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Blind Spot 03: Letter From An Unknown Woman, 1948
this post is part of the blind spot series

Letter From
an Unknown Woman, 1948

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directed by Max Ophüls
starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan

[spacer height=”20px”] [dropcap]Y[/dropcap]et again, Blind Spots elude me. I thought I was sitting down for a nice romance (again), and what came out of this viewing was something far different (again!). Lisa (Joan Fontaine) is a quiet woman. The type of shy, vulnerable, seemingly weak character we see Joan Fontaine often portray so brilliantly we just want to slap them in the face. She’s pining over Stefan (Louis Jourdan), a genius pianist and a ladies man who barely notices her.

That is until, of course, one day he does. And so our Lisa falls even harder. They go out, she comes up to his apartment – next thing you know, she’s pregnant. Except unlike in Love With The Proper Stranger (1963), abortion is not on the table. Funny how in this regard, 15 years in a movie seems centuries apart.

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Spoilers Ahead!
If only you could’ve recognised what was always yours, could’ve found what was never lost.
— Joan Fontaine as Lisa

Before Lisa is aware of her condition, Stefan leaves on a train to somewhere (Italy?) for two weeks that eventually become a lifetime. Unsurprisingly, he forgot all about her. She keeps the child and raises it with another husband, who is fully aware of who the father is. Years later, Lisa and Stefan cross paths again. She is still in love. And we still want to slap her.

He, in turn, is pretty much ruined – both professionally and on a personal level. He turns to her and says the very same line that did her the first time around, and apparently still works: You could help me. Queue the eye-rolls of 21st century women. He wants everything, but gives her nothing.

It’s Safe Again
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Letter From An Unknown Woman Joan Fontaine GIFLetter From An Unknown Woman Joan Fontaine GIF
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Usually I can deal with the female condition in Old Hollywood movies, but in this case it was a bit too much for me. And in truth it wasn’t really Lisa, but rather Stefan. He did nothing to deserve her, and his wooing was all too transparent. He felt wrong from the start and so all I could do was cringe and try not to shout at a fictional character.

I know, I know: but Lisa was a young woman in love, blinded by her selfless (foolish) adoration for an asshole. I understand that. And I could write, objectively, about how good Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) is. How it spins on itself and has a real perspective and arch for Lisa. How it even subverts the genre – especially considering its ending (which I do admire, for Lisa’s part).

And yet. She was so meek. And he was such an asshole.

See Also
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Have you seen this movie? How was your own Blind Spot this month?
Don’t forget to leave your links below!

View Comments (7)
    • Right?! Usually I can deal with that, I really like Fontaine. But this time… her character being that way, and Stefan being such a player and unattractive because of that…. there was very little for me to hold on to. 😕

  • Lisa is an almost unbelievable doormat, I say almost because unfortunately there are women like her, and Stefan a major tool but thanks to Ophuls directorial skill and Fontaine’s understanding of how to play her plus the dreamy, creamy cinematography and costuming it was still a worthwhile view. I have other films by the director I like better, The Reckless Moment and The Earrings of Madame de… especially, but I wasn’t sorry to see this.

    Fontaine had such an odd career trajectory. She made her early career playing those sort of simps and then suddenly she transformed almost overnight into a brittle sophisticate who was often a hard article. I’ve always been more of a fan of sister Olivia but Joan did some fine work. Of her lesser known films I’d recommend “Ivy” which she made around the same time but though the setting is similar her character is very different.

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