Sometimes it's right, to do the wrong thing.
Of all the Roger Corman productions I have seen, none seem so out of place as Love Letters, a sad tale of obsession and adultery that is slow and character driven. The film would have dropped off the radar if not for the several nude scenes for a young Jamie Lee Curtis, but does have some merit on its own. Now you can see it on DVD from New Concorde.
Facts of the Case
Anna Winter (Jamie Lee Curtis) has things going for her: a great job as a disk jockey at a local radio station, good friends, and a close relationship with her mother. Or so she thought. At her mother's deathbed she receives a ring that was given to her mother by someone not Anna's father. After the funeral Anna goes through her mother's things and discovers a package of love letters, apparently from an also married man with whom her mother had carried on an affair. The letters are poetic, moving, and romantic, leaving Anna wondering why her mother ever stayed with her abusive alcoholic father (Matt Clark). Soon she is about to repeat the mistakes of her mother, as she becomes attracted to a wealthy architect (James Keach) she meets at the radio station. Of course the architect is married with two kids, and tells her so up front, but Anna is needy enough to take what he can give, which appears to be secret rendezvous for sex. As time goes by Anna becomes obsessed with the man, and wants to learn all about his family. The ending isn't exactly Fatal Attraction, but does deliver as a study of obsession with what one cannot have.
I admit it. I'm a red-blooded American male, and a fan of Jamie Lee Curtis, so seeing her in the several nude scenes (including one fairly graphic sex scene) wasn't exactly a terrible thing. Being a title under the "Roger Corman Presents" banner led me to believe this would be the main emphasis of the film, in fact, and I watched it anyway. But this was actually produced by Peter Bogdonovich, and the film was far more sensitive in its human portrayals than I expected. There was real emotion on display, which is something I wouldn't have expected for this film.
The cast does a fine job. Jamie Lee Curtis was in her first serious, non-horror role and displayed some of the talent that would make her a star. Matt Clark does a fine job at playing the father, sometimes grieving and caring, other times abusive with more than a hint of incestuous desire in his glance. James Keach's character, Oliver Andrews (the architect), isn't so well drawn as the others, but plays a foil from which we witness Anna's degradation from self assured woman to a needy, whiny, and obsessed mistress. If there is a moral to the story, it is not to fall in love with a married man—he will drag you down and never, ever leave his wife. Pretty good advice.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The problem is that not a lot happens in the film. There is the affair, during which Anna reads the letters, but nothing earth shaking actually happens. At times the film felt slow even for its 87-minute running time. It's not meant to be a thriller, but a character study, and it succeeds as one, but I can understand it not having long-term mass appeal.
New Concorde's DVD presentation isn't what I would call having mass appeal either. This is a pan and scan only disc; the original aspect ratio is lost. The image quality is only fair; the picture is soft and grainy, and there are numerous blips and other blemishes from the source print that made it onto the transfer. It's still watchable, but not much better than a VHS tape. The sound is clear enough to understand the dialogue, but the Dolby 2.0 stereo track doesn't have much life in it. This is a character-driven drama, so this is not unusual. Cast and director biographies and preview trailers for Love Letters, Suburbia—Wild Side, Fire on the Amazon, and Saint Jack complete the extra content. All the previews are for other Roger Corman productions, and are not rated for general audiences. Of course I doubt you'd be wanting the kiddies watching this disc anyway.
Love Letters is a languidly paced drama that has moving moments and fine performances, and is well made. It's worth a rental on that basis alone. Others will want to snap up the disc just because of the nude scenes of Jamie Lee Curtis, but those folks can claim the moral high ground since the film doesn't look like an exploitation flick. The film, rather than the disc, gets a lukewarm recommendation.
New Concorde is sentenced to writing "I will release all films in anamorphic widescreen" on the blackboard 1000 times. The film itself is acquitted of all charges.
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