Wednesday, March 09, 2016

OVP: Love Letters (1945)

Film: Love Letters (1945)
Stars: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ann Richards, Cecil Kellaway, Gladys Cooper, Anita Louise
Director: William Dieterle
Oscar History: 4 nominations (Actress-Jennifer Jones, Art Direction, Score, Original Song-"Love Letters")
Snap Judgment Ranking: 1/5 stars

Jennifer Jones is not really whom you'd consider my favorite actress of the 1940's.  Her pie-eyed optimism and constant saintliness (I'm aware I still need to see Duel in the Sun, where supposedly this image should be shattered) was in direct contrast to the femme fatales, the Bette Davises and Joan Crawfords and Gene Tierneys that populated this era and my heart.  She certainly was one of Oscar's however, as she managed to scoop up five nominations, including four consecutively from 1943-1946. Love Letters is smack dab in the middle of her nominations count at number three, and was when she was one of the biggest names in Hollywood.  Under the watchful eye of her soon-to-be-husband David O. Selznick, she stars as an amnesiac (possible murderess) in this potboiler that is scripted by (of all people) Ayn Rand.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film tells the tale of Alan Quinton (Cotten...doesn't that feel like the name of every one of Joseph Cotten's characters though?) writing love letters for his caddish fellow soldier in a war that is so inconsequential they don't even bother to say which one it is (it's World War II, for the record) and we learn soon that he has fallen in love with the woman, named Victoria, whom he has been pulling a Cyrano toward.  The war ends, and we learn that the caddish soldier has died and that Alan's fiancee Helen (Louise) can't handle his PTSD and that he is clearly in love with a woman he has never met, and instead he goes off into the world, living at his aunt's house and meeting a woman named Singleton (Jones) who is clearly in love with him even as he pines for Victoria, whom he discovers has died and murdered her husband.  Singleton cannot handle this, and though Alan soon figures out that Singleton is indeed Victoria, he cannot tell her because she has amnesia and everyone thinks the shock will hurt her.  The film eventually shows that the caddish soldier was killed by her grandmother after he drunkenly hurt her granddaughter Victoria, and then Alan and Victoria, like all good 1940s romances, end up living happily ever after.

It's all as melodramatic as it sounds, and never once does it veer into a particularly compelling series of performances to make up for the sincere lack of surprise (it's quite obvious to anyone who has seen a movie before that headliner Jennifer Jones, who is far too misty to not have something going on in her head, is clearly the woman he initially fell in love with and not some other actor).  Jones and Cotten were constantly playing romantic leads in the 1940s (three of her five Oscar nominations, in fact, were for falling in love with Cotten though he never once would be noticed by the Academy, making him one of the weirdest snubs in their long history considering the pedigree of his pictures), but I see very little chemistry here to explain why.  Jones is too glass-eyed and willing to throw herself on the tracks for my taste and her character is banal and uninteresting.

The film received three other nominations on-top of Jones baffling citation, though only one of them really stands out as something that deserved the accolade.  The film has a wonderful score, written by Academy favorite Victor Young, soaring throughout and adding a dreaminess to the mystery that Ayn Rand tries to inject into the film to keep the plot running and not just making the film an hour long.  The original song, which is entirely instrumental in the film, lends credence as to why Young deserved a nomination though considering we don't get the words to the Dick Haymes hit it feels a little self-indulgent that we get a second nomination for Young's score when one would have been sufficient (it feels like mad cheating to include the film as a song nominee when words were only added later as part of a radio-friendly hit-this would never pass the music branch's tough muster now).  The film's third nomination is for art direction, and while we get many dusty old English country houses, I never actually believed we weren't on a Hollywood sound-stage, which is a pretty hard knock against a nomination in this category.

Those are really my thoughts on the disappointing Love Letters, for which I'd had much higher hopes.  I'm now just one performance (Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary's) away from finishing off the 1945 Best Actress lineup-do you have a favorite amongst them?  What are your thoughts on Love Letters' three other Oscar mentions?  And why do you think Joseph Cotten was never AMPAS' cup-of-tea?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

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