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Letter from an Unknown Woman

(1948 b 86')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Adapted from Stefan Zweig's novella, a woman secretly loves a pianist, but to him she is just another romance.

In Vienna about 1900 Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan) comes home and tells his servant John (Art Smith) he must leave early to avoid a duel. John shows him a letter from a woman who may not still be alive, and Stefan begins reading it.

Young Lisa Berndl (Joan Fontaine) hears her neighbor Stefan playing the piano, and she opens the door for him. She reads about musicians and imagines he plays for her. After beating a rug she goes into his apartment. Her mother (Mady Christians) tells Lisa she is getting married. Lisa does not want to move with them and runs back to see Stefan and waits. When she sees him come in with a woman, she goes back to her mother.

Lisa goes to concerts with Lt. Leopold von Kaltnegger (John Good), but she tells him that she is engaged to a man in Vienna, making her mother upset. Lisa models dresses. One evening Stefan speaks to her on the street. He arranges his schedule to spend time with her. They dine, and she asks him to talk about himself. Stefan gives her a white rose. They talk about travel and dance until the musicians leave. Stefan plays piano. Then he takes her home with him, and they embrace. The next day Stefan finds her modeling and says he is going to Milan for two weeks. At the station they say goodbye.

Lisa won't tell a nun who the father is. Stefan with the letter looks at photos of his son and learns that she married. Lisa says goodnight to her son Stefan (Leo B. Pessin) and asks him to call Johann Staufer (Marcel Journet) father. Lisa and Johann attend an opera, and Stefan sees her. She leaves, and in the lobby Stefan asks her where they met. He wants to see her again. Johann asks Lisa what she will do and reminds her of honor. She says Stefan needs her as she needs him. Johann warns that he will act to prevent it.

Lisa puts her son Stefan on a train, but they are told the car is quarantined and have to move. She hopes to see him in two weeks. Lisa looks for Stefan, and Johann sees her go into his apartment. Lisa asks Stefan why he quit playing piano, and he says he is no longer young and has found other pleasures. He kisses her and goes to get ice. She leaves because he does not remember her. Lisa learns that her son died of typhus. She writes in the letter that she still loves Stefan.

At the end of the letter Stefan sees a note that she died. Stefan confirms that John remembered her. In the final scene Stefan leaves in order to avoid the duel, and he recalls the first time he saw her at the door.

This romantic drama contrasts the self-absorbing love of Lisa for a musician to his superficial affairs with beautiful women.

Copyright © 2006 by Sanderson Beck

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