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The Letter (1940)

Approved  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  23 November 1940 (USA)
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Reviews: 93 user | 45 critic

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



(by), (screen play)
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Nominated for 7 Oscars. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Frieda Inescort ...
Bruce Lester ...
Elizabeth Inglis ...
Adele Ainsworth (as Elizabeth Earl)
Prescott--Well Wisher at Party
Victor Sen Yung ...
Ong Chi Seng (as Sen Yung)
Doris Lloyd ...
Mrs. Cooper
Willie Fung ...
Chung Hi
Tetsu Komai ...
Head Boy


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


I wish I could say I was sorry. See more »


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

23 November 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La carta  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


"Lux Radio Theater" broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on April 21, 1941 with Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson reprising their film roles. See more »


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 »


Howard Joyce: Strange that a man can live with a woman for ten years and not know the first thing about her.
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

The letter is "A"
15 January 2005 | by (Derby, UK) – See all my reviews

What a wonderful film this still is, so long as you're not hamstrung with all the modern pc prejudices. Sadly I feel that one far-off day this film will be banned, when apparent white moral repugnance of the past overwhelms the remaining whites with shame. I've seen "The Letter" now maybe 12 times and it hasn't polluted my mind with imperialist or racial stereotypes, just filled it with pleasure that Wyler at Warners could make such an atmospheric studio-bound gem in 1940.

At the start woman shoots man - but was it murder or justified homicide? All of the cast are superb in their roles, Bette never looked sexier, Herbert Marshall never so realistic, and Gale Sondergaard never so sinister - but James Stephenson! He only made a few more films before his premature death but his understated sweaty performance as the lawyer in this electrifies me every time I watch - without him it might have a very different story! Although on a serious level it is (to me) typical Somerset Maugham fare, I haven't read any better from him as yet. Bette has some fine lines and scenes, and only occasionally hamming it up. Steiner's music is repetitive, but memorable anyhow, and the photography gleams well under the Warners arc-moonlight. But as near perfect in every department as it could get, it's still dignified Stephenson's film - he steals every scene he's in, come what or who may.

The Hays Office was the real uncivilised savage at the end, not the inscrutable "Orientals", but even with such a contrived messy ending it remains compulsive classic viewing for me, once every couple of years.

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