Letter From an Unknown Woman


Letter From an Unknown Woman

Critics Consensus

Golden Age Hollywood romance doesn't get much better than Letter From an Unknown Woman, a powerful tale of doomed love.



Total Count: 22


Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,611
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Letter From an Unknown Woman Photos

Movie Info

Perhaps the finest American film from the famed European director Max Ophüls, the film stars Joan Fontaine as a young woman who falls in love with a concert pianist. Set in Vienna in 1900, the story is told in a complex flashback structure as the pianist, Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan), comes upon a letter written to him by Lisa Berndl (Fontaine), a girl who has been in love with him for years. Stefan is in the process of fleeing Vienna on the eve of fighting a duel. As he prepares himself for the nocturnal journey, the letter arrives. It begins, "By the time you read this letter, I may be dead." As Stefan sits back in his study to read this letter, it turns out to be a confession of unrequited love from Lisa. The story flashes backs to when Lisa was 14 years old and Stefan was her neighbor. After following Stefan with a girlish obsession, the romance gets much more serious, and they have a brief encounter. Stefan promises to come back to her after a concert tour, but he never does. Meanwhile, Lisa marries another man when she discovers that she is pregnant with Stefan's child. When she runs into Stefan years later, he doesn't remember her and tries to seduce her. After Stefan reads the letter, he wants to rush to her side, but now poor Lisa is dying from typhus. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

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Joan Fontaine
as Lisa Berndle
Louis Jourdan
as Stefan Brand
Mady Christians
as Frau Berndle
Marcel Journet
as Johann Stauffer
John Good
as Lt. Leopold von Kaltnegger
Leo B. Pessin
as Stefan Jr.
Howard Freeman
as Herr Kastner
Otto Waldis
as Concierge
Sonja Blyden
as Frau Spitzer
Sonja Bryden
as Frau Spitzer
Ramsay Hill
as Col. Steindorf
Fred Nurney
as Officer on Street
Torben Meyer
as Carriage Driver
Hermine Sterler
as Mother Superior
Ramsey Hill
as Col. Steindorf
Will Lee
as Mover
Lotte Stein
as Woman Musician
Ilka Gruning
as Woman Ticket Taker
Paul E. Burns
as Concierge #2
Leo Mostovoy
as Older Man
Shimen Ruskin
as Older Man
Celia Lovsky
as Flower Vendor
Michael Mark
as Cafe Customer
Lois Austin
as Elderly Woman
Lisa Golm
as Woman Musician
Rex Lease
as Station Attendant
Edmund Cobb
as Carriage Driver #2
Betty Blythe
as Frau Kohner
Diane Stewart
as Girlfriend
Vera Stokes
as Girlfriend
Doretta Johnson
as Girlfriend
Louis Austin
as Elderly Woman
Lorraine Gale
as Girlfriend
Guy L. Shaw
as Cafe Patron
June Wood
as Cashier
Manuel Paris
as Baron's Second
John McCallum
as Store Helper
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Critic Reviews for Letter From an Unknown Woman

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (4)

Audience Reviews for Letter From an Unknown Woman

  • Jul 05, 2014
    A man receives a letter from a woman he's known, wooed, seduced ... and forgotten. A classic Hollywood melodrama set in romantic old Vienna and handled deftly by director Max Ophuls, who keeps the usual violin chorus down to a discreet tone, allowing for a full feeling of how romance blossoms and then is carried with one. A heady potion for this chick flick about sacrifice, yearning and denial that's as close to fine wine as you'll get. Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan embody the mood wonderfully.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Apr 29, 2009
    A young girl's infatuation with a womanizing concert pianist ends in tragedy. What I like best about this elegant weepie is the way that it gently subverts Fontaine's typical screen persona. At first glance, her character is every bit as mousy and vulnerable as usual, but behind this façade lies a remarkably strong-minded young woman; she knows what she wants and - flouting all respectability, and against her own better judgement - she sets out to get it. Although the film chooses not to dwell on the ensuing scandals, on more than one occasion she sacrifices her good name and social standing for the man she loves. I also like the way that Ophüls credits us with intelligence enough to draw certain parallels for ourselves, without spoon-feeding. A good example of this would be the scene where Fontaine says goodbye to her son at the railway station; many lesser directors would have inserted a flashback to her abandonment by Louis Jourdan at this point, or at the very least a snippet of dialogue from that earlier scene.
    Stephen M Super Reviewer
  • Apr 04, 2009
    Very sad, literally could not tear myself away from this one.
    Nicki M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 10, 2008
    You have to feel this movie.It's been quite some time and the leftovers are sheer gratitude of the melodrama of our protagonists.Ophuls conquered Hollywood by reversing the stereotypical mechanisms and bringing a fresh air.Fontaine may shine for example yet it's that tormenting the personality she possesses ,you can't bare handling her inner burden of her "lost",solid,possibly inapt love.
    Dimitris S Super Reviewer

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