Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948 film)

1948 film by Max Ophüls

Letter from an Unknown Woman is a 1948 film about a pianist about to flee from a duel who receives a letter from a woman he cannot remember, who may hold the key to his downfall.

Directed by Max Ophüls. Written by Howard Koch and Max Ophüls, based on a novella by Stefan Zweig.

Stefan Brand

  • [about the duel] This is one engagement I have no intention of keeping. Honor is a luxury only gentlemen can afford.
  • [to Lisa] You are a sorceress. Now, I'm sure. How else could we dance this way unless we've danced together before? And yet if we had, I should have remembered.

Lisa Berndle

  • [voiceover] By the time you read this letter, I may be dead. I have so much to tell you and perhaps very little time. Will I ever send it? I don't know. I must find strength to write now before it's too late, and as I write it may become clear that what happened to us had its own reason beyond our poor understanding. If this reaches you, you will know how I became yours when you didn't know who I was or even that I existed.
  • [voiceover] I think everyone has two birthdays, the day of his physical birth and the beginning of his conscious life. Nothing is vivid or real in my memory before that day in Spring when I came home from school and found a moving van in front of our building. I wondered about our new neighbor who owned such beautiful things.
  • [voiceover] Yes, I was blushing, and hard as it may be for you to realize, from that moment on I was in love with you. Quite consciously, I began to prepare myself for you. I kept my clothes neater so you wouldn't be ashamed of me. I went to dancing school. I wanted to become more graceful and learn good manners for you. And so I would know more about you and your world, I...I went to the library and studied the lives of the great musicians of the past. Though I was not able to go to your concerts, I found ways of sharing in your success.
  • [voiceover] You who have always lived so freely, have you any idea what life is like in a little garrison town? I was eighteen now and was expected to take my place in society.
  • [voiceover] Well...I...I only told him the truth...I told him I wasn't free. My poor parents, for them this was the end. For me, it was a new beginning.
  • [voiceover] The course of our lives can be changed by such little things. So many passing by, each intent on his own problems. So many faces that one might easily have been lost. I know now that nothing happens by chance. Every moment is measured; every step is counted.
  • [voiceover] I'd come to tell you about us, to offer you my whole life, but you didn't even remember me.
  • [voiceover] Now I'm alone. My head throbs and my temples are burning. Perhaps God has been kind, and I too have caught the fever. If this letter reaches you, believe this - that I love you now as I've always loved you. My life can be measured by the moments I've had with you and our child. If only you could have shared those moments, if only you could have recognized what was always yours, could have found what was never lost. If only...
  • [voiceover] Oh, if only you could have recognized what was always yours, could have found what was never lost.


Lieutenant: Naturally, it's too soon to discuss any definite steps. We should know each other for a reasonable time...
Lisa: [shaking her head] But lieutenant, I'm sorry. It's impossible.
Lieutenant: Impossible?
Lisa: Please don't ask me to explain, but...
Lieutenant: But I certainly must insist. Is there someone else?
Lisa: Yes, I'm engaged to be married.
Lieutenant: Engaged to be married?
Lisa: I should have told you before, but I didn't realize how...
Lieutenant: The whole time you've been in Linz I haven't seen you in anyone's company.
Lisa: He doesn't live in Linz. He lives in Vienna.
Lieutenant: In Vienna?
Lisa: [She nods] He...uh...writes music. He's a musician.
Lieutenant: But how can that be? Your mother and father, they have given my uncle every encouragement...
Lisa: They don't know about it.
Lieutenant: You mean you're engaged to a man and your parents don't even know him.

Lisa: Well, I can't say it very well, but...sometimes, I felt when you were playing that...that you haven't quite found - I don't know what it is - what you're looking for.
Stefan: How long have you been hiding in my piano? Never mind explaining. I'll just assume you're a sorceress and that you can make yourself very tiny. [Lisa laughs] It might be a good thing to have a sorceress for a friend. Who knows, you may be able to help me someday.

Lisa: How could I help you?
Stefan: So that's what you've been thinking about. [She smiles and sighs] You're a very strange girl, whoever you are and wherever you came from. Don't you have any problems?
Lisa: Not important ones.

Stefan: [giving her a white rose] Did I guess right? Is it your flower?
Lisa: From now on, it will be.

Stefan: [at the Viennese fairgrounds] I never come here in the season. It's more pleasant in the winter. I don't know why.
Lisa: It's perhaps because you prefer to imagine how it will be in the Spring because if it is Spring, then there's nothing to imagine, nothing to wish for.
Stefan: Is there anything about me you don't know?
Lisa: A few things. For instance. I don't know if one day, they'll make a wax figure of you and put you in there because you'll be so famous.
Stefan: Well, if they do, will you pay your penny to come in and see me?
Lisa: If you'll come alive.

Stefan: Promise me something.
Lisa: Anything.
Stefan: And I don't even know where you live. Promise me you won't vanish.
Lisa: I won't be the one who vanishes.

Stefan: [preparing to board a train] I don't want to go. Do you believe that?
Lisa: I'll be here when you get back.
Stefan: I still know so little about you.
Lisa: You like mystery.
Stefan: That a woman like you exists, and I've found you, that's mystery enough. Say 'Stefan' the way you said it last night.
Lisa: Stefan.
Stefan: It's as though you said it all your life...Goodbye...It won't be long. I'll be back in two weeks. Goodbye. Two weeks!
Lisa: [voiceover] Two weeks. Stefan, how little you knew yourself. That train was taking you out of my life.

Stefan: Excuse me. You must realize where there is a pursued, there must also be a pursuer. I've seen you somewhere, I know. I followed you upstairs and watched you in your box. But I couldn't place you, and I had to speak with you. Oh, I know how this sounds. I assure you in this case it's true. You believe that, don't you?
Lisa: Yes.
Stefan: Thank you. Now please, just a moment. Is there anyplace we could have met, that I might have seen you? Like one of my concerts? It must have been some time ago. I haven't given any concerts in Vienna lately - or anywhere else for that matter.
Lisa: You don't play anymore?
Stefan: Oh, it's not quite as final as that. I always tell myself I'll begin again next week, and then when next week comes, it's this week, so I wait for next week again.
Lisa: What are you waiting for?
Stefan: That's a very disturbing question.
Lisa: My carriage.
Stefan: You can't ask such a question and just walk away. I have a feeling - please don't think I'm mad. I know it sounds strange, and I can't explain it, but I feel that you understand what I can't even say, that you can help me. Have you...have you ever shuffled faces, like cards, hoping to find the one that lies somewhere just over the edge of your memory, the one you've been waiting for. Well, tonight when I first saw you and later when I watched you in the darkness, it was as though I had found that one face among all others. Who are you? [Lisa turns to leave and walks away] Promise I'll see you again. I must see you.
Lisa: I don't know.

Lisa: Johann, you don't think I wanted this to happen.
Johann: No. [Pause] What are you going to do?
Lisa: I don't know.
Johann: Lisa, we have a marriage. Perhaps it's not all you once hoped for, but you have a home, and your son, and people who care for you.
Lisa: I know that, Johann. I'd do anything to avoid hurting you, but I can't help it.
Johann: And your son, you think you can avoid hurting him?
Lisa: He won't be harmed. I'll see to that.
Johann: There are such things as honor and decency.
Lisa: I told myself that a hundred times this one evening.
Johann: You talk as though it were out of your hands. It's not, Lisa. You have a will, you can do what's right, what's best for you, or you can throw away your life.
Lisa: I've had no will but his, ever.
Johann: That's romantic nonsense.
Lisa: Is it? Johann, I can't help it. I can't. You must believe that.
Johann: What about him? Can't he help himself either?
Lisa: I know now that he needs me as much as I've always needed him.
Johann: Isn't it a little late for him to find out?

Stefan: [looking at a Greek statue] She fascinates you, too. You remember the Greeks built a statue to a god they didn't know, but hoped someday would come to them...Well, mine happens to be a goddess.
Lisa: [smiling] And you never found her.
Stefan: For years, I never woke in the morning, but I said to myself, 'Perhaps today she will come...and my life will really begin.' Sometimes it seemed very near. Well, now I'm older and I know better.