A rubber plantation owner's wife kills a man in \self-defense"", only to have a letter surface which proves it was the murder of her blackmailer. — Genre: Feature Film-Drama — Rating: NR — Release Date: 11-JAN-2005 — Media Typ... more »e: DVD"""« less
Julie A. from ATLANTA, GA Reviewed on 2/16/2010...
I'm a huge Bette Davis fan and I love this movie. Gale Sondergaard is also fabulous as the wife of the murdered lover.
Lawyeraau | Balmoral Castle | 11/07/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a terrific film in which the opening scene focuses on a Malayan plantation on a hot, sultry night. The workers appear to be sleeping peacefully in hammocks drifting in the breeze. Suddenly, the absolute stillness of the night is rendered by gunfire. A man runs out of the main house, and hot on his heels is Leslie Crosbie, mistress of the plantation, emptying her gun into this unfortunate fellow. Leslie Crosbie, cooly played by Bette Davis, has the hired help send for her husband, played by the wonderful Herbert Marshall, who is working. He arrives home, as does the family attorney, marvelously played by the underrated James Stephenson. She tells them what happened. It is essentially a story of self defense in which she fired the gun at the now dead man, who turned out to be a friend of her husband, in order to ward off his unwanted and unexpected sexual advances. She is arrested, though it is taken for granted that she will be acquitted at trial. All is going smoothly, until a letter in Leslie's hand to the deceased surfaces. Its contents call into serious question Leslie's account of what happend that fateful evening. Unfortunately, the letter is in hands of the mysterious Eurasian widow of the dead man. She will, however, sell the letter to Leslie. The attorney initially balks at buying the letter, as it is an act that could result in his disbarment. He ultimately caves out of friendship for Leslie's husband and acquiesces to the unusual arrangement demanded by the widow for its return, in addition to the monetary sum demanded, a sum that will leave Leslie's husband flat broke. The letter is ultimately turned over to Leslie. It is never presented at trial, and Leslie's account of that fateful evening is uncontroverted. Leslie is, of course, acquitted. She returns home with her husband, who, despite having realized that his wife had been unfaithful to him and had loved another, is willing to make a go of their relationship, because he still loves her. Leslie, however, is still enamored of the lover she killed. Gail Sondegaard is unnerving as the Eurasian widow. She appears throughout the film and never utters one word. Yet, her seemingly sinister presence bespeaks volumes. The ending of the film is very Hollywood, but brings the film full circle. This is a marvelous film with great, award calibre performances by the entire cast. It is no wonder that the film received numerous Academy Award nominations. It is a must see film for all Bette Davis fans and classic movie lovers."
An Atmospheric, Great Film
James L. | 01/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a rule, I'm not a fan of melodrama. I watched this film because I knew it had a great reputation, I had read the short story by Somerset Maugham, and it was directed by William Wyler, who is always dependable. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The film captures well the original short story, but it extends it to make it even better. The beginning and ending of the movie are simply perfect, and it's great in between. The photography and the musical score are excellent. Davis is very effective in her role as the treacherous wife, and James Stephenson as her lawyer is extremely good. But it's Gale Sondergaard and her nearly wordless performance that really stands out. She was a tall, attractive woman with a powerful presence, and that presence is used to full advantage in this film. It's a well-crafted film, and even if you don't like melodrama too much, I think you will end up really appreciating this movie a lot."
Bette Davis As the Perfect Femme Fatale!
Kenneth M. Gelwasser | Hollywood, Fl USA | 08/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was recently trapped at a young nephew's birthday party at a local arcade. After four hours of non-stop video games and blaring rap music I had enough. Tired and with a headache, I was ready to put my feet up and soak in some good old fashion entertainment. Luckily, I had the antidote in a recently acquired DVD of the 1940 William Wyler drama/thriller "The Letter".This is just the movie to take you away from everything and just suck you in. The film takes place in the exotic Far East of a colonial Singapore rubber tree plantation. In the opening (and best) scene of the movie, we watch as Leslie Crosbie (a brilliant Bette Davis) calmly walks out on her front porch and grimly shoots a man dead as he attempts to flee. In the short aftermath she explains in precise detail to her husband (Herbert Marshall) and the authorities, that she was forced to kill family friend, Geoffrey Hammond, after he tried to sexually attack her. Even though there is dead body lying there with six bullets in it, everyone seems to automatically take Leslie at her word. That is until defense lawyer, Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) starts finding inconsistancies in her story. With each inconsistancy, new facts are revealed, which Leslie tries to explain and rationalize. Things finally come to a head, when an incrimating letter appears, which could possibly doom this murderous woman. We watch how this 'Femme Fatale' with a steely coldness and conviction, will say and do anything to save her own skin. Even if it means hurting everyone around her. When they came up with the saying "they don't make 'em like they use to", they must have been thinking of this movie. William Wyler's direction is marvelous. He just gets your attention from that very first riveting, classic shot all the way to the movie's climatic ending. The film features great performances from a wonderful cast. Bette Davis really is just amazing in this villainous role. Bette plays a woman who is (over) acting out the role of a victim for all the other characters to see. But the viewer understands how subtley, with each roll of those big beautiful eyes, with each furrowed brow and with the tight shots of those nervous, delicate hands, that this is a woman who is constantly scheming and coniving to get her way. Its just an astonishing performance. The supporting cast does an admirable job. Herbert Marshall is very good as the weak, cuckholded, husband. The scene where he finally reads the infamously, incrimating letter is just priceless. He just shows all his emotions in his face. James Stephenson is also very good as the lawyer, who unravels all of Bette Davis' lies and eventually compromises his own pricinples. Finally, mention should be made for a spellbinding performance from Gale Sondergaard as the mudered man's, Eurasian wife. The character she plays appears mysterious and Sphinx-like. She rarely speaks, yet is a totally commanding presence in every scene she's in. Sondergaard is so good in the role, she actually steals away her big scene with Bette Davis! Now, that takes some doing! Everything seems to work in this movie to create a forboding mood. From Max Steiner's bewitching score to the beautiful, yet eerie, B&W cinematography. I love this movie and just can't get enough of it. A true classic! Highly recommended!"
Outside The Letter of The Law
J. Michael Click | Fort Worth, Texas United States | 06/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Movie: ***** DVD Transfer: ***1/2 Extras: *****
"The Letter" is one of Bette Davis' finest films from her heyday at Warner Brothers, a sharply written, sumptuously produced, brilliantly directed, hauntingly scored, and exquisitely photographed melodrama that provided the actress with yet another acting plum. Indeed, Davis enters the film with a Bang! - six of them, in fact, as she dramatically empties a revolver into the body of a man outside her Malayan bungalow. Claiming that her victim was attempting to force his unwelcome attentions on her, the plucky Davis appears to have provided her attorney with an open-and-shut case of murder in self-defense ... until it becomes known that there exists a certain letter written to the victim, by Davis, on the day of the murder. Is there more to the story that Davis isn't telling?
Davis' Oscar-nominated performance is nothing short of a tour-de-force; she's mesmerizingly restrained throughout, and completely in control of every scene. Herbert Marshall effectively underplays the role of her loyal, supportive husband, and James Stephenson (also an Oscar nominee) is marvelous as Davis' astute lawyer. Oustanding work is also offered by Gale Sondergaard as the stoic widow of Davis' victim; aside from a few short sentences spoken in a foreign tongue, the actress delivers her entire performance through a series of beautifully rendered facial expressions. Her scenes with Davis are among the film's most highly dramatic and crackle with intensity.
The DVD transfer of "The Letter" is of generally commendable quality, marred only by some excessive graininess during one scene involving a sequence of close-ups, and a few seconds of distortion that caused a thin blue line of light to appear at the bottom of the picture. The discs extras include two different radio adaptations of the story, both starring Davis and Marshall; the Original Theatrical Trailer; and most interesting of all, an alternate ending sequence that omits a crucial scene between Davis and Marshall ... including Davis' most famous line in the entire script! (Here's tangible proof of how important editing is to the filmmaking process.) Overall, "The Letter" is a bona fide classic, and a sterling example of the studio system at its best. This DVD presentation is most enthusiastically recommended. "