an Unknown Woman, 1948
directed by Max Ophüls
starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan
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.
— 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
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.