Saturday, February 6, 2021

Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan in “Letter from an Unknown Woman”

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) is an American drama directed by Max Ophuls and starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan. The movie is based on the novella of the same name by Stefan Zweig.

Joan Fontaine (Lisa) and Louis Jordan (Stefan)

During the early days of the twentieth century in Vienna, Lisa, a teenage girl (Fontaine) becomes enamored by concert pianist Stefan Brand (Jordan) who is a new tenant in her apartment building. As Stefan’s career gains traction, Lisa becomes obsessed with him. She stays up late to listen to him play, and even sneaking into his apartment to see how he lives and to admire him from afar.

Lisa’s mother reveals that she is engaged to be married to a wealthy gentleman and that they will be moving to Linz. This makes Lisa distraught and she finds her life in Linz almost unbearable. Eventually, Lisa moves back to Vienna, working as a dress model. She lingers the streets of her old neighborhood hoping to get a glimpse of her idol and love, Stefan.

Will he notice her? Will the love she has for Stefan bloom into a relationship between the two of them?

The Backstory

Max Ophuls (1931-1957) was born in Germany where his film career began. After it was clear the Nazis would take power in Germany, Ophuls, a jew, moved to France in 1933 where he became a French citizen in 1938. After the fall of France, he traveled through Switzerland and Italy, eventually ending up in the United States. In Hollywood, Ophuls directed Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in The Exile (1947), Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Caught starring James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Ryan. The Reckless Moment would be his last Hollywood film before he returned to France, where he directed major successes La Ronde (1950) and The Earrings of Madame de…(1953) starring Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux.

Joan Fontaine (1917 – 2013) was a British-American actress who starred in more than 45 films during Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” After secondary roles in Gunga Din (1939) and The Women (1939), her fortunes turned with her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film, Rebecca (1940). She was nominated for Best Actress for her role in that film but lost to Ginger Rogers. The next year, she worked with Hitchcock again in Suspicion and this time won the Best Actress Oscar, beating out her older sister Olivia de Havilland. She received a third and final nomination for The Constant Nymph (1943). Other popular Fontaine films include This Above All (1942), From This Day Forward (1946), Ivy (1947), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), The Emperor Waltz (1948), and Ivanhoe (1952). After the late-1950s, she appeared less in films and more on stage and television. Fontaine and her sister are the only siblings to have won major acting Academy Awards.

And older Lisa and Stefan

Louis Jourdan (1921 - 2015) was a French film and television actor. Jourdan worked on the stage in Europe and even began working in films as early as 1939, but his film work was interrupted due to World War II. After the war, Jourdan was brought to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick. His first film in Hollowood was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (1947). The next year he made Letter from an Unknown Woman, one of his most famous roles during his long career. Jourdan made movies in Europe and Hollywood and starred on Broadway in The Immoralist in 1954 co-starring with Geraldine Page and James Dean. Jourdan’s most famous and successful American film was Gigi (1958). The film cos-starred Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier and won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Letter from an Unknown Woman trivia:

  • Fontaine was 30 years old when she played Lisa, who was 16 years old at the beginning of the film.
  • The film was made by Rampart Productions, an independent film company formed by Fontaine and her then-husband William Dozier.
  • Japanese film director, Hideo Nakata considers this “The best film in the entire movie industry.”
  • Both Fontaine and Jourdan were under contract to David O. Selznick at the time of production.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join us on Zoom for a discussion of the film on February 6, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and link to the Zoom meeting.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Do you think Fontaine was convincing as a teenager early in the film?
  2. Was Jourdan convincing as a concert pianist and playboy?
  3. Do you think Stefan ever loved Lisa?
  4. What did you think of the film’s production?

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