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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

LOVE LETTERS (1945)

The top romantic amnesia pics of WWII came early (RANDOM HARVEST/’42) and late (LOVE LETTERS/’45) in the war. Largely indefensible, they’re both faintly ridiculous constructs, yet so cleverly loaded with emotional triggers they detonate in some secret (nay, shameful) part of the brain you’ve no control of. (The left lobe, no?) Of the two, James Hilton’s HARVEST is the nuttier, more inexplicable success. But somehow M-G-M’s plush packaging takes hold of the enterprise. It’s magically all-of-a-piece under Mervyn Leroy’s corporate megging, with a dashingly haggard Ronald Colman falling in & out of his WWI-injured memory while loyal Greer Garson takes dictation and waits for a mental breakthrough. You really don’t know whether to laugh or cry. William Dieterle’s LOVE LETTERS is something else again. Or rather, it’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC again . . . now with amnesia for dream girl Roxanne! Oh, they also toss in a murder mystery to beef things up. Joseph Cotten is the Cyrano character, writing love letters for a lug-headed army bud and falling for unseen pen-pal gal Jennifer Jones (alarmingly lovely; shedding her usual neurotic overtones) in the amnesiac Roxanne spot. And with Ayn Rand on script (yes, that Ayn Rand), the letters positively brim with poetic passion. But then, so does the whole film under Dieterle’s highly stylized/artificial studio look. Good thing, too, as the story would collapse in a more realistic treatment. Here, the Grimm Fairy Tale tone is just about perfect . . . and largely indefensible.

DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The first time Cotten & Jones got together, in David O. Selznick’s SINCE YOU WENT AWAY/’44, Cotten played surrogate uncle. Now, producer Hal Wallis bumps him up to lover. Third time out, with Selznick & Dieterle in charge, Cotten can’t quite connect with an ectoplasmic Jones in PORTRAIT OF JENNIE/’48. Three roles that chart the obsessive (more like devourering) relationship, and eventual marriage of Jones & Selznick. (Selznick even brought in LETTERS’ superb glamorizing lenser, Lee Garmes, when Joseph August’s unusual photographic treatment for JENNIE gave Jones a harsh unromantic look.)

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