Drama

Love Letters (1945)

I promise I won't stab you, darling
Joseph Cotten wonders if he's hidden away all the sharp objects.

Who knew Jennifer Jones could be so creepy?

Wait! We mean it as a compliment. We think the ability to be creepy (and not cheesy) on film takes skill; to be subtly creepy and vaguely mysterious is real talent.

The plot of Love Letters is a bit complex, so please stay with us while we sort this out. Jones plays a woman who meets a soldier (Robert Sully); alas, he is sent to the front before she has a chance to determine his character. Sully, who is actually a big mean jerk, asks his best friend (Joseph Cotten) to write love letters to Jones. It is through these letters Jones and Cotten fall in love…only she thinks she’s falling for Sully.

Eventually everyone is sent home from the war. Jones and the Sully marry, but she discovers he is different from his fake letters. He is an unpleasant husband and winds up being murdered. Jones is convicted of the crime; however, she has acquired acute amnesia as a result of the murder and cannot remember anything, not even her own name.

Well! If this isn’t enough of a pickle, Cotten meets Jones in person and they fall in love (again) even though she has amnesia.

This sounds rather melodramatic, doesn’t it? Amnesia can be a convenient plot tool, particularly for daytime television dramas. However, it is completely believable in this movie, probably because the screenwriter is the notable Ayn Rand. (Yes, that Ayn Rand.) Rand’s script explores the nature of personal history – or lack thereof – but there’s lots of foreshadowing and danger, too. What will happen if all Jones’ memories come crashing back at once?

What will happen, indeed. Here’s where the acting needs to be clever: is Jones faking amnesia? Or does she really not remember? Will she end up stabbing Cotten just as her first husband was stabbed? And why do her eyes sometimes seem to roll around independently of each other?

And Joseph Cotten. He is one of the greats, in our opinion; we have never seen him give a bad performance. In this role he is a greatly conflicted man: does he give Jones a chance at life, knowing she may end his?

If you’re looking for a philosophical, slightly hypnotic film that keeps you guessing until the end, take at look at Love Letters. It’s one of those movies that everyone should be talking about.

P.S. Costume design by the fabulous Edith Head.

Starring Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ann Richards. Written by Ayn Rand. Directed by William Dieterle. Paramount Pictures, 1945, 101 mins.

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