Love Letters (1945)
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Love Letters (1945) is a romantic drama about a soldier in Italy (Robert Sully) who has his buddy (Joseph Cotten) write love letters to a girl back home (Jennifer Jones) whom Sully met only briefly. Jones falls in love with the writer of the letters, thinking of course that it's Sully, and the two are eventually married. Years later, Cotten hears that his friend has died and comes visiting, only to find that the letter-writing scheme led to tragedy. Sully was nothing like the letter-writer and treated Jones roughly, leading to his murder and Jones's amnesia, which remains a permanent condition.
This variation on the "Cyrano" story was written for the screen by Ayn Rand, who adapted Chris Massie's novel Pity My Simplicity. Rand had not written a screenplay at this point, though her play Night of Jan. 16th had been filmed in 1941, and her novel We the Living was made into an Italian film in 1942. Love Letters producer Hal Wallis hired Rand to write two scripts at the same time; You Came Along (1945) was the other, and it opened in theaters a month before Love Letters. Rand's most famous novel, The Fountainhead, would reach screens in 1949.
This was one of the first movies Hal Wallis produced after leaving Warner Bros. for Paramount in 1944. He originally envisioned Gregory Peck to star opposite Jones, but Peck felt Love Letters, with its amnesia theme, was too similar to his just-completed Spellbound (1945). Wallis decided to go with Joseph Cotten instead and got in touch with David Selznick, to whom both Cotten and Jones were under contract. Selznick agreed to the loan-outs under several conditions: that Selznick retain approval of Jones's hair, makeup and costumes; that Jones receive top billing over Cotten; that Jones be paid $100,000, a big sum in those days; and that shooting be wrapped by Jan. 1, 1945, so that Jones would be ready to start filming Duel in the Sun (1946). Even after Wallis agreed, Selznick never stopped bothering him with further memos and notes, "as if Love Letters were Selznick's movie." (Bernard Dick, Hal Wallis).
The hassle was worth it. Love Letters was a success and Jones received her third of four consecutive Oscar® nominations. (She lost to Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce.) She would receive a fifth nomination a decade later. Love Letters also captured nominations for Best Score, Best Song, and Best Black-and-White Art Direction.
Love Letters was shot by the great Lee Garmes, whose expressive and moody cinematography greatly enhances the romantic feel of the picture. Garmes later recalled in Charles Higham's book Hollywood Cameramen: "On Love Letters I used the same method I used on Guest in the House (1944). I created an artificial landscape: clouds, trees, everything were in the studio. Dieterle, the director, used to go home every night and have dinner, and afterwards he'd have a little tiny set at home which he'd put the actors on in the shape of tiny dried-up peas. He'd move them around to prepare the next day's shooting."
William Dieterle was a freelance director at this point. He had built his career at Warner Brothers in the 1930s, directing many prestige pictures there under Hal Wallis - films like The Life of Emile Zola (1937) and Juarez (1939). He had a reputation as a sadist on the set and always wore white gloves to work. Nonetheless he coaxed a fine performance out of Jennifer Jones and would direct her again in Duel in the Sun and Portrait of Jennie (1948), both of which also co-starred Joseph Cotten. The two stars would team up for five pictures in all.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: William Dieterle
Screenplay: Ayn Rand, Christopher Massie
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Film Editing: Anne Bauchens
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hans Dreier
Music: Victor Young
Cast: Jennifer Jones (Singleton/Victoria Morland), Joseph Cotten (Allen Quinton), Ann Richards (Dilly Carson), Cecil Kellaway (Mac), Gladys Cooper (Beatrice Remington), Anita Louise (Helen Wentworth).
by Jeremy Arnold