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Sunday, January 22, 2012
Joseph Cotten writes Jennifer Jones some "Love Letters"
Last night, TCM had a themed evening of movies involving letters. It began at 8 pm with A Letter to Three Wives. This 20th Century Fox classic starring Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain, and Linda Darnell is shown periodically and truly is an "essential." However, it was the 10 pm movie that I was very excited to see, Paramount's 1945 film Love Letters. This movie is rarely seen and has an outstanding cast. In addition, it is one of those movies that crosses over several genres because it part romance, part drama, and part mystery. It's been years since I have viewed it, so I hoped it was as magical as I had remembered it.
Love Letters did not disappoint me. First, I LOVE Joseph Cotten. I think he is the most natural actor in film history. He does not seem to act at all, he just behaves the way the character he is portraying would behave. In this movie, Cotten plays Alan Quinton. When the film opens, Quinton is writing a love letter to Victoria Remington on behalf of Roger Morland (Robert Sully). The two men are part of the same unit stationed in Italy during World War II. Quinton realizes he needs to stop writing these letters because he is falling in love with Victoria and Victoria is falling in love with him. Quinton confesses that he has been able to express thoughts and feelings to Victoria that he has never shared with anyone else. Morland is a crass man who believes Victoria will accept that he is the author of letters when they are together in person. In fact, Morland tells Quinton he has a leave coming up and plans to see Victoria. Morland offers to visit Quinton's girl Helen (Anita Louise). However, Alan says Roger need only visit his parents and let them know he's fine.
While in England, Morland visits Quinton's parents. Roger discovers from Mrs.Quinton that Alan has been injured and is hospitalized. She allows Roger to add some news of his own the letter she is sending to Alan at the hospital. Roger tells Alan that he and Victoria have married. The scene switches the hospital where Alan is recuperating. Cotten is excellent in this scene. His distress over the news signals impending doom.
When we next see Alan Quinton, he is being visited by Helen at rehabilitation facility. It is obvious that he is not overly excited to see her. Where Quinton seems to be a quiet and thoughtful man, Helen seems to be a social butterfly. During Helen's visit, another member of Quinton's squad joins them. It is from this man that Quinton finds out that Roger Morland is dead. Morland did not die in action, apparently there was an "accident" that occurred while Morland was on leave. It would seem that Quinton's fears that something bad would happen have actualized.
Approximately one year has passed when we next see Alan Quinton. He seems lost in the post war and has decided to move into the country house his aunt has left him. Before he moves, his brother Derek plans to take him to a party at the home of Dilly Carson (Ann Richards). At this party, Alan meets a mysterious young woman known only as "Singleton" (Jennifer Jones). After indulging in too many drinks, Alan tells Dilly about his deception and his guilt over writing the letters. Dilly seems very interested in what Alan is saying. She also tells him that he may want to contact her again in the future.
Alan moves to his country house and discovers that he has also inherited a caretaker named Mac (Cecil Kellaway). Mac is the "gargoyle" of the cottage and its grounds. Immediately, we can tell that he will be Alan's confidante and protector. Helen decides to come visit the cottage. She confides to Alan that she needed to see for herself if she felt at home at Quinton's new residence. Helen admits she does not feel welcome although both he and Mac have been polite to her. Helen finally realizes she and Alan are not well suited for each and parts company with him.
Alan realizes his new home is not far from where Victoria lived. He asks Mac if he knew a family named Remington. Mac admits not personally, but remembers some negative association with the name. Quinton finds the farm where Victoria Remington lived. He is told by the caretakers that Roger Morland is dead as is his wife Victoria. Quinton is surprised at the news. He remembers that Dilly Carson told him he could talk to her about Victoria. Alan decides to go to London to see Dilly.
In London, Alan is greeted at Dilly's apartment by Singleton. It seems Dilly is out, but Singleton invites Alan into the flat to wait for Dilly. There is a chemistry between Alan and Singleton. He confides in her that he is there to speak to Dilly about a woman named Victoria whom he loves. Singleton hopes her new friend will find happiness with this woman Victoria. When Dilly arrives home, she sends Singleton out to the store to pick up some porridge. Dilly reveals that Singleton is Victoria. Victoria was the ward of Beatrice Remington who owns the farm Quinton visited. Dilly is Victoria's friend and was at the farm the night of Roger Morland's death. Dilly was called to the scene by one of the caretakers. By the time Dilly arrived, Roger was dead. Victoria was holding a knife and her white dress was covered with Roger's blood. The only witness was Beatrice who simply said "He struck her." That's all Beatrice said before she had a stroke.
Through Dilly, we learn that Victoria was convicted of manslaughter and placed in a prison hospital. Victoria has traumatic amnesia and remembers nothing of her past. Singleton is her birth name, so that's why she's referred to as Singleton. The doctors who released Victoria into Dilly's care have warned her not to force Victoria's memory. If her memory is to be restored, it must come back slowly at Victoria's own pace. Alan leaves Dilly filled with guilt over what transpired.
Alan returns to his country house. He receives a call from Dilly that Victoria has gone missing. Alan promises to contact Dilly if she shows up at his place. After hanging up the phone, Singleton reveals herself. Apparently, she remembered Quinton's address and took the train down from London to see him. Mac has welcomed and fed her. Singleton admits she cares deeply for Alan even though he has feelings for Victoria. Singleton convinces Alan to let her spend the day with him. When Alan brings Singleton back home to Dilly, he asks Dilly if she can set up a meeting between him and Beatrice Remington. Dilly agrees.
Beatrice (Gladys Cooper) is living in a nursing home in London. She has finally recovered her speech after the stroke she had the night of Roger's death. However, she has had no contact with Singleton since Singleton has no memory of Beatrice. Alan tells Beatrice that he wishes to marry Singleton. She asks him if he realizes he is marrying two women: Singleton and Victoria. Beatrice is worried that Alan may not be happy when Victoria re-emerges. Alan assures Beatrice that he is willing to take that risk. He tells Beatrice that he has an appointment with the bishop to determine if Victoria is deemed fit for marriage. Beatrice says that if the bishop approves the marriage, she will too. The meeting with the bishop goes well. Alan and Singleton will be married.
What happens next? Will Singleton recover her memory? Why did she kill Roger? Or did she? Can Alan be happy with Singleton? Will he be disappointed with who Victoria is if Singleton's memory of her previous life returns? Watch Love Letters to find out what becomes of Alan and Singleton/Victoria!
This movie could be viewed simply as a "women's weeper" but I believe it is so much more. Hal Wallis was a wonderful producer who carefully cast his films and found authentic locations and settings to create the right mood for a motion picture. William Dieterle directed well. There are choices he made that added to the film's quality. In particular, I liked the contrast between the Remington Farm (site of Roger's murder) and Alan's cottage. Remington Farm was dark, dreary, and even foggy while Quinton's cottage is sunny and has wind breathing through its windows.
The cast was excellent in creating their characters. Jennifer Jones was perfect as Singleton. She portrays the amnesiac as a wide-eyed child experiencing various life events for the first time. However, Jones showed the underlying maturity of her character during the scenes where Singleton frankly discusses with Alan his feelings for Victoria. In addition, Jennifer Jones does well to communicate her character's inner turmoil during the scenes in which Singleton has flashbacks. I can't imagine anyone else being able to infuse Singleton/Victoria with the same likeability and vulnerability.
Gladys Cooper proves in Love Letters why she only needed a handful of scenes to make her presence known in a film. Cooper's delivery of lines was always impeccable. However, in this film, her nonverbal acting is even more superb. I would comment further, but I do not wish to give away plot points. Let me just say that when the final flashback of the night Roger died is done, Cooper proves no dialogue is needed to tell an audience how and what a character feels. Ann Richards brings a gentle but troubled quality to Singleton's friend Dilly. Richards realistically showed a woman who desperately wants to help her friend, but honestly doesn't know how best to do so. As always, Cecil Kellaway makes his small role memorable. We like and trust Mac because Kellaway brings an impish charm to all his roles.
Hopefully, this movie will be released on DVD soon. Currently, the only way to see it is on TCM or find an old VHS copy.