The Lost Moment

The Lost Moment is a 1947 film noir psychological thriller film with elements of horror directed by Martin Gabel and starring Robert Cummings, Susan Hayward and Agnes Moorehead.

The Lost Moment
Directed byMartin Gabel
Produced byWalter Wanger
Screenplay byLeonardo Bercovici
Based onnovella The Aspern Papers by Henry James
StarringRobert Cummings
Susan Hayward
Music byDaniele Amfitheatrof
CinematographyHal Mohr
Edited byMilton Carruth
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • November 21, 1947 (1947-11-21) (United States)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$734,357[1]

The film was not well received at the time but its reputation has risen in recent years.[2]


The movie mirrors some details of its source material and the broad outline of its plot, but it radically alters the characters, adding schizophrenia, a murder, and a fire.[3]

A publisher, Lewis Venable, travels from New York to Venice, seeking to buy the 19th-century love letters of the late poet Jeffrey Ashton to a woman named Juliana Bordereau. He learns from a living poet, Charles Russell, that Juliana is still alive at 105.

Without announcing his intentions, Lewis assumes a false identity. He takes lodging at Juliana's and meets her great-niece Tina, a pianist.

In time, he discovers that Juliana is in dire need of money. She even offers to sell him a valuable painting at far too low a price. He also learns that Tina has a schizophrenic personality, at times believing that she is Juliana and the object of Ashton's love letters.

Charles tries to blackmail Lewis by threatening to reveal his true identity and his interest in acquiring the letters. Lewis comes to believe that Ashton was murdered and buried in the garden. As he prepares to leave, in a chaotic scene the house catches fire. He manages to save Juliana from the blaze, but the precious letters are lost.



The film was produced at Universal Pictures by Walter Wanger, from a screenplay by Leonardo Bercovici based on the novella The Aspern Papers by Henry James. Bercovici wrote the script in 1946 for Charles Feldman who developed several projects for the property. Wagner bought the script in January 1947 for a reported $200,000. (In actual fact no money changed hands - Wanger bought the script in exchange for a scenario called The Washington Flyer.[4])

The script was called The Lost Love. Wagner said the script would be directed by Martin Gable, who had just worked as producer on Smash Up: The Story of a Woman for Wanger; that film starred Susan Hayward who would be in the new movie as well.[5]

Wagner said the character ofJames Aspern was a combination of Shelley, Keats and Byron. He would change the name of Aspern to Ashton to avoid "exploitation of the Bayer product."[6]

In late February, Robert Cummings signed to make the film, which was then called The Lost Love. (He was scheduled to do The Big Curtain for Edward Alperson afterwards.) Filming began March 10, 1947.[7]

In April the film was retitled The Lost Moment.[8]

The music score was by Daniele Amfitheatrof and the cinematography was by Hal Mohr. The film stars Robert Cummings and Susan Hayward with Agnes Moorehead, Joan Lorring, Eduardo Ciannelli and Minerva Urecal.

The eerie atmosphere in the Venetian home was achieved through "tenebrous lighting, solemn rhythms and emphasis in music and sounds".[9] Agnes Moorehead's makeover as the 105-year-old woman was the subject of magazine articles for months after release.[9][10]



The film was not well received by critics upon release, "written off as being rather gloomily literary."[11] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times considered the film to be "little more than the average horror", believing that Robert Cummings and Susan Hayward had little chemistry, saying "Miss Hayward performs as the daft niece with a rigidity that is almost ludicrous, and Mr. Cummings has the unctious manner of a nice young undertaker as the publisher. Eduardo Ciannelli is professional, at least, as a priest."[9] Newsweek said: "Frankly, admirers of Henry James have cause for complaint, and the average moviegoer will probably complain of boredom." The New Republic said that "Robert Cummings gives a performance that is probably meant to be sensitive but turns out to be unctuous". The New York World Telegram called the film "ponderous, majestic and thoroughly dull".[12]

The film has sometimes been seen in a more favorable light. Time Out said that the film is a "remarkably effective adaptation of Henry James' The Aspern Papers, closer to the shivery ambience of The Innocents than to the oh-so-discreet charm of Daisy Miller or The Europeans."[13] David Thompson said that the film was "beautifully shot".[11]

Box Office

The film recorded a loss of $886,494.[1]


  1. Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p444
  2. LOST MOMENT, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 50, Iss. 588, (Jan 1, 1983): 170.
  3. Holston, Kim R. (2002). Susan Hayward: Her Films and Life. McFarland & Company. pp. 55ff.
  4. HOLLYWOOD MEMOS: Aid for Young Playwrights -- It Is, but It Isn't, 'The Aspern Papers' -- Addenda By THOMAS F. BRADY. New York Times 20 Apr 1947: X5.
  5. MISS ROGERS GETS RIGHTS TO NOVEL: New York Times 21 Jan 1947: 29.
  6. Receipts of 'Duel in the Sun' Mount as Protests Grow--Academy Note By THOMAS F. BRADY. New York Times 26 Jan 1947: X5.
  7. COTTEN TO APPEAR IN SELZNICK FILM: Actor Will Play Dual Role in 'Rupert of Hentzau,' Which Producer Is Remaking By THOMAS F. BRADY New York Times 1 Mar 1947: 11.
  8. WALLIS ACQUIRES PLAY BY FLETCHER. New York Times 8 Apr 1947: 34.
  9. Crowther, Bosley (22 November 1947). "The Lost Moment (1947)". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  10. DRAMA AND THE ARTS: Agnes Moorehead's Role New Miracle of Make-up Strong, E J. Los Angeles Times 4 May 1947: C1.
  11. Thomson, David (2010). 'Have You Seen...?': A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films Including Masterpieces, Oddities and Guilty Pleasures (with Just a Few Disasters). Penguin Adult. p. 490. ISBN 978-0-14-102075-4.
  12. Tranberg, Charles (2007). I Love the Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorehead. BearManor. p. 118.
  13. "The Lost Moment". Time Out. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
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