One Moment in Time
By the time "The Lost Moment" is over, and at only 89 minutes it isn't a long movie, you will feel utterly shattered because you will have just spent 89 minutes watching a movie heavy in atmosphere. It is quite surprising how much atmosphere there is and in truth maybe a little too much because it is exhausting. But despite director Martin Gabel delivering all this atmosphere "The Lost Moment" is not the great movie it could have been although I am sure those who are fans of writer Henry James on whose "The Aspern Papers" is based will disagree. The truth is that it doesn't come down to the story but the choice of Robert Cummings as leading man as whilst Cummings was a good actor he seems overwhelmed by the atmosphere and spends the majority of the movie coming across as forced.
As a young man publisher Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings) was obsessed with the writing of 19th-century poet, Jeffrey Ashton and was desperate to discover his lost letters. Discovering that Ashton's lover Juliana Borderau (Agnes Moorehead) is still alive and in her hundred's, Lewis takes an alias and pretends to be a young writer, renting a room in the Borderau house in Venice, Italy where the elderly Juliana lives with her niece Tina (Susan Hayward) and their staff. Tina doesn't trust Lewis nor does Father Rinaldo (Eduardo Ciannelli) who suspects Lewis is not all that he seems. But Lewis discovers things are not right in the Borderau house when one night he hears piano playing coming from a room and on investigation discovers Tina, dressed like a young Juliana who on seeing Lewis calls him Jeffrey before throwing herself at him.
It will come as little surprise to those who have read some of my other movie reviews that I have never read Henry James' "The Aspern Papers" and so can't say how authentic "The Lost Moment" is. What I will say is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Leonardo Bercovici's screenplay which is full of intrigue, not just Lewis's discovery of Tina having a split personality but with lots of characters. It is part of the reason why "The Lost Moment" is so heavy with atmosphere because every scene and character has something about them which is intriguing, from Amelia the frightened housemaid to Lewis's friend Charlie.
And how this story plays out is brilliant as Lewis finds himself in the midst of a lot of possible trouble, from having feelings for Tina, his lies over who he is, his obsession with the letters as well as the friendships he forms with Juliana and Amelia. Again this all contributes to the movies ever thickening atmosphere which by the time "The Lost Moment" creeps towards its climax is so heavy that it is exhausting.
But "The Lost Moment" has a problem and that problem is Robert Cummings because in the lead role of Lewis he needs to convince yet Cummings seems overwhelmed by the atmosphere. It means that often Cummings comes across as forcing it, falling back on cliche acting skills when instead real character is needed to be delivered. What I mean by that is in a scene where Lewis is pondering whether or not to steal the letters the look he gives comes across as a man struggling to add two big numbers in his head rather than one which is considering the ramifications of his actions and who he will hurt.
Fortunately Susan Hayward is brilliant as Tina and delivers the split personality of her character quite brilliantly, thriving on the atmosphere to make her unsettling from start to finish. As for Agnes Moorehead who plays the 105 year old Juliana, well in all honesty it is novelty casting because the character is surprisingly unimportant.
What this all boils down to is that "The Lost Moment" is an exhausting movie, mainly because it is a movie dripping in atmosphere but also in some part to the miscasting of Robert Cummings in the lead role who struggles to deliver a believable character.