The same night that Viennese gentleman Stefan Brand (Jourdan) is challenged to a duel, he receives a letter from a woman he does not recall, who has spent her life loving him. As he reads, the story flashes back to 1900 when Brand was a rising concert pianist. We learn that the beautiful but painfully shy Lisa (Fontaine), who lives in Stefan’s building, has a mad crush on him. A few years later, she finally succumbs to his charms and then, unbeknownst to him, bears him a son. Years later still, she runs into Brand and attempts to confide her secret. She is devastated when he does not remember her.
The sumptuous filmmaking style of Ophuls (“The Earrings of Madame de…”) animates this heightened emotional tale of unrequited love and life-long constancy. Adapted from Stefan Zweig’s novella by screenwriter Howard Koch (“Casablanca”), this classic romance hits all the right notes of melodrama, passion and tragedy. The players never veer into schmaltz and make the heartache vivid and palpable. Fontaine’s soft, plaintive quality is perfect for the tragic Lisa, while Jourdan makes a womanizing musician almost sympathetic with his roguish charm. Open this “Letter.”