When a soldier with a romantic outlook ghostwrites love letters for an acquaintance, he unwittingly sets in motion a destructive chain of events. [ Love Letters credits: Dir: William Dieterle/ Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Ann Richards/ 101 min/ Drama, Romance/ Ayn Rand]
Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay for this film, and her trademark philosophy is evident. In particular, the premise here of trouble arising when one person tries to live “secondhand” through another is reminiscent of the Peter Keating-Howard Roark relationship in The Fountainhead. And that premise comes up more than once.
It all starts when a soldier ghostwrites a few romantic letters for an acquaintance. It seems like an innocent favor, but the reaction on the part of the young woman receiving the letters is stronger than expected. She is touched by their unusually positive, indeed Randian, view of life. It seems that she and the writer are very much in tune. The problem is, she thinks the acquaintance is the one writing the letters, and so marries him. Their marriage is a disaster and it ends, melodramatically enough, with the husband dead and the wife an amnesiac. People say she murdered him. Or did she? You don’t get the answer to that question until the end.
This implied admonition against living life through another comes up an additional time in the story as well, when the mother of the amnesiac wife tries to experience happiness through her daughter, protecting and interfering in her daughter’s happiness as though it were her own, with terrible consequences.
Overall, Love Letters is fair entertainment, and it has a little of everything: drama, romance, and mystery. It benefits from unusually intelligent dialogue, no doubt another contribution of Rand. The acting is mostly good, though at times Jennifer Jones goes over the top, seeming not just amnesiac but slightly wild-eyed. In any case, it’s a film that Rand fans especially will enjoy.