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The Letter (1940)

Bette Davis , Herbert Marshall , William Wyler  |  NR |  DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)

Price: $26.41 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details
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Product Details

  • Actors: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Frieda Inescort, Gale Sondergaard
  • Directors: William Wyler
  • Writers: Howard Koch, W. Somerset Maugham
  • Producers: William Wyler, Hal B. Wallis, Robert Lord
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, Full Screen, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0), French (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: January 11, 2005
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000055XM8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,070 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Letter" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Recently discovered alternate ending sequence
  • Audio-only bonuses: 4/21/41 Lux Radio Theater adaptation starring Davis, Marshall, and Stevenson and 3/6/44 Lux Radio Theater adaptation starring Davis and Marshall
  • Theatrical trailer

Editorial Reviews

A rubber plantation owner's wife kills a man in \self-defense"", only to have a letter surface which proves it was the murder of her blackmailer.
Genre: Feature Film-Drama
Rating: NR
Release Date: 11-JAN-2005
Media Type: DVD"""

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
78 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed!" January 24, 2005
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent adaptation of Somerset Maugham's play about the wife of a Malaysian plantation owner who kills her lover and claims it was self defense. However, there exists an incriminating letter...

The role of Leslie Crosbie was previously performed on stage by Katherine Cornell and Gladys Cooper and filmed in 1929 with Jeanne Eagles. Davis gives one of her greatest performances in a carefully nuanced orchestration of pent-up sexual frustration. Equally good is Herbert Marshall as her suffering husband and James Stephenson as the lawyer who reluctantly defends her. Tragically, Stephenson would die of a heart attack the following year at the age of 52. Both Stephenson and Davis would receive Oscar nominations for their work here.

Another unforgettable performance comes from Gale Sondergaard who plays the Eurasian wife of the victim and possessor of the incriminating document. Her chalky face and garish jewelry will give you up the creeps as will the looks of death she gives to Davis. She has very few lines (and they are in Mandarin) but what an entrance she makes! The confrontation scene between Davis and Sondergaard, eerily played with no music aside from wind chimes, has to be one of most tense and memorable scenes ever filmed. Speaking of music, the score by Max Steiner is one of his best.

Other great elements of "The Letter" are the atmospheric photography and sets which perfectelly set the mood of the hot and humid nights on a rubber plantation and the ever present full moon, appearing and disappearing behind clouds and casting shadows (and an accusing glance) on the face of the guilty heroine.

The dvd looks great (on a 36" tv at least) with the wonderful black and white photography sharpy rendered and no notices of nicks or scratches.
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71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DAVIS DELIVERS... November 6, 2001
Format:VHS Tape
This is a terrific film in which the opening scene focuses on a Malayan plantation on a hot, sultry night. The workers appear to be sleeping peacefully in hammocks drifting in the breeze. Suddenly, the absolute stillness of the night is rendered by gunfire. A man runs out of the main house, and hot on his heels is Leslie Crosbie, mistress of the plantation, emptying her gun into this unfortunate fellow.
Leslie Crosbie, cooly played by Bette Davis, has the hired help send for her husband, played by the wonderful Herbert Marshall, who is working. He arrives home, as does the family attorney, marvelously played by the underrated James Stephenson. She tells them what happened. It is essentially a story of self defense in which she fired the gun at the now dead man, who turned out to be a friend of her husband, in order to ward off his unwanted and unexpected sexual advances.
She is arrested, though it is taken for granted that she will be acquitted at trial. All is going smoothly, until a letter in Leslie's hand to the deceased surfaces. Its contents call into serious question Leslie's account of what happend that fateful evening. Unfortunately, the letter is in hands of the mysterious Eurasian widow of the dead man. She will, however, sell the letter to Leslie. The attorney initially balks at buying the letter, as it is an act that could result in his disbarment. He ultimately caves out of friendship for Leslie's husband and acquiesces to the unusual arrangement demanded by the widow for its return, in addition to the monetary sum demanded, a sum that will leave Leslie's husband flat broke.
The letter is ultimately turned over to Leslie. It is never presented at trial, and Leslie's account of that fateful evening is uncontroverted. Leslie is, of course, acquitted.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Atmospheric, Great Film January 13, 2000
Format:VHS Tape
As a rule, I'm not a fan of melodrama. I watched this film because I knew it had a great reputation, I had read the short story by Somerset Maugham, and it was directed by William Wyler, who is always dependable. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The film captures well the original short story, but it extends it to make it even better. The beginning and ending of the movie are simply perfect, and it's great in between. The photography and the musical score are excellent. Davis is very effective in her role as the treacherous wife, and James Stephenson as her lawyer is extremely good. But it's Gale Sondergaard and her nearly wordless performance that really stands out. She was a tall, attractive woman with a powerful presence, and that presence is used to full advantage in this film. It's a well-crafted film, and even if you don't like melodrama too much, I think you will end up really appreciating this movie a lot.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bette Davis As the Perfect Femme Fatale! August 10, 2006
I was recently trapped at a young nephew's birthday party at a local arcade. After four hours of non-stop video games and blaring rap music I had enough. Tired and with a headache, I was ready to put my feet up and soak in some good old fashion entertainment. Luckily, I had the antidote in a recently acquired DVD of the 1940 William Wyler drama/thriller "The Letter".This is just the movie to take you away from everything and just suck you in. The film takes place in the exotic Far East of a colonial Singapore rubber tree plantation. In the opening (and best) scene of the movie, we watch as Leslie Crosbie (a brilliant Bette Davis) calmly walks out on her front porch and grimly shoots a man dead as he attempts to flee. In the short aftermath she explains in precise detail to her husband (Herbert Marshall) and the authorities, that she was forced to kill family friend, Geoffrey Hammond, after he tried to sexually attack her. Even though there is dead body lying there with six bullets in it, everyone seems to automatically take Leslie at her word. That is until defense lawyer, Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) starts finding inconsistancies in her story. With each inconsistancy, new facts are revealed, which Leslie tries to explain and rationalize. Things finally come to a head, when an incrimating letter appears, which could possibly doom this murderous woman. We watch how this 'Femme Fatale' with a steely coldness and conviction, will say and do anything to save her own skin. Even if it means hurting everyone around her. When they came up with the saying "they don't make 'em like they use to", they must have been thinking of this movie. William Wyler's direction is marvelous. He just gets your attention from that very first riveting, classic shot all the way to the movie's climatic ending. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Bettie Davis was the greatest in my opinion
What can I say but Bettie Davis! What an actress! What a story! Meryl who? Bettie Davis was the greatest in my opinion. Please watch this film.
Published 1 month ago by Writer'sEdge
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I love this movie, and Bette Davis is amazing!
Published 1 month ago by Regina
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great Movie!
Published 3 months ago by D. Standish
5.0 out of 5 stars This is my very favorite Bette Davis film
I purchased this DVD due to the fact that my VHS was slowly deteriorating. This is my very favorite Bette Davis film. Read more
Published 3 months ago by LuLu
5.0 out of 5 stars I just wished
Bette Davis is the Woman of all times. She is so grand, that I wish I had all of her movies. I call her the GREAT lady of all times.
Published 6 months ago by Et
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece
One of her lesser know movies and I think her best. Brilliant Cinematography. Exceptional acting all around and a story that won't let you go.
Published 6 months ago by jfd213
5.0 out of 5 stars Bang, bang, it's Bette!
This is quintessential Betty Davis, pistol in hand and vulnerable to boot. One of her signature pieces and, should you pardon the cliche, a tour de force. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Louix Escobarmatute
5.0 out of 5 stars The Letter
Wonderful early 40's Bette Davis classic. She plays an idle housewife who kills her lover who was going to leave her. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Celia DLF
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bette Davis classic worth watching at least once.
A classic film with a great cast. I thought I had seen every Bette Davis film and every black and white classic out there, and then I heard about this one. Read more
Published 11 months ago by UniversityDoc
4.0 out of 5 stars Film version of A W. Somerset Maugham play Starring Bette Davis At Her...
The letter was originally a stage play by W.Somerset Maugham and here it is transferred to film beautifully by Hollywood Legend William Wyle. Read more
Published 11 months ago by R. J. Marsella
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