You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Letter

The Letter has a history running back to 1927. Twice before it has been seen in legit and once before (1929) in films, each time with a top femme star in the principal role. Yet never has [the W. Somerset Maugham play] been done with greater production values, a better all-around cast or finer direction. Its defect is its grimness. Director William Wyler, however, sets himself a tempo which is in rhythm with the Malay locale.

With:
Bette Davis Herbert Marshall James Stephenson Gale Sondergaard Sen Yung

The Letter has a history running back to 1927. Twice before it has been seen in legit and once before (1929) in films, each time with a top femme star in the principal role. Yet never has [the W. Somerset Maugham play] been done with greater production values, a better all-around cast or finer direction. Its defect is its grimness. Director William Wyler, however, sets himself a tempo which is in rhythm with the Malay locale.

Story is essentially a mystery. It opens with Bette Davis shooting a man dead as he runs from her plantation house. The question mark from there to the climax is why? She explains to her planter-husband (Herbert Marshall) and an attorney friend (James Stephenson) that the mudered man, an old family intimate, had made advances to her and in her angry resentment she picked up a revolver. It’s evident from the coolness of her recital that she’s not telling the truth.

Stephenson’s smart native assistant, excellently played by Sen Yung, brings him word of a letter she has written. It was to the man she killed and was in the hands of his wife, a Malay gal (Gale Sondergaard). Through it, it is revealed that for 10 years the murderess has been having an affair with her victim and the fatal triggerwork resulted when she discovered he had thrown her over for the beauteous native.

Davis’ frigidity at times seems to go even beyond the characterization. On the other hand, Marshall never falters. Virtually stealing thesp honors in the pic, however, is Stephenson as the attorney, while Sondergaard is the perfect mask-like threat.

Set is of tremendous proportions and the music by Max Steiner is particularly noteworthy in creating and holding a mood, as well as in pointing up the drama.

1940: Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actress (Bette Davis), Supp. Actor (James Stephenson), B&W Cinematography, Editing, Original Score

The Letter

Production: Warner. Director William Wyler; Producer Hal B. Wallis; Screenplay Howard Koch; Camera Tony Gaudio; Editor George Amy, Warren Low; Music Max Steiner; Art Director Carl Jules Weyl

Crew: (B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1940. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: Bette Davis Herbert Marshall James Stephenson Gale Sondergaard Sen Yung

More Film

  • 'Lemonade' Review: A Quietly Seething Romanian

    Berlin Film Review: 'Lemonade'

    The Letter has a history running back to 1927. Twice before it has been seen in legit and once before (1929) in films, each time with a top femme star in the principal role. Yet never has [the W. Somerset Maugham play] been done with greater production values, a better all-around cast or finer direction. […]

  • Cinema Audio Society 2018 Winners: 'Dunkirk,'

    'Dunkirk,' 'Game of Thrones' Win Cinema Audio Society Awards for Sound Mixing

    The Letter has a history running back to 1927. Twice before it has been seen in legit and once before (1929) in films, each time with a top femme star in the principal role. Yet never has [the W. Somerset Maugham play] been done with greater production values, a better all-around cast or finer direction. […]

  • Isle of Dogs

    The 10 Best Films of the 2018 Berlin Film Festival

    The Letter has a history running back to 1927. Twice before it has been seen in legit and once before (1929) in films, each time with a top femme star in the principal role. Yet never has [the W. Somerset Maugham play] been done with greater production values, a better all-around cast or finer direction. […]

  • Indian Actress Sridevi Kapoor Arrives For

    Legendary Bollywood Actress Sridevi Dies at 54

    The Letter has a history running back to 1927. Twice before it has been seen in legit and once before (1929) in films, each time with a top femme star in the principal role. Yet never has [the W. Somerset Maugham play] been done with greater production values, a better all-around cast or finer direction. […]

  • Emma Chambers'HOW DO YOU WANT ME'

    'Notting Hill' Actress Emma Chambers Dies at 53

    The Letter has a history running back to 1927. Twice before it has been seen in legit and once before (1929) in films, each time with a top femme star in the principal role. Yet never has [the W. Somerset Maugham play] been done with greater production values, a better all-around cast or finer direction. […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content