The Letter (1940)

Not Rated  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  23 November 1940 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 8,022 users  
Reviews: 94 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.



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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 »


Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

23 November 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La carta  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


The first scene that William Wyler shot was the famous opening shot in which we see Leslie shoot Geoffrey Hammond. The opening shot, which lasted two minutes on screen, took an entire day to film, and that was before even a single word of dialogue was spoken. The studio expected him to shoot at a rate of 3-4 script pages a day, but the opening shot reflected a mere paragraph on page one. See more »


When Leslie enters her bedroom for the last time, she locks the door behind her. Later, the door is unlocked when Robert enters. See more »


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 »


Featured in Stardust: The Bette Davis Story (2006) See more »

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User Reviews

Awesome Performance of Bette Davis
14 October 2005 | by (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – See all my reviews

In Singapore, Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis), the wife of the administrator of a plantation field of a rubber company, shoots six times in Geoffrey Hammond.and pleads self-defense to her husband Robert Crosbie (Herbert Marshall) and her lawyer and friend of the family Howard Joyce (James Stephenson). The case seems to be easy and simple, but a letter written by Leslie to Geoffrey and in the hand of the Hammond's widow may sentence Leslie to death by hanging. When the widow decides to sell the letter for US$ 10,000.00, Howard faces a dilemma between his friendship and his career.

"The Letter" is a great film-noir, nominated for seven Oscars, and with awesome performance of Bette Davis in the role of an evil and cold-blooded woman. The story and the characters are very well developed in an increasing tension. The direction of William Wyler is precise as usual, and uses long and low paced shootings along the scenario, giving a perfect view to the viewers. The use of shadows in the black& white cinematography is also amazing. I am not sure about the meaning of the full moon, but maybe it discloses the real feelings of Leslie, covered by the "clouds" most of the time while living with Robert. Anyway, the full moon has an important symbolic meaning in the film. James Stephenson, in the role of a honest lawyer living a dilemma between saving the life of his client and friend, or staining his career, and Herbert Marshall, performing a naive cuckold in love with his unfaithful wife, have also magnificent performances. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "A Carta" ("The Letter")

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