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The Letter (1940)

Approved  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  23 November 1940 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 7,904 users  
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 wins. 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


With all my heart I still love the man I killed 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?


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 »


When Betty and her lawyer get in the car to go to Chinatown to get the letter, Betty enters the car first from the left side, the lawyer second. When they get to Chinatown, Betty gets out of the left side of the car first, followed by the lawyer. See more »


Robert Crosbie: If you love a person, you can forgive anything.
See more »


Spoofed in My Friend Irma Goes West (1950) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

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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