevated by the director’s refined visual style, typified in the elaborate moving camera shots for which he is famous.

Ophuls’ early German classic Liebelei (1932) – shot by the same cinematographer, Franz Planer – is another Vienna-set story of ill-fated love.

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