Sog.: dal racconto Lettera di una sconosciuta di Stefan Zweig e ispirato al volume Only Yesterday: An Informed History of the Nineteen-Twenties di Frederick Lewis Allen. Scen.: Arthur Richman, William Hurlbut, George O’Neill. F.: Merritt Gerstad. M.: Milton Carruth. Scgf.: Charles D. Hall. Mus.: Constantine Bakaleinikoff, Walter Donaldson. Int.: Margaret Sullavan (Mary Lane), John Boles (Jim Emerson), Edna Mae Oliver (Leona), Billie Burke (Julia Warren), Reginald Denny (Bob). Prod.: Carl Leammle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. 35mm. D.: 106’. Bn.
In May 1932 Universal purchased the rights to Frederick Lewis Allen’s Only Yesterday, a popular work of non-fiction with no plot and no characters, and an impossible source as the basis of a Hollywood narrative feature. A treatment prepared by John Stahl, Ben Hecht and Gene Fowler in October proved unsatisfactory and a very different script was later commissioned from Arthur Richman and William Hurlbut (who would later collaborate on Imitation of Life). Irene Dunne and John Boles had co-starred in Stahl’s 1932 hit Back Street, but when Dunne proved unavailable, and Universal failed to borrow another film star of comparable value, Laemmle turned instead to Broadway. Margaret Sullavan soon became the studio’s only bankable non-genre star, but she proved difficult to direct, her lack of film technique adding both time and money to the budget. Stahl brought in Only Yesterday for $591,247, making it Universal’s third most expensive film of 1933-34, but thanks to stronger than expected foreign revenue the film nearly broke even. Studio records indicate that Stefan Zweig did not assign Universal the rights to Letter from an Unknown Woman until October 26, 1933, less than two weeks before Only Yesterday’s release, in a deal quietly negotiated by Paul Kohner after he recognized similarities in the plots. It is unclear who was responsible for this appropriation (an English translation had appeared here in 1932), but Universal was also surprised to learn that the book had already been filmed in Germany (Narkose, 1929), and that RKO currently held the option! What Universal could not manage was the attitude of the Hays Office, which had been severely critical of the film on its original release and, after uniform implementation of the Code in 1934, refused to issue it a Code seal, preventing any future reissues.