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

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

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.