Love Letters (1983) - Plot Summary Poster

(II) (1983)


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  • A story of love and obsession. A young radio personality who, after her mother dies, discovers she had been having a love affair for 15 years. Now she finds herself recreating her mother's romance by getting involved with a married man.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Twenty-two-year-old Anna Winter (Jamie Lee Curtis) hosts a classical music program on KLAS, a small, listener-supported radio station in Los Angeles, California. At the hospital, she visits her dying mother, Maggie (Bonnie Bartlett), who gives her daughter an old ring, which no longer fits, indicating that the jewelry was not a gift from Anna's father, Chuck Winter (Matt Clark). She warns her daughter not to make the same mistakes she did.

    After a broadcast one day, Anna encounters Oliver Andrews (James Keach), a 40-year-old successful commercial photographer who is being courted by the station as a potential donor. When Oliver tells Anna he is a fan of her show, she is flattered, but disappointed as she notices the wedding ring on his finger.

    At her bungalow along the Venice canals, Anna spends the evening with Wendy (Amy Madigan), her best friend and neighbor, who complains about the difficulties of dating men. A few days later, after her mother dies, Anna sorts through some of Maggie's personal belongings. Amid the mementos and photographs, she finds a box of love letters written to her mother by a man named Joseph Chesley (Rance Howard). As Anna reads one of the letters, she is surprised to learn Maggie had an affair during her marriage. She quickly hides the box as her drunken father staggers up the stairs. Later at her home, Anna shares one of the letters with Wendy, and mentions she was six-years-old when the affair occurred.

    At a KLAS concert, Oliver arrives and invites Anna for a drink. After confessing he is married with two young children, he flirts with Anna, telling her she is "extraordinary." Later, Anna poses for photographs at Oliver's studio. Wendy eyes Oliver suspiciously as he leaves Anna's apartment and warns her friend about falling in love with a married man. Meanwhile, Anna continues to be fascinated by her mother's love letters from Joseph, as she embarks on her own affair with Oliver.

    One day, Anna asks to see pictures of Oliver's young children, two-year-old Emma and eight-year-old Paul, but he avoids showing her a photograph of his wife, Edith. During a visit with her despondent and alcoholic father, Anna remarks how much she misses her mother. When Chuck Winter confesses that he was never good enough for Maggie, Anna accuses her father of marrying her mother because she was pregnant. Chuck shakes his head, assuring his daughter that he loved Maggie. Anna has always been wary of her father and as she begins to leave, he loses his temper and accuses her of being just like her mother.

    Driving home, Anna is upset and stops at a payphone to call Oliver, but she hangs up as soon as his wife answers. Anna later finds a photograph of Edith in Oliver's wallet to help "make her real." When Anna is offered a better job at her "dream station," KBFK, in San Francisco, California, she is reluctant to be away from Oliver and turns down the opportunity.

    During one of their trysts, Anna asks Oliver to temporarily take off his wedding ring, but he refuses. One evening, Oliver takes Anna out to dinner to meet his friend and fellow artist, Morgan Crawford (Lyman Ward), but Anna feels excluded during their pretentious conversation. On the drive home, Oliver recognizes a couple his wife Edith knows and instructs Anna to duck down so she will not be seen by them. When they arrive at the bungalow, Oliver directs Anna into the living room and surprises her with a piano. Despite the gift, Anna appears anxious about the future of their relationship. Later, she waits outside the Andrews' home in her car and follows Edith and Emma to a park. She runs away when Edith looks up and sees her staring.

    One day, Oliver calls to cancel their rendezvous, but Anna convinces him to stop by for a few minutes. She wants to have sex as soon as he arrives and showers him with kisses. Oliver, however, confesses that he recently reconciled and made love to his wife, causing Anna to escape to the bathroom crying. Oliver tries to explain that he has been with Edith for 15 years and has two children he loves, but Anna is not interested. She professes her love for Oliver, and they have frenzied sex.

    Later, Anna borrows sentences from Joseph Chesley's letters to compose her own letter to Oliver, in which she declares she no longer wants to share him with someone else. Hoping he will choose to leave his wife, Anna writes, "sometimes it is right to do the wrong thing." Tearfully, Anna tells Wendy that her mother and Joseph had an ideal love and made a mistake not staying together, and ruining her family's life in the process.

    Anna drives to the Andrews' home that night and watches the family in the living room. Oliver sees her through the window and confronts her outside. As they fight, Edith witnesses the ruckus from the upstairs porch. After Anna falls and hits her head on the sidewalk, she wakes to find herself lying in Emma's bedroom. Anna overhears Oliver and Edith arguing downstairs and tells them she is sorry. As she walks to her car, Oliver argues that he must choose to hurt the fewer number of people and assures Anna that she is young and will meet someone better. That night while trying to sleep, she recalls fights between her parents and imagines shooting her father. The next day, she burns Joseph Chesley's love letters.

    On a visit to her mother's grave, Anna sees fresh gardenias and notices a man walking away. As she approaches, Joseph recognizes her as Maggie's daughter. He tells Anna the last time he saw Maggie was five years ago for a few hours. Anna gives Joseph the ring that her mother gave her in the hospital. In tears, Joseph is amazed that Maggie, whom he calls "the love of his life," kept the ring for so long. Anna sadly observes she has never experienced that kind of love.

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