The Letter

"Good"

The Letter Review


Given the source material and the star power, The Letter should be a smash, but this sweaty tropical melodrama doesn't quite deliver. It serves as a reminder that back in the day, even the greatest actors were forced to play whatever roles their studio bosses dictated. That explains why Bette Davis's career in the '30s and '40s has as many misses as hits. This is one of the near misses.

Based on a stage play by W. Somerset Maugham, The Letter opens with a bang, actually six bangs, as Malaya rubber plantation mistress Leslie Crosbie (Davis) pumps six slugs into her neighbor, Geoffrey Hammond (David Newell). The murder throws the plantation into an upheaval, and when Leslie's husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) arrives and learns what has happened, Leslie's explanation is simple: Hammond was drunk, he was possessed with lust, and he tried to "make love" to her. Robert gets his lawyer, Howard Joyce (Robert Stephenson), involved right away, and the visiting police are terribly kind to Leslie, telling her she performed magnificently. Nevertheless, they'll have to arrest her for murder and take her to Singapore for what should be a quick and easy trial.

When Joyce gets back to his law office, however, trouble awaits. His efficient yet smarmy clerk, Ong Chi Seng (Victor Sen Yung), informs him that a letter exists from Leslie to Hammond, and it's a crucial piece of evidence that could hang her. Perhaps Joyce would like to pay a fee of, say, $10,000 to retrieve it? Joyce is appalled, but once he finds out what the letter reveals, he has no choice but to yield to blackmail, nearly bankrupting the Crosbies in his efforts to get his hands on it.

Leslie eventually has to fess up to the fact that her relationship with the dead Hammond was a little more, um, complex that she let on. He wasn't just a neighbor. Even though this bit of news upsets Robert, he stands by her through it all, even when she confesses that she's still in love with the now very dead Hammond, and that her act of murder was actually a fit of jealous rage.

To reveal more would be to take the drama out of this melodrama. Davis does have her moments (and a swooning Max Steiner score to back her up as usual), but The Letter is as talky as it is twisty -- its stage roots are obvious -- and all the best lines are given to the creepy Ong, who really camps it up as the greasy villain with the constant smile. Even the climatic trial speeds by with an obvious outcome. The ending packs a bit of a punch, but it's too little too late. This saga of privileged colonials who can't control their love lives is best left to the Late Late Show.



The Letter

Facts and Figures

Run time: 95 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 23rd November 1940

Distributed by: MGM Home Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 9

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

On the Road Movie Review

On the Road Movie Review

Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the...

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Skilfully made by Swedish filmmaker Janus Metz (the award-winning Armadillo), this film is essentially a...

Advertisement
The Glass Castle Movie Review

The Glass Castle Movie Review

There are quite a few terrific moments in this true story, based on the memoir...

Home Again Movie Review

Home Again Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon is so likeable that she can carry even the most hackneyed of romantic...

Brimstone Movie Review

Brimstone Movie Review

An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Two years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service seemed to come out of nowhere, ruffling feathers...

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly...

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.