The Letter (1940)
Movie InfoWilliam Wyler's dark and poisonous melodrama, based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel, features Bette Davis in one of her nastiest roles. The story begins in the shimmering moonlight on a tropical Malayan rubber plantation. Shots ring out and a wounded man, Geoffrey Hammond (David Newell) staggers from a bungalow as Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) coldly follows him, pumping the remaining bullets into his body. She later tells her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) that she shot Geoffrey, a mutual friend, because he was drunk and tried to take advantage of her. Robert, who owns the plantation, believes her story and hires high-powered lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) to defend her. But then a letter surfaces in which it is revealed that Leslie had invited Geoffrey to the plantation on the night of his murder. When Howard confronts her with the letter, Leslie admits writing it and implies that she and Geoffrey were lovers. Howard, nevertheless, agrees to continue defending her; he explains to Leslie, "I won't tell you what I personally thought when I read the letter. It's the duty of counsel to defend his client, not to convict her even in his own mind. I don't want you to tell me anything but what is needed to save your neck." Meanwhile, the letter becomes the object of a $10,000 blackmail scheme from Geoffrey's widow (Gale Sondergaard). … More
Related News & Features
Tyler Perry Pens an Open Letter to a Penn State Survivor
– The Daily Beast
No Friends? Inconceivable! Log in to see what your friends have to say.Login
Critic Reviews for The Letter
Prime Bette Davis featuring a memorable shooting in the opening.
The second and best version of Maugham's noirish tale of adultery and murder is emarked by Wyler's nunaced mis-en-scene, Gaudio's lensing, and superlative acting of Bette Davis (surprisingly restrained), Herbert Marshall and especially James Stephenson.
even a bad Davis movie where she's hamming and mugging and even humiliating herself is more fun than practically no Bette at all.
If there is any doubt that Bette Davis is the star of this film, high above all others, it is vanquished by William Wyler's careful framing of her in every shot.
Audience Reviews for The Letter
A slightly predictable story of blackmail and murder involving Bette Davis. Pretty good movie, but it could be more exciting.More
What a powerful performance by Miss Davis in a very unflattering role. All the elements are present for a great motion picture (casting, direction & screenplay) and The Letter delivers in spades
Of note is the presence of Gale Sondergaard as the silent but ominous Malaysian widow who speaks volumes without ever uttering a word. Yes, this is the same Gale Sondergaard who was originally cast as the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz before (thankfully) turning the role over to the talents of Margaret Hamilton. Sondergaard's appearance might seem stereotypical and offensive today, but there's no denying her screen presence. Simply brilliant.
One of the best opening scenes ever! If the rest of the film was as good as the opening, this would get five stars. I don't want to spoil it, but you haven't lived until you see Bette Davis chase her lover out of the house, gun in hand, shooting at him the whole time, and finally emptying the gun into him after he's laying in a heap at the bottom of the porch steps. The best part is how cold-blooded she is -- she never flinches, never for an instant seems to have any remorse for what she's doing. How could the rest NOT be a bit of a letdown? But it's still an OK flick about adultery and blackmail.More
Discuss The Letter on our Movie forum!