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The Letter (1940)

7.8
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 6,606 users  
Reviews: 91 user | 43 critic

The wife of a rubber plantation administrator shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense; a letter in her own hand may prove her undoing.

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Title: The Letter (1940)

The Letter (1940) on IMDb 7.8/10

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Nominated for 7 Oscars. Another 2 wins. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Herbert Marshall ...
James Stephenson ...
Frieda Inescort ...
...
Bruce Lester ...
Elizabeth Inglis ...
Adele Ainsworth (as Elizabeth Earl)
...
Prescott
Victor Sen Yung ...
Ong Chi Seng (as Sen Yung)
Doris Lloyd ...
Mrs. Cooper
Willie Fung ...
Chung Hi
Tetsu Komai ...
Head Boy
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Storyline

The wife of a rubber plantation administrator shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense. Her poise, graciousness and stoicism impress nearly everyone who meets her. Her husband is certainly without doubt; so is the district officer; while her lawyer's doubts may be a natural skepticism. But this is Singapore and the resentful natives will have no compunction about undermining this accused murderess. A letter in her hand turns up and may prove her undoing. Written by J. Spurlin

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

letter | rubber | widow | plantation | death | See more »

Taglines:

Fascinating Tantalizing and DANGEROUS! See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

23 November 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Letter  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Jack L. Warner originally asked William Wyler to test James Stephenson for the role of the lawyer. Wyler was surprised at how suited Stephenson was for the part and then was astonished when Warner balked at casting him, worrying about the stock player's lack of name recognition. Wyler insisted on keeping him, putting him in the odd position of having to fight to cast an actor that Warner had originally suggested. See more »

Goofs

When Betty and her lawyer are in Chinatown to collect the letter from the widow, there is a padlock on the door while they are waiting outside the building. Seconds later, a man unlocks the door from the inside. See more »

Quotes

Robert Crosbie: I'll do whatever you think is right.
Howard Joyce: I don't think it's right, but I think it's expedient. Juries can sometimes be very stupid, and it's just as well not to worry them with more evidence than they can conveniently deal with.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Bette Davis: A Basically Benevolent Volcano (1983) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Bette Davis and William Wyler, a winning combination
9 May 2001 | by (Atlanta, GA) – See all my reviews

In `The Letter' William Wyler takes a predictable plot and turns it into a brilliant film with the help of one of the grande dames of film. For hell hath no fury like Bette Davis with a revolver in her hand.

The film opens with Leslie Crosby (Bette Davis) emptying her revolver into a man on her front porch, shooting him twice after he hits the ground. She tells the police she was defending herself against his sexual assault. She seems to be headed for an easy acquittal until (surprise) an incriminating letter surfaces that suggests that she summoned the victim to her house with the clear intention of murdering him.

Can the evidence be suppressed? Will she be acquitted? Was she really in love with the victim? The answers to these questions are obvious to all but the most naïve viewer. Yet, despite the transparency of the plot, this film works for two reasons: Bette Davis and William Wyler.

Bette Davis is arguably among the best actresses of all time. She was originally signed by Universal Studios, who dropped her because she didn't have the looks to be a movie star. Still, Warner Brothers decided to take a chance on her in 1932, signing her to a seven-year contract that would produce two Oscars. She was nominated for best actress eleven times, winning twice (`Dangerous', 1936 and `Jezebel' 1939). She was nominated five straight years from 1939 to 1943. This performance was in the middle of that run. It is classic Bette Davis, utterly in command of every scene. Her portrayal of Leslie is superb, a duplicitous and cunning woman who could manipulate any man to do her bidding. It took another woman to humble her. This is Davis in her prime and it is awesome to see her at work. She could make a dog food commercial exciting to watch.

What Davis was to acting William Wyler was to directing. (The two shared more than a professional relationship, and it was widely rumored at that time that they were romantically involved.) Wyler was nominated for best director twelve times winning three (`Mrs. Miniver', 1942; `The Best Years of Our Lives', 1943; `Ben Hur', 1960). Like Davis, he was also nominated for this film. Wyler's camerawork here is fantastic. In black and white films, lighting is critical, because the director doesn't have the luxury of relying on color to dramatize the images. Aided by veteran cinematographer Tony Gaudio, Wyler's use of lighting and shadows in this film is brilliant. It could serve as a primer for dramatic black and white cinematography. Gaudio was also nominated for an Oscar for this film, one of his six nominations in a forty-year career.

This film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture, but it was shut out. Despite a predictable story, I rated it a 9/10 on the strength of the acting, directing and cinematography. It is an excellent opportunity to see Bette Davis during her glory years in one of her many outstanding performances.


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