The Letter (1940)

September 15, 2010 Whitney movie review 9 Comments

the letter movie poster
Director: William Wyler
Writers: W. Somerset Maugham (by), Howard Koch (screen play)
Stars: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson
Release Date: November 23, 1940

The wife of a rubber plantation administrator shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense, but a letter in her own hand may prove her undoing.

Stars: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson The 1940’s film, The Letter is the original Fatal Attraction.  The film opens in Malaya when Leslie Crosbie, played by Bette Davis shoots a gentleman caller, identified as Geoff Hammond a family friend.   After having her husband summoned and a police officer arrives she confesses to killing Mr. Hammond after he tries to make love to her grasping for the revolver to protect her honor.  Leslie is immediately brought into custody with little protest as though she was going to a day at the beach.  Each time Leslie is questioned her story never changes and is repeated word for word that, neither  herself or her husband had seen Geoff for many months until he appeared on her doorstep.  This is until an incriminating letter surfaces, written in Leslie’s hand to Geoff Hammond on the day of the murder asking him to come to her home.  Of course this changes everything, following lies and deceit with a confession that can only be compared to Glen Close.

Two words could complete this review, Bette Davis.  Although that sounds cheap and undeserving for such a film.  It goes without saying that she is phenomenal, her emotion oozes like she is putting her entire being into the character giving the watcher a better connection to the story, even if you haven’t killed your lover. That is not to say that Davis is the only one to give a heart wrenching performance, Herbert Marshall, who plays her devoted husband Robert Crosbie, pulls at your strings after finding out what a sham his marriage is and his life is in ruins.  Here he cries openly without restraint and I really felt for him.

I’ve always enjoyed William Wyler as a director because like Hitchcock he has a very different way of looking at things.  Speaking of Alfred Hitchcock, in his Rebecca while Maxim de Winter is stating how he killed the first Mrs. de Winter the camera flows about the room as if following a pantomime and feel like  you’re seeing it through the killer’s eyes.  Wyler does this too and I think it really adds something.

I hadn’t watched The Letter in a very long time and forgot how stupendous it is.  This film puts me in the mood for Bette Davis and W. Somerset Maugham who’s play it was based on.


9 responses to “The Letter (1940)

  1. I absolutely LOVE Bette Davis — and like Bethany, I loved All About Eve. She was fantastic in it — I can't begin to speak enough of how much I adore everything that she does! I have to check this one out on Netflix, too, I haven't seen this one yet!

  2. Juju– I think you'll love it!

    Bethany– All About Eve is my favorite too!

    Bybee– Mr. Skeffigton is great. I adore Claude Rains, he and Bette make such an awesome pair.

    Coffee and a Book Chick– Yeah for Netflix! I think you'll really enjoy The Letter.

  3. OK…I watched The Letter. The bit with the lace-making was a cool touch. When she goes to the Chinese section to retrieve the letter, she's wearing her own lace shawl which is a metaphor for getting inextricably tangled in the web of deceit she's woven just as painstakingly.

  4. I saw a collection of Alfred Hitchcock movies at the store the other day and I really should have bought them… There are so many I have never seen before and really should!

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