TFTMM 2020 & WOIANRA 2019 on… The Letter (1940)

And now we have another Bette Davis drama, the 1940 movie The Letter.

A calm night in Malaya is disrupted by the sound of gunshots.  The villagers come to the scene, where they see Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis), and the dead body of Geoff Hammond.  She has one of her servants try to contact her husband, Robert (Herbert Marshall), who then gets in touch with the police and their lawyer, Howard Joyce (James Stephenson).  After questioning Leslie, they learn that, according to her, Geoff had come over without invitation and tried to force himself on her, before she grabbed a gun to shoot.  At the time, her story seemed to satisfy everybody, although she would still have to go to jail for a time and stand trial.  Trouble arises, however, when Howard’s assistant, Ong Chi Seng (Sen Yung), tells him that a friend of his is in possession of a letter, written by Leslie to Geoff on the day he died, that goes against the story Leslie was telling.  When he confronts Leslie about it, she at first denies writing the letter, then, when caught in a lie, admits that she did indeed write it.  Against his better judgment, she convinces him to try and get the letter.  They learn that the letter is being held by Geoff Hammond’s widow (Gale Sondergaard), and she is demanding a) $10,000 (which is almost all the money Leslie’s husband has saved up) and b) Leslie has to deliver the money to her in person.  Needing Robert’s permission to use the money, Howard tells him about the letter, but misrepresents its importance (and its actual cost), and Robert agrees to pay.  Howard is able to get Leslie out of jail by having her put in his custody.  Howard takes Leslie to Mrs. Hammond, and they are able to get the letter.  Of course, with Howard’s conscience bothering him, will Leslie be acquitted at the trial, or pronounced guilty?

The Letter is based on a 1924 play by W. Somerset Maugham.  It had been turned into a movie before, in 1929 (which also featured actor Herbert Marshall, the husband for the 1940 film, as the lover), and would be done again a few more times.  The Letter brought back together actress Bette Davis and director William Wyler nearly two years after their previous success with Jezebel.  While they had their disagreements on this movie, particularly with how she should deliver a very crucial line near the end of the film, they managed to make things work (including with the film’s ending, a change that had been required by the censors at the time).

As I continue to work my way through some of Bette Davis’s filmography, I continue to find I am enjoying her performances, and this is another great one!  From the opening shot to the end, I was riveted by her acting, which made it altogether too easy to get lost in the movie. I certainly think she earned her nomination for Best Actress that year!  (Do I think she should have won?  No, as I am still heavily biased in favor of Ginger Rogers’ win that year for Kitty Foyle.)  Of course, the cinematography is great here, whether it be the opening shot, or traveling through the house as she tells her story of what happened, or many other things!  Easily a great movie, and one I would quite certainly recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection.  So, how is the transfer for the Blu-ray release?  Well, to borrow a line from the 1938 Warner Brothers cartoon Daffy Duck In Hollywood, it’s “AMAZING!  MARVELOUS!  STUPENDOUS!  COLOSSAL!  TREMENDOUS! GIGANTIC!  ASTOUNDING!  UNBELIEVABLE!  SPECTACULAR!  PHENOMENAL!  And it’s good, too!”  That might be overstating it a little, but I would definitely say that they did right by this movie, and that’s all I can ask for!  The movie itself is one hour, thirty-five minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Jezebel (1938) – Bette Davis – The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942)

Coming Up Shorts! with… Hound Hunters (1947)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

Welcome to my new feature on various theatrical shorts! Sometimes my comments will be on shorts included as extras on a disc set I am reviewing, and other times, they will be completely unrelated to the movie being reviewed (and I will try to indicate which). Hope you enjoy!

(Length: 7 minutes, 18 seconds)

George and Junior try to work as dog catchers, but a small dog keeps eluding them. A lot of repetition here, as the two try to catch the dog (and repeatedly fail). Some fun, though, as Tex Avery voices the character of Junior. Not one of the better cartoons in the set, but I did enjoy it!

And stay tuned for more of Coming Up Shorts! featuring cartoons by Tex Avery (and the eventual post on the entire Volume 1 set), along with other shorts!

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