best film:  Letter from an Unknown Woman from Max Ophüls edges out Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and George Stevens’ Gunga Din. Joan Fontaine is superb in both Letter from an Unknown Woman and Rebecca (she does not get much time to shine backing up the boys in deeper support in Gunga Din). Letter from an Unknown Woman landed at #250 on the top 500 list so there are actors with a stronger best film left off this list for sure. It would have been great to see Fontaine in one of Hitchcock or Ophüls’ top tier efforts (this currently ranks as Ophüls’ fourth strongest film).



Max Ophüls was not prolific – so what a coup for any actor to get the lead in one of his films



best performance:  Letter from an Unknown Woman again in this category.  This film (and Fontaine’s role) makes for such a poignant tragedy.  Fontaine plays Lisa Berndle – opposite Louis Jourdan as Stefan Brand. Fontaine is just so utterly genuine – she breaks your heart.



stylistic innovations/traits:   Fontaine had a penchant and aptitude for playing for innocence.  There is an earnestness in all three of her best characters and performances – Letter from an Unknown Woman, Rebecca, and Suspicion – the three main reasons she is on the list.  Fontaine is the younger sister of Olivia de Havilland (one in the best picture winner of 1939 – Gone with the Wind, one in the best picture winner of 1940 – Rebecca). Olivia won two Oscars (Fontaine, one – Suspicion) and was nominated five times (three for Fontaine – all from 1940 to 1943) but it is Fontaine who has the better resume with the two best performances between the two. Fontaine does not have a deep archiveable filmography and that hurts her cause.  She was at her best playing vulnerable devotees – but the Born to Be Bad role and film from Nicholas Ray was a great turn and change of pace for her – helps her show off a little range.



Fontaine opposite Cary Grant in 1941’s Suspicion – in the middle of that prime stretch for Fontaine – five (5) archiveable films in five (5) years from 1939 to 1943.



directors worked with:   Alfred Hitchcock (2). Again, this really was a crucial collaboration for Fontaine. George Stevens (1), George Cukor (1), Max Ophüls (1), Nicholas Ray (1).



Hitchcock comes to Hollywood – Fontaine was able to nab the coveted female lead roles in back to back years with Hitchcock in 1940 and 1941 – here in Rebecca




top five performances:

  1. Letter from an Unknown Woman
  2. Rebecca
  3. Suspicion
  4. Jane Eyre
  5. Born to be Bad



archiveable films

1939- Gunga Din
1939- The Women
1940- Rebecca
1941- Suspicion
1943- Jane Eyre
1948- Letter from an Unknown Woman
1950- Born to Be Bad