As I rewatched Letter From an Unknown Woman the other day, and it cemented it’s status in my mind as my favorite movie of all time, I noticed in the opening credits, maybe for the first time, that it was based on a story by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. I was unfamiliar with both the story and with Zweig, so I decided to do a little research into this to see what I could come up with. It didn’t take very long to find an English translation of the story floating around on the internet, so I thought I might post a link to it here for those interested.
Letter From an Unknown Woman by Stefan Zweig
The movie, naturally, deviates a little bit from the story in the details, but keeps the main structure intact. I would be interested to read anybody else’s take on this.
Zweig’s an interested writer, Kai. In his day he was among the most translated and best selling writers of his day. If you liked “Letter” you should try to find his novella “The Royal Game.”
thanks for that kai – can’t read it till my internet stops being an ass, but i didn’t know this…only read his beware of pity but….zweig and ophuls….what a nice idea….
If you want to discover this great Austrian writer, I would recommend his autobiography THE WORLD OF YESTERDAY, a book I use to re-read every five years or so.
Kai, Zweig is one of those German writers, like Arthur Schnitzler, who keeps popping up throughout film history. Letter from an Unknown Woman was the basis for John Stahl’s Only Yesterday in 1933 and a very good Chinese film written and directed by and starring Xu Jinglei just a few years ago. Two other notable Zweig-based films (from among several dozen) are Rossellini’s La Paura in 1954 and Gerd Oswald’s adaptation of The Royal Game, Brainwashed, in 1960. The Chinese movie will not replace the Ophuls (yes, one of the greats!) in your heart, but is well worth seeing.
So you think this is okay:
Letter from an Unknown Woman
(Yi ge mo sheng nu ren de lai xin)
On a wintry night in 1948 Peking, a writer receives a letter from a dying woman he doesn’t know. In the letter, the woman tells of her lifelong love for the man across the stirring backdrop of wartime China. Director and star Jinglei Xu reimagines Max Ophüls’s 1948 classic with breathtaking photography and a quietly feminist spin. Xu won a Best Director award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Cast: Jue Huang, Wen Jiang, Huang Jiao, Yuan Lin, Enran Ma, Feihu Sun, Xiaoming Su, Zihao Su, Jinglei Xu, Baomo Zhang
Director: Jinglei Xu
I’ve been curious about the Chinese version for a little bit now, but I’ve been hesitant because I feel so strongly about the Ophuls version. I’m glad for the recommendation, though.
I really appreciate the link, Kai, to the original story, which I have yet to read. I know Stefan Zweig mainly as a librettist for two Richard Strauss operas (I am a big R. Strauss fan). Here’s what wiki has to say:
Zweig enjoyed a close association with Richard Strauss, and provided the libretto for Die schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman). Strauss famously defied the Nazi regime by refusing to sanction the removal of Zweig’s name from the program for the work’s première on June 24, 1935 in Dresden. As a result, Goebbels refused to attend as planned, and the opera was banned after three performances. Zweig later collaborated with Joseph Gregor, to provide Strauss with the libretto for one other opera, Daphne, in 1937.
There was a great deal of information on this in a rather recent biography of Strauss, where this whole incident is gone into with great detail. Strauss did what he could for Zweig, who as a Jew, could see the handwriting on the wall, and had escaped Europe with the rise of the Nazis. Unfortunately, when Zweig eventually settled in Brazil, he and his wife committed suicide in 1942.
There is a dark element in Zweig, which I think the Letter from an Unknown Woman captures perfectly. I will have more to say about the film during the voting, but I was glad to re-discover this gem through the Cup. It had been a long time since I had seen it, and I could refresh my memory of this fine film, which I now appreciate even more.
The two leads, Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan, are still with us. Joan, of course, is Olivia de Havilland’s younger sister.
I think the film perfectly captures Vienna at the turn of the century. It is a time period in history that fascinates me. I have done a lot of reading about the city and its artistic and intellectual milieu. Great to now have Zweig’s original work, too.
I would also like to see the Chinese remake of the story, which I am getting from my local library. The 1948 film version is not available in DVD in North American release, so Kai’s link was a valuable for those of us that need to wait for its appearance on TCM or the like.
I share your enthusiasm for this masterpiece, Kai. Interestingly the two previous versions are splendid too:
Only Yesterday (1933) with a wonderful Margaret Sullavan and directed by John M. Stahl, a great director who deserves more recognition.
And little-known Finnish classic Valkoiset ruusut (1943),