Film Review: “The Letter” (1940)


If you pull the trigger then you must be ready for the consequences… Leslie Crosbie, the wife of a rubber plantation administrator, shoots a man in cold blood and claims it was self-defense, except that a letter she holds in her hand can prove otherwise. She calculates absolutely everything, except one thing – the dead man`s widow, who has no desire to forgive her for taking away the man she loved…

The film begins with the great and incomparable Bette Davies as Leslie Crosbie, who chases Mr. Hammond while shooting him the back until he falls. Then she turns, and facing her servants, orders them to call a local policeman, and her husband, Robert (Herbert Marshall). When the police and her husband arrive, she tells them a fascinating story of how Mr. Hammond molested her and left her no choice but to kill him in order to save her life. Even though her theory sounds realistic, one man does not believe her story – her lawyer, Howard Joyce (James Stephenson).

The most intriguing part of the film begins when Howard Joyce receives a letter whose content can prove Mrs. Crosbie is guilty on all counts. A man, who brings the letter, says that there is a person who is willing to keep secret the existence of the letter, if Mrs. Crosbie and her husband agree to pay an enormous amount of money -exactly $10,000. Even though, the film holds the real secret of why Leslie killed the man, it still hints at the real reason.

Watching The Letter directed by William Wyler is an absolute delight and an endless joy, especially the way Wyler directs Davies. Knowing her ability to give a long speech and disappear into the character within a second, the director does not move the camera, but instead, gives her enough room to improvise and perform her part so well, that it earns her an Oscar nomination. There are two scenes, in particular, that are certainly worth watching and studied for those who wish to become an actor.

In conclusion, The Letter, filmed in black-and-white, is well colorized allowing us to see this beloved film in a color version. However, for those, who love Wyler`s film in the black-and-white version, they may always change the settings back to the old ones. Saying that, a film, like The Letter will always be a winner for classic film lovers; it has all the required ingredients to be called one of the most brilliant films ever made. In the hands of a master like Wyler, Bettie Davies turns the predictable plot into a fascinating film, where one thing will always remain on top – her amazingly beautiful performance.

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