ne of the most famous scenes of cinematic travel takes place in Max
Ophüls’s melodrama Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). The film
set in Vienna in the early twentieth century, and in the scene, the
film’s young female protagonist, Lisa, is out on her first and only evening
with the famous pianist Stefan Brand, who takes her to an amusement park
modeled after the real Wurstelprater in Vienna’s Wiener Prater park. Lisa is
played by Joan Fontaine, then one of the most important stars at Univer-
sal Pictures, and Stefan is played by Louis Jourdan, a French actor newly
arrived in Hollywood who was being groomed as a European leading man
in the manner of Charles Boyer. The two characters sit in a stationary train
car while a painted landscape panorama passes by the window (fig. P.1). As
Lisa speaks of her father, a crudely painted landscape of Venice scrolls past,
followed by Switzerland: “When my father was alive, we traveled a lot. We
went nearly everywhere. We had wonderful times.” Stefan, the more experi-
enced of the two, leans in, saying, “Perhaps we’ve been to some of the same
places.” As Lisa continues to speak about visiting Rio de Janeiro, we realize
from her facetious tone of voice that her travels resemble the painted back-
drop passing by: they are imaginary. She soon ’fesses up: “Well, there weren’t
any trips. Do you mind? You see, my father had a friend in a travel bureau.
My father worked across the street. He was an assistant superintendent of
municipal waterworks, and he used to bring folders home with him with
pictures on them. We had stacks of them. And in the evening, he would put
on his traveling coat. That’s what he called it. Of course, I was very young.”
In this story of Lisa’s childhood love for her dead father, imaginary travel
serves as a playful escape from the dreariness of everyday life. In the present
tense of the scene between Lisa and Stefan, the imaginary travel of the train
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