I am "rerunning" one of my earlier columns, since Jennifer Jones is currently TCM's Star of the Month. I hope you enjoy the review and get the chance to see:
LOVE LETTERS (1945)
A lot can be said for romantic films of the 1940s, especially ones made at the end of the war. In this Paramount classic, the focus is on a soldier’s ability to readjust to life on the home front. It features two of David Selznick’s stars (and probably a lot of his input). Joseph Cotten plays the soldier who is thrust into an uncertain future when he goes back to England after international battles end.
Of course he quickly discovers there are newer types of battles, and they rage inside his heart. He is deeply connected to Victoria Morland (Jennifer Jones), a girl he was writing letters to while he was away. In a clever psychological reworking of Rostand’s ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ screenwriter Ayn Rand shows us Cotten has written the letters on behalf of another, less poetic, war buddy. When Cotten goes home, he learns the buddy died but not until after he had married Victoria. All did not go well in the marriage, because the other man was a phony, not the one she had fallen in love with while Cotten was pouring out his innermost feelings from somewhere in Italy.
Rand’s script relies on more than one coincidence to bring it all together. After Cotten has been mustered out, he goes to a party and meets a girl named Singleton. She just so happens to be the widowed Victoria, but she became an amnesiac when her husband was fatally stabbed. We learn in a very skillfully photographed flashback how she went on trial and was found guilty, though she had no recollection of the killing or about herself. At first Cotten doesn’t know Singleton is the girl who received his letters, and then when he does find out, it becomes a matter of her realizing who she is and how her whole being is connected with his. Before we get to the resolution, she is prone to fits of hysteria.
Critics of the day were not too kind to the film, but audiences loved it. It became a huge hit for the studio and its stars. Jennifer Jones, on the heels of her Oscar triumph for SONG OF BERNADETTE, received another nomination. In particular Bosley Crowther found fault with her performance, calling it fatuous (silly or contrived). I would agree with Crowther to a point, but only when Jones is trying to show the girlish innocence of the character. I think the dramatic scenes, where she has to summon more adult courage and a wiser perspective, are exemplary. Cotten for his part is fairly solid, though I don’t think he totally invests himself in the material. Cecil Kellaway does an outstanding job as the caretaker of the house; and so does Ann Richards who plays a well-meaning friend of the couple.
While it is not a perfect film, it succeeds in combining the more terrifying elements of post-war readjustment– not only for the men who are returning, but also the women they return to. Both main characters in the story have a duality that puts them on a mutual path of healing. Like Rostand’s Cyrano, the mask has to come off and love has to be followed to the letter.
LOVE LETTERS was directed by William Dieterle and is scheduled to air on TCM on September 5th.