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Louis Jourdan & Joan Fontaine Romance Classic Tonight

Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan Letter from an Unknown Woman
Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan Letter from an Unknown Woman

Louis Jourdan is Turner Classic Movies' star of the evening, which has just kicked off with a showing of Vincente Minnelli's 1958 multiple Oscar-winning musical Gigi, co-starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier.

But the highlight of the Louis Jourdan evening comes later, with the 7:15 p.m. (Pacific Time) TCM premiere of Max Ophüls' haunting Letter from an Unknown Woman, a 1948 romantic drama that ranks among not only the greatest movie romances ever, but also among the greatest motion pictures ever made, period.

The only reason I don't call Letter from an Unknown Woman Max Ophüls' masterpiece is because Ophüls also directed the sublime Madame De (1952) and the revered Lola Montes (1957). An individual is only allowed one single masterpiece.

Starring Joan Fontaine as the “unknown woman” of the title, Letter from an Unknown Woman is a tale of unrequited love – or passion or madness or obsession or all four (and more) rolled into one. Jourdan doesn't have all that much to do in the film, except look classy and aloof. He fits the part perfectly.

Now, if Ophüls' camera work, Howard Koch's screenplay adaptation of Stefan Zweig's story, Franz Planer's superb cinematography, and Daniele Amfitheatrof's memorable score give the film its mood and ambiance, it's Joan Fontaine who gives Letter from an Unknown Woman its soul. Fontaine's performance as a woman gone mad with yearning and desire is nothing short of extraordinary.

Unfortunately, Letter from an Unknown Woman wasn't a hit at the time of its release. Needless to say, the film wasn't nominated for a single Academy Award. That's the Academy's loss. Don't miss it tonight.

As an aside: Letter from an Unknown Woman has quite a bit in common in terms of plot, mood, lighting, and atmosphere with Jacques Feyder's 1931 romantic drama Daybreak, itself based on a novel by Arthur Schnitzler. Turner Classic Movies shows it every now and then; though inferior to Ophüls' drama, it's well worth a look thanks to Feyder's sensitive direction, Merritt B. Gerstad's cinematography, and Ramon Novarro's performance in a role akin to that of Louis Jourdan in the 1948 film.

There have also been other film versions of Stefan Zweig's story. I've only seen one other: Only Yesterday, in which John Boles is the man who forgets and Margaret Sullavan the woman who doesn't. Sullavan is excellent in the role, but this modernized, American-set version lacks the European atmosphere of the remake. Only Yesterday was directed by melodrama expert John M. Stahl in 1933.

Kurt Kasznar, Charles Boyer, Bobby Driscoll, Marsha Hunt, Louis Jourdan, The Happy Time
Kurt Kasznar, Charles Boyer, Bobby Driscoll, Marsha Hunt, Louis Jourdan, The Happy Time

While I'm at it, make sure to catch Richard Fleischer's nostalgic 1952 comedy-drama The Happy Time, which stars Louis Jourdan, Charles Boyer, Bobby Driscoll, and Marsha Hunt, right at the time her film career was ruined by the anti-Red hysteria of the 1950s.

Julie (1956), with Jourdan as a total psycho and Doris Day piloting a plane, is as entertaining as it sounds. (I guess that could go both ways.)

I haven't watched Dangerous Exile, but considering its cast – Jourdan, Belinda Lee, Keith Michell – it should be worth a look.

Right after that there's a non-Louis Jourdan movie: Cottage to Let, Anthony Asquith's 1941 mystery-thriller starring Leslie Banks, John Mills, Alastair Sim, and a young Michael Wilding (later one of Elizabeth Taylor's husbands). I'm no fan of Leslie Banks, whom I usually find way over the top, but Mills and especially Sim make Cottage to Let a must-see.


         
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2 Comments to Louis Jourdan & Joan Fontaine Romance Classic Tonight

  1. Andre

    I'd suggest you take a look at TCM's schedule on their website.

  2. Maryellen Kitchen

    When can we see this movie again? Letter from an Unknown Woman. Thanks.