It’s ironic that the film version of The Aspern Papers by the 19th-century American author Henry James, revered for his naturalism, should be the zenith of Hollywood gothic. In James’ story—modeled after the tale of Edward Augustus Silsbee who attempted to pilfer letters written by Percy Shelley from Mary Shelley’s aged stepsister—a nameless American scoundrel bent on a publishing coup tracks the centenarian Juliana Bordereau to a decaying Venetian palazzo. In The Lost Moment, the scoundrel is an unscrupulous New York publisher (Robert Cummings), who plots to acquire Jeffrey Ashton’s love letters to his withered muse (Agnes Moorehead) even if it requires wooing the tedious great-niece, Miss Tina (Susan Hayward).
James’ themes remain even as the film hysterically reaches for metaphysical overtones. Miss Tina, starchy and lackluster by day, enters a fugue state by night. In thrall to Ashton’s letters which she pores over in secret, Miss Tina literally lets down her hair and becomes the luminous Juliana of 1814, throbbing with vitality and yearning for love. Hal Mohr’s sinuous travelling camera snakes through the crypt-like mansion hand in hand with Daniele Amfitheatrof’s unearthly musical score.—Scott MacQueen
Production: Walter Wanger Pictures, Inc., Universal Pictures Co., Inc. Distribution: Universal International. Based on the novella The Aspern Papers by Henry James. Screenwriter: Leonardo Bercovici. Cinematography: Hal Mohr. Art Director: Alexander Golitzen. Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof. Cast: Robert Cummings, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, Joan Lorring, Eduardo Ciannelli.
Preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute. Preserved from the 35mm nitrate camera negative, the 35mm nitrate sound track negative, and a 35mm nitrate fine grain master. Laboratory services by the Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Modern Videofilm, Audio Mechanics, Simon Daniel Sound, DJ Audio, Inc. Special thanks to Paramount Pictures.