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Archive for November 10th, 2013

by Mike Norton

In early twentieth century Vienna, a washed up concert pianist, Stefan Brand (Louis Jordan), emerges from the rain soaked streets into his apartment, after confirming a duel the next morning that would undoubtedly end in his death, to find a letter waiting for him. The first lines of the letter, read in voiceover by Joan Fontaine, state simply and grimly- “By the time you read this letter, I may already be dead”. Fontaine plays the titular woman sending the letter, Lisa, and her narration sets in motion the main plot of the film, told in flashback from Lisa’s point of view. What follows is an epic melodrama bursting at the seams with emotion, expressed evocatively by director Max Ophüls’ camera poetry and the complex screenplay from Howard Koch, based off the novella of the same name written by Stefan Zweig. It is one of the most acutely and devastatingly felt American romantic films of all time.

We first meet Lisa as a teenager in Vienna when a dashing new tenant moves into her apartment complex. It’s Stefan Brand, a successful and talented concert pianist, and Lisa quickly becomes entranced by the man, despite never coming into direct contact with him. She listens yearningly to his playing of the piano, which she describes in her voice over as the “happiest hours of my life”. If melodrama is a genre based on bottled up emotion, than Lisa represents the perfect melodrama heroine. Her passion for Stefan starts off innocently enough, but when her family moves to Lintz and sets her up to marry a sweet, if dull, Army Lieutenant, she flees back to Vienna to be with the man who she truly loves, even if he still doesn’t know she exists. (more…)

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