Ironically, Martin Gabel's recently restored 1947 film The Lost Moment has the conflicting interests of preservation at its core. A clever, nameless publisher (Robert Cummings) impersonates a novelist in order to live in the house of an old woman (Agnes Moorehead) who owns love letters from a famous poet he wants to publish. The initial plot is adapted from Henry James' novel The Aspern Papers (which James in turn ripped from a real tale involving Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein), but from there the movie adds in a schizophrenic love interest and the possibility of... murder!
The make-up department carries much of the weight for what passed as suspense in the '40s, as the 105-year-old hermit who holds the publisher's fate in her decrepit hands is slowly revealed. Mental illness and elderly femininity are still exploited to scare audiences of psychological thrillers today, and The Lost Moment lays this nearly-institutionalized story-telling technique bare. The film was a commercial flop in its day, as even in the supposedly classier past, literary period pieces weren't exactly blockbuster material. Despite the monetary failure and use of tropes, the movie is a solid example of a Hollywood gothic, a genre that serves as groundwork for psychological thrillers today, with its focus on ambiance, spooky music, and emotionally stylistic acting. —Reid Kurkerewicz