(director: Martin Gabel; screenwriter: based on the novel The Aspern Papers by Henry James/Leonardo Bercovici; cinematographer: Hal Mohr; editor: Milton Carruth; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: Robert Cummings (Lewis Venable/William Burton), Susan Hayward (Tina Bordereau), Agnes Moorehead (JulianaBordereau), Joan Lorring (Amelia), Eduardo Ciannelli (Father Rinaldo), John Archer (Charles), Frank Puglia (Pietro), Minerva Urecal (Maria), William Edmunds (Vittorio); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Wanger; Republic Pictures; 1947)
Too bad Gabel didn’t direct another film–this one is brilliantly Gothic.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The only film actor Martin Gabel ever directed. Too bad Gabel didn’t direct another film–this one is brilliantly Gothic. The oddball psychological drama is based on the novel The Aspern Papers by Henry James, and is written by Leonardo Bercovici.James’ book wasinspired by the romance between Lord Byron and his mistress Claire Claremont, who guarded with her life the poems written by Byron in her honor.

Opportunistic New York publisher Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings) is in pursuit of the valuable lost love letters of the legendary 19th-century poet, Jeffrey Ashton, who disappeared mysteriously in 1843. Posing as a writer under the alias of William Burton, the unscrupulous publisher rents a room in the spooky Venetian mansion of Juliana Bordereau, who was Ashton’s lover and the receiver of those letters. Juliana is a frail 105-year-old blind recluse, who never leaves her room and is zealously cared for by her niece Tina Bordereau (Susan Hayward). Tina runs the large estate with the help of servants, a mother and daughter team (Minerva Urecal & Joan Lorring).

Lewis realizes that Tina is a schizophrenic, living in both the past and present. In the past, she believes she’s Juliana and play acts talking with Jeffrey, playing on the piano the compositions Jeffrey admired, reading from his letters as if she were Juliana and wearing her aunt’s ring that Jeffrey gave her.

The only reason the unctuous Lewis was able to rent a room, was because the family needed the money. After six weeks go by with no letters materializing the family priest (Eduardo Cianelli), the film’s voice of reason, warns the houseguest, someone he has a bad feeling about, that a tragedy will occur if he interferes with Tina’s fantasy world. But when Lewis discovers where the letters are hid, he’s determined to get them no matter the cost in lives. This unethical pursuit leads to a suspenseful conclusion.