Love Letters

Movie Information

In Brief: Yes, this is the movie that produced the song of the title — though it only appears as a song in the film in orchestral form. (This was common at this period. The song versions of the famous themes from The Uninvited ("Stella by Starlight") and Laura ("Laura") — both made the previous year — do not appear in those films.) Love Letters is the kind of movie that only a filmmaker like William Dieterle could pull off. He did the same thing three years later with the same stars in Portrait of Jennie, but that was a romantic fantasy, while this is an overheated romantic melodrama. It's the story of Allen Quinton (Joseph Cotten) who, during the war, wrote love letters for his loutish friend (Robert Sully) — letters that cause a young woman, Victoria, to fall in love with the idea of the man she thinks wrote them, with unfortunate results. After the war, Allen meets an amnesiac called Singleton (Jennifer Jones). There are no prizes for guessing that Singleton and Victoria are the same person. Naturally, they fall in love, and despite the evident problems — like what will happen if she regains her memory and discovers who wrote the letters that ruined her life — he marries her. It's all on the preposterous side, but it's done with such conviction and artistry that both its melodrama and its unabashed romanticism work. Plus, the screenplay is by no less than Ayn Rand, though you'd (blessedly) never know it if you didn't read the credits.
Genre: Romantic Melodrama
Director: William Dieterle
Starring: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ann Richards, Cecil Kellaway, Gladys Cooper, Anita Louise
Rated: NR



That most underrated of filmmakers William Dieterle — a major stylist who has never been really recognized — made three supremely romantic films starring Joseph Cotten in the 1940s. The first paired Cotten (as a shell-shocked soldier) with Ginger Rogers (as a convict on a Christmas furlough) and was called I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) and, while not without interest, is the least of the three. The third — and most famous — was the romantic fantasy Portrait of Jennie (1948), which paired him with Jennifer Jones. But in between the two was Cotten’s first romantic pairing with Jones, Love Letters. It is easily the oddest of the three with its particular — and peculiar — blend of Cyrano de Bergerac, madness, murder, dark secrets, and amnesia. To say that it has little — if any — relation to reality is an understatement. Frankly, it’s a ridiculous story — built on sketchy Hollywood notions of mental illness and amnesia. How much of this comes from the source novel by Chris Massie and how much comes from the — uh, unusual — mind of Ayn Rand is hard to say. Chances are she was trying her damndest to make a good impression on her bosses at Paramount — it was her first solo scripting job — and was toeing with the line. There’s certainly nothing even vaguely political about it. (It didn’t help her. It was her last job at Paramount,while her behavior at Warner Bros. four years later on The Fountainhead pretty completely ended her chances with any studio.)




Yes, the film is nonsense, but it’s the kind of gloriously compelling nonsense that only studio system could provide — and that only a visual stylist like Dietrle could pull off. It’s the kind of movie that feels real enough, but real in a totally movie-like way. You believe it all — though you may feel like telling Jones to quit showing off her eyes and teeth — while it’s on the screen. Afterwards…well, I’m not sure that matters. At worst, you’re likely to just mildly regret that life isn’t like this — and certainly doesn’t look as good as the art directed, studio-created world of the movie. This is not a great film, no, but it’s an excellent Hollywood movie.

The Asheville Film Society will screen Love Letters Tuesday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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