Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan, Mady Christians, Marcel Journet, Art Smith, Carol Yorke, Howard Freeman, John Good, Leo B. Pessin, Erskine Sanford, Otto Waldis, Sonja Bryden
Written by: Howard Koch, based on a story by Stefan Zweig
Directed by: Max Ophüls
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 86
Date: 04/28/1948

Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Pushing the Envelope

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Max Ophuls' Hollywood period has always been underrated because, like Howard Hawks, he made genre pictures, and not "important" movies. But at least Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) is one of the greatest achievements in American film, if not Caught and The Reckless Moment (both 1949).

Letter from an Unknown Woman uses Ophuls' signature circular story structure once again. Louis Jourdan reads a letter just as he goes off to fight a losing duel. The letter reminds him of a young woman (Joan Fontaine) who had once fallen in love with him. At first he did not notice her, then he used and forgot her.

Ophuls uses all of the foregrounds and backgrounds to help frame and constrict his characters during different moods. The most memorable scene is in the amusement park ride where painted backdrops spin by, making it seem as if we're in another place. But Ophuls' camera is alive in every scene, following Fontaine and making her tragedy tangible.

Following an eternity with no laserdisc, DVD or Blu-ray release, Olive Films has finally graced us with a brand new DVD and Blu-ray in 2012. Quality is above average, but as usual with Olive, there are no extras or subtitles.

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