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LOVE LETTERS – Victor Young


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The genesis of the film arose when renown author Ayn Rand decided to adapt the novel “Pity My Simplicity” by Christopher Massie into a screenplay. Hal Wallis was sold on the story, felt it would translate well to the big screen, and decided to personally take on the project. He would use his own production company in partnership with Paramount Pictures to finance production, and tasked William Dieterle to direct. A fine cast was assembled including Jennifer Jones as Singleton/Victoria Morland, Joseph Cotton as Alan Quinton, Anne Richards as Dilly Carson, Cecil Kellaway as Mac, Gladys Cooper as Beatrice Remington and Anita Louise as Helen Wentworth.

The story is set in Italy during WWII where Alan Quinton, an American soldier, ghost writes a series of love letters for his buddy Roger Morland to his girlfriend Victoria. Roger is recalled to England for paratrooper training and later dies, while Alan returns to England soon after due to a battle injury. One night Alan while drunk tells the story of him writing ghost letters and falling in love with a woman he never met. His friend Dilly realizes that this story relates to her friends Roger and Victoria, and informs Alan that Roger was murdered, Victoria convicted of the crime, and somehow the letters were involved. What follows is intrigue and false identity as Alan attempts to solve the mystery of the letters, the death of Roger, and the supposed death of Victoria. The film resonated with the public and earned a profit at the box office. However, critical review was decidedly negative with criticism leveled at Jones’ performance, the screenplay, and Dieterle’s directing. Nevertheless the film secured four Academy Award nominations for Best Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Original Song and Best Film Score.

Victor Young was Paramount’s chief composer and arranger and was assigned to the project. Dieterle and him bonded during the film and would go on to collaborate on five more films until Young’s untimely death in 1957. Upon viewing the film, he realized that this story was at its heart, a mystery with the love letters integral for solving it. Young was well known for his melodic gift and conceived that a Love Theme for Alan and Victoria, embodied in the letters would underpin his score. His melody is today recognized as one of his finest, and he collaborated with lyricist Edward Heyman to create a song version, which was used in the film. The song was very popular and has been performed by a number of famous singers including Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, Elton John, and Sinéad O’Connor.

To support his soundscape Young composed what may be the greatest Love Theme in his canon, a sweeping romance for strings appassionato. He was well known for his melodic gift and this love theme, so full of yearning speaks to two people trying to overcome their past, to realize love in the present. For the rest of the score Young expertly uses three motifs and a number of set pieces. The idyllic Countryside Motif offers a wondrous bubbling woodwind pastorale with strings gentile accompaniment. It perfectly captures nature’s beauty and the joyous feel of the countryside. The Happiness Motif offers joyous strings felice attended by a retinue of woodwinds, which speak to times of joy and happiness in the film. The Mystery Motif offers a nebulous misterioso, which speaks to the pervasive mystery of Victoria Morland, and both Alan’s and Singleton’s desire to unlock that mystery. The evocative writing for strings and woodwinds is superb, and perfectly establishes and supports the film’s narrative.

The score has not received a commercial release, as such I will review it as heard while watching the film, and use film time indices and scene descriptors. 00:00 “Main Title” offers a wondrous score highlight, which perfectly set the tone of the film, capturing its emotional core. It opens grandly atop horns bravura declarations as the Paramount Picture studio logo displays. The fanfare usher in the roll of the main titles, which display against a rustic home in the countryside. At 00:15 we are graced by Young’s immortal Love Theme, which sweeps us away with a romance for strings appassionato so full of yearning. 00:58 “Alan’s Letter” reveals him writing a love letter to Victoria, who is his buddy Roger’s girlfriend. The love Theme is sustained, but transferred to solo violin d’amore for a more intimate rendering as we hear artillery shell explosions in the distance. The music ends and we see Alan chiding Roger for having him assist him writing to a woman he has never met. When asked why he agreed to help, Alan responds that it allows him to say the things he has always wanted to say to a woman he loved, even if she is not his woman. He then reads Victoria’s latest letter, which offers effusive romanticism as she believes she has fallen in love with a man who moves her heart with his elegant verse. They part ways after Roger informs him that his request for transfer to England for paratrooper training was approved.

06:29 “Roger Visits Alan’s Parents” reveals his courtesy call only to be informed that Alan has been gravely wounded, is in hospital, and will when recovered, ship back to England. As he writes a post script to Mrs. Quinton letter, warm strings tenero support. We shift to Italy and a nurse reads the letter to Alan, which reveals that Roger and Victoria have married. Young subtly weaves strains of the Love Theme in the musical narrative, reflecting Alan’s inner, unexpressed feelings. 07:32 “Alan Fishing” offers a score highlight where Young masterfully navigates shifting emotional dynamics. It reveals him back in England fishing, which Young supports idyllically with the bubbling woodwind pastorale motif. We flow effortlessly into a romance for strings as his girl Helen arrives to join him. The musical narrative emotes from her perspective as she is glad to see him, while Alan acts distant and preoccupied with other thoughts. At 8:57 the music brightens carried by warm strings and horns nobile as his friend Jim arrives hobbling with a cane. He introduces him to Helen who manages to worm out of him, Alan’s heroic actions on the battlefield. At 9:40 the music becomes sad, carried by an aching solo violin doloroso as Jim informs Alan of Roger’s death. The former warm musical narrative of friends reunited returns as Jim says his goodbyes and departs. We close with Helen’s romance for strings as she attempts to coax Alan out of his shell, and he counters that she needs to understand that war changes a man, and that he is not the same man he once was. Alan is clearly distressed about Roger’s death, conflicted about the letters he wrote to Victoria, as well as his feeling regarding Helen.

Alan continues to mope at home and decides to take in some country air in Essex. His brother Derek coaxes him into joining him at a private party for one last fling before he departs to the front. 12:42 “Party” the brothers arrive at Dilly’s and she warmly greets them. Young supports a party ambiance with source music as Alan meets the other guests, including the mysterious woman who introduces herself as Singleton. 15:09 Portentous horns introduce “Dilly and Alan” as Alan becomes drunk and tells the story of him writing ghost letters and falling in love with a woman he never met. Victoria is clearly on his mind and Young speaks to this with the Love Theme. The music shifts to a subtle misterioso as Dilly realizes that this story relates to her friends Roger and Victoria. She informs Alan that Roger was murdered, Victoria convicted of the crime, and somehow the letters were involved. He becomes amorous and strings romantico take up the musical narrative, but Dilly, puts him off and instead takes him to the train station.

18:20 “Train to Essex” reveals a train speeding through the countryside empowered by a churning locomotive motif. A sign displaying Beltmarsh is supported by a woodwind misterioso as a horse drawn carriage brings Alan into town. Violins join to strengthen the musical narrative as Alan walks towards a country house he has inherited. At 19:03 he enters the house and the music warms and becomes welcoming as his memories of his life here return. The music ends when the caretaker Mac joins him, offering food and drink. At 21:50 a celeste offers a tender music box like melody as Alan smells apples, enters a room full of them and takes a Pippen for old times’ sake. Strings tenero join, followed by warm French horns as he enters his boyhood room and takes in memorabilia of his youth. The music speaks of fond memories, wrapping us in a warm blanket of nostalgia. We close with Alan toasting a picture of his beloved aunt who gifted him the house.

24:04 “A New Day” reveals Alan greeting the new day with a walk along country roads. Young offers the Countryside Pastorale Motif borne by bubbling woodwinds of delight and strings gentile. At 24:29 a misterioso unfolds as he reaches a sign post “Longreach” and we hear in his mind’s voice recalling that Victoria resided at Longreach. As he contemplates visiting, the Love Theme borne by solo violin d’amore informs us that he does indeed have feelings for her, yet the music descends into sadness as he turns away, his facial expression clearly conflicted, and returns home. As he reaches home the bubbling pastorale carries his arrival. At 25:28 “Helen Visits” he is surprised by Helen who has come to visit. There is clearly tension as she realizes that he is not overjoyed to see her. Strings romantico evoke unrequited love to carry the scene, as there is discernable sadness in the notes. Afterwards Helen thanks him for their “first and last” breakfast together, as she voices the obvious, that there is no future for the two of them together. No tears are shed, as they both believe this to be for the best. We close with her boarding a carriage and departing.

27:18 “Alan and Mac” tremolo violins usher is a foreboding musical narrative by celli and bass as Alan queries Mac regarding Victoria Morland who used to live in Longreach. A solo violin d’amore joins as Mac tries to recall. The Love Theme is woven into the larger musical narrative, which wanders with both a sense of mystery, yet also discontent as Alan advises Mac that he will visit her early so he can resolve his issues once and for all. 29:28 “Alan Visits Longreach” reveals his and Mac’s journey supported by a beautiful woodwind and strings pastorale with adornment by warm French horns. 30:07 “Victoria is Dead” reveals Alan walking up to the cottage door supported by foreboding woodwinds and horns. Two men, Jeb and Dodge emerge and are less than hospitable. When asked about Victoria, they are guarded and advise that she is dead, adding that Roger also died. Young weaves a narrative of both sadness and longing as Alan departs and orders Mac to take him to the train station.

31:40 “The London Journal” opens with hopeful strings as we see the business’ sign. Inside Alan reviews old newspaper editions searching for news of the murder supported by a grim misterioso. At 32:18 muted trumpets sound as he reads “Meadow Farm Tragedy – Officer Murdered, Wife Held”. Hours later he leaves, clearly frustrated, carried by a plaintive violin d’amore. Later he visits Dilly, only to be greeted by Singleton. They banter and at 33:45 in “Alan and Singleton” we are graced by a score highlight, which features a soliloquy by a solo violin d’amore voicing the Love Theme in dance like fashion. Alan is clearly smitten, and she savors this. When he asks about Victoria Morland, she says she does not know her, but can tell by his voice, that he loves her. 38:17 “Victoria Morland” opens with an orchestral crash as Dilly drops the groceries when Singleton asks her who is Victoria Morland? Dilly sends Singleton off to the store, and she departs carried by strings felice. Dilly discloses that Singleton is Victoria Morland and Young offers an extended, sad string narrative as Dilly reveals her secret – that Beatrice Remington, an old maid, adopted Victoria. She says that she fell in love with Roger, thanks to your letters, married him, yet became withdrawn and sad afterwards.

41:42 “The Murder and Trial” Dilly recalls the night of the murder in a flashback empowered by horns of alarm and surging, racing strings of tension, which propel her run with the Victoria’s brother to the cottage. Dire strings support her arrival as we see Roger dead on the floor, and Victoria holding a kitchen knife against her blood-stained dress. Victoria has a vacant look and does not recognize her name. Dilly questions Beatrice who has suffered a stroke, and she utters – “He struck her”. A grieving pathos for strings supports the scene. During the court trial Victoria assertion of amnesia impedes her defense and she is found guilty of manslaughter. Music enters at 45:19 as we return to Dilly and Alan as she explains to him Victoria’s amnesia and incarceration for a year in the prison mental hospital. Young supports subtly with a string Pathetique as Dilly entreats Alan to not press Singleton (Victoria) as doctors say her memory must return of its own accord, and not be forced less she suffer psychic trauma.

46:43 “I Need Your Help” reveals Dilly asking Alan for his help in caring for Singleton, which Young supports subtly with the tender sadness of the Love Theme. He worries that she will despise him if she remembers the love letters and realizes that he was the author. At 47:55 the Love Theme strengthens as Dilly inquires as to how he feels about Singleton, and he refuses to disclose, yet the music informs us of his feelings for her. We end with the theme expressed with a sad tenderness as he departs and declares, that she can tell Singleton that he is in love with Victoria Morland. 48:45 “Alan Returns Home” trilling woodwinds and strings gentile offer the pastorale as we return to Alan’s country house. He receives a frantic call from Dilly saying Singleton had disappeared and he informs her he is on his way, only to find her giggling in his living room. She charms him out of informing Dilly and playful banter ensues. She admits to him that she knows he loves Victoria Morland, that she cannot stay, and permits him to inform Dilly.

52:27 “You Have a Good Memory” offers a romantic score highlight. It reveals that she found his house as she recalled the address provided by his brother at the party. Strings tenero weave a gentile ambiance from which emerges the Love Theme on solo violin d’amore as they discuss their feelings – that she has forgotten her past, and he does not want to remember his. The theme warms for an extended exposition as we see the two bonding, her charm for him, becoming irresistible. The romantic moment is lost when she asks him to tell her about Victoria Morland, which he refuses, as he turns away. As he plays the piano, he confides that he loves Victoria desperately and hopelessly. He accedes to her request to see her occasionally, but to not write letters, as she is afraid of them. 55:35 “Departure” reveals Alan taking her to the train station so she may return to London. A playful musical narrative unfolds as they scramble to reach the station on time. Yet she trips, breaks a heel, and when Alan sweeps her up into his arms, the Love Theme blossoms. They reach the cart and Mac drives them to the station. A crescendo romantico upon the Love Theme unfolds as the camera rises up from her broken heel to their faces, where we see them in a passionate kissing embrace. We close atop strings felice, which support their arrival at the station and embarkation.

Three crucial scenes are unscored. In London, Dilly greets them at her door and Singleton says good night and goes in. At the door, Alan entreats Dilly to setup a meeting with Beatrice, disclosing everything about him except the love letters. She agrees reluctantly and says good night as he departs. The next day he arrives at St. Paul’s Nursing Home and visits Beatrice Remington. He informs her of his intent to marry Singleton as they love each other. She informs him that he is marrying two women, Singleton and Victoria, and if Victoria returns, Singleton will vanish, and there is no guarantee that Victoria will love him. She grants a conditional consent; the bishop must consent to the marriage. The next day Alan and Singleton meet with the bishop, Singleton charms him, and he informs Alan that he will not oppose their marriage.

1:03:15 “The Walk Home/Proposal” reveals our lovers walking past a fog shrouded Big Ben. She is very happy and the Love Theme unfolds with a tender romanticism as he reaffirms his love for her, and decides to leave Victoria Morland in the past. As they partake of a kissing embrace, the theme blossoms creating a perfect cinematic confluence. At 1:04:44 he asks her to marry him and the music sours and shifts to an eerie misterioso as she pulls back with a troubled facial affect and says that for some reason the proposal frightens her. Strings tristi join as she expresses fear of something in her past that may hurt him, as Alan comforts her in his arms. She is reassured, and asks him to repeat his proposal, which he does, saying that he loves her and will she marry him. She is overjoyed and the Love Theme blossoms as she kisses him and says yes. 1:06:00 “Dilly’s Concern/Wedding” reveals her expressing her concern to Alan that the marriage ceremony may awaken Singleton’s latent memories. Alan understands the risks, but is determined to proceed. Young supports with a soft religioso ambiance, which plays under the dialogue. Alan recites his vows, but when it is Singleton’s turn, she uses Roger’s name instead of Alan’s and she is bewildered. The minister assists her regain her composure and they complete the ceremony.

1:07:49 “Life Together” offers a wondrous score highlight, which abounds with happiness. We see Singleton getting a tour at Alan’s country house. She is ecstatic and strings felice create a wonderful, joyous ambiance. She revels in Alan’s boyhood room, taking in all the memorabilia. He then opens a chest and gives her his wedding present – ten golden sovereigns. The Love Theme blossoms as he reads a note to her saying to be sure the girl who receives this gift is worthy of these coins. She is happy and he seals the gift with a kiss. The theme unites them in love, but she says both their pasts remain elusive, and that she must continue to try to awaken hers, adding that until that time, she will enjoy being his wife. 1:10:47 “Roger” reveals her asking him why she said the name Roger in church. He deflects the question and distracts her by turning on a marionet, which dances atop a drum supported by a music box melody. She persists and Alan continues to dismiss and deflect, and she goes to his arms. They dance with love, supported by the child-like music box motif.

The next day Singleton has cooked breakfast and again asks if he has forgotten Victoria, to which he says yes, adding, so should you. Distressed music enters at 1:12:53 “The Mailman” when she sees the mailman approach and is clearly troubled. While Alan greets the postman, Mac inquires if she recalled getting bad news during the war. She looks bewildered and distracted and plaintive strings weave a misterioso to reinforce this. Alan returns reading a letter from Dilly and Singleton says she must learn to write again as he holds and comforts her, supported tenderly by the Love Theme. He agrees to assist her and begins to write “I love you”, but this elicits her to ask if she has ever seen his handwriting before. He puts the letter away, deflects, and she says she will learn another day as the ambiance of love is restored. She realizes that she does not recall her birthday, and he says, choose any day and they will celebrate. As the Love Theme flows on strings romantico, she chooses June 21, the first day of summer.

1:15:00 “Happy Birthday” reveals Mac bringing her flowers and a fruit basket on her birthday and an embellished Love Theme flows with happiness for an extended rendering as Alan returns home as receives Singleton’s first letter. It offers a heartfelt testament of love, but the closing line reprises one written by Victoria, which clearly unsettles him. She notices, but he quickly regains his composure and she is reassured by his loving, kissing embrace. While in his arms she tells him she recalls a dance with men in uniform, and a witty guy who made her laugh and spill strawberry punch on her white dress. This revelation of Roger unsettles him, but she moves on and asks him what age does he think she is, and he answers, twenty-three, which pleases her. He takes her to the family bible, where she agrees to write her name. 1:17:55 “The Gift” reveals her finding a string adorned with flowers, which excites her as she gets up and traces it. As she does, Young graces us with joyous strings felice. The music carries her to his present – a car! She is ecstatic, and they drive away full of happiness and supported by a joyous Love Theme. As they enjoy the drive, he passes the Longreach junction, which she insists he go back and take. He is resistant, but acquiesces.

1:19:55 “A Dismal Place” opens grimly as she sees the Remington cottage, which she says is a dismal place. Alan is unsettled and says to just forget about it. A foreboding clock-like motif joins as she insists on stopping in front. A misterioso unfolds as she gets out and walks to the front door, only to be startled by Jeb and Dodge. They are both dumbstruck seeing her again as Alan introduces her as his wife, while a hidden Beatrice looks out from the window. They depart and we close on a chord of mystery as Beatrice watches their departure. 1:21:26 “Back Home” opens with the Pastorale Motif abounding with happiness and woodwinds of delight, which carries their return to the country house. She is very happy and the two prance about the grounds. He asks her to pose and tells her how beautiful she is, and that with him you are safe and nothing can ever touch you. The Love Theme enters and she recites a line written in one of the letters Roger wrote her. She recalls Roger, says she loved him, and rushes into Alan’s arms carried by an ardent Love Theme. She is unsettled by the memories and restates her love for Alan. He says the past is the past, and that she must forget about Roger, as he has forgotten Victoria. Yet she stands, and says, but you have not forgotten her and an aching crescendo of flight carries her tearful run into the house.

1:24:29 “Memories/Aftermath” reveal a distraught Singleton lying in bed supported by a plaintive Love Theme. She shakes her head, saying he loves her, and Alan paces the room very much troubled. The next day Alan awakes, does not see Singleton, and rushes out in search of her carried by a distressed Love Theme. He finds her collecting flowers in the garden, but she is clearly unsettled by the return of some lost memories, and a misterioso speaks to this confusion. While picking berries she gets berry juice on her hands. She wipes it on her dress and then screams at 1:26:10 supported by a crescendo of pain as she recalls the night of Roger’s death. She demands to know what happened that night and Alan sweeps her up into his arms and carries her into the house supported by an aggrieved Love Theme. Alan departs for London to seek Beatrice, only to discover she left against medical advice. Back home Singleton receives a letter sent by Beatrice Remington to Captain Quinton. 1:29:04 “The Letter” reveals her seeing Beatrice Remington, and deciding to open the letter supported by aching strings tristi. She reads it and French horns empowered an aggrieved Love Theme sounds as she walks away.

1:29:45 “Alan Returns” reveals his return home carried by the Love Theme. He discovers that Singleton is nowhere to be found and becomes distraught, the musical narrative reflecting this. Mac confirms her disappearance. At 1:30:41 the music darkens as Alan finds the letter, which states she wanted to discuss Victoria and understands that you love her as much as she does. She asks that he come and see her at once. Alan runs to his car and drives away carried by a tortured statement of the Love Theme. At 1:31:12 the music darkens and surges on a crescendo of tension as Singleton arrives at, and enters Beatrice’s cottage. She tells Beatrice that she wants to meet Victoria because Alan is in love with her. She says she is prepared to give him up to Victoria because she loves him. 1:32:45 “Singleton Recalls” reveals her recalling a knife, a white dress and a courtroom where they said I killed my husband. A cello triste supports her revelations, and as she kneels and begs for Beatrice’s aid, ethereal violins ascend full of yearning. Beatrice agrees to assist her find Victoria and as she relates her story of Victoria a string borne misterioso full of sadness carries her memories. At 1:33:43 Singleton says “you loved her very much”, and the Love Theme, now expressed with a mother’s love support her answer – yes. The misterioso entwines with the Love Theme as Beatrice reveals her desire to guard and protect Victoria from harm, and her desire that she find happiness. She then reveals that Roger did not write the love letters, nor was he like the man who did. As such Beatrice opposed the marriage, but they eloped and married. In time Victoria discovered the truth, about the letters and became unhappy.

1:35:40 “Recognition” reveals Singleton moving Beatrice near the fireplace as she is cold. A solo violin affanato weeps, supported by a retinue of woodwinds tristi as we discern Singleton slowly putting all the pieces together as she lights the fire. She remembers that fateful night and we flashback to her and Roger arguing over how he was not the man of her letters. He is drunk, defensive and reveals that a friend wrote them for him. He rips them from her, tosses them into the fireplace as a frantic Victoria tries to save them. At 1:37:33 and orchestral strike of violence supports Beatrice stabbing Roger. An orchestral torrent of anger and disbelief swells horrifically as a stunned Beatrice backs away and collapses from a stroke as Victoria tries to recover her letters. At 1:38:00 Victoria turns to find Roger lying on the floor as anguished strings sofferenti cry out in pain. She crawls away with the knife and blood-stained hands, and cowers in shock. The Love Theme surges dramatically as she reads the fateful line of a letter burning in the fire; “I think of you my dearest, as a distant promise of bounty untouched by the world”. We return to the present and Beatrice says, now you know the truth Victoria, that I could not speak to save you at court, and had to keep what happened secret to protect your sanity. Alan witnesses the confession unnoticed at the front door. Victoria cries that she will never know the man who wrote those letters. 1:39:44 “Finale” reveals Alan calling to Victoria she runs to him carried by strings of hope, and the Love Theme unfolds as he asks if she could love the man who wrote the letters, and then confesses by again repeating the immortal line – “I think of you my dearest, as a distant promise of bounty untouched by the world”. He asks for her forgiveness, which she grants as they kiss and embrace in love, supported by a refulgent statement of the Love Theme, which culminates in a flourish.

Again, I am forced to review a classic Golden Age score using archival sound while viewing the film – yet another score that begs for a commercial release. The only commercial release of the score is one cue on a 2015 digital compilation album , which also includes selections from other scores. Upon viewing the film, Young understood that the story offered a powerful testament of love by Alan who ghost wrote love letters for his buddy Roger’s girl. Victoria fell in love with the man who wrote the letters, and Alan fell in love with her romantic responses. To speak to this core film narrative, Young composed a love theme for the ages, which earned him immortality, an elegant romance for strings romantico. The theme is full of yearning as both seek the elusive other, who deeply stirred their hearts. When the melody is transferred to solo violin d’amore, it becomes, sublime. A Pastorale Motif for the verdant countryside, a Misterioso Motif for the mystery that is Victoria Marland, and an effusive Happiness Motif for good times all served to create a cohesive and compelling joining of film and musical narratives. In scene after scene Young’s evocative writing reveals his mastery of his craft, enhancing the film and allowing director Dieterle to realize his vision. Folks, Victor Young’s compositional gift is fully revealed with this supremely romantic score. I believe it to be a masterpiece of conception and execution, which elevated the film, and merited its Academy Award nomination. I highly recommend you view the film, accepting its archival sound, of one of the Golden Age’s finest scores.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the immortal Love Theme; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COOy7KW8_0Q

Track Listing:


Unreleased (1945)

Music composed and conducted by Victor Young. Orchestrations by Sidney Cutner, George Parrish and Leo Shuken. Recorded and mixed by Philip Wisdom. Score produced by Victor Young.

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