The Letter

This is another film mentioned in the Movie Palace Mystery book series, and stars Bette Davis who we regard as a movie classics icon so of course we were motivated to watch it.  This 1940 film is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.  If you do decide to seek it out, make sure you put “1940” in the search line.  “The Letter” is based on a 1927 play (of the same name) by Somerset Maugham and was first filmed in 1929.  The two films, while drawing on the same source material, are quite different (reflecting the fact that there was no Hayes code in 1929).  Another interesting factoid about the two films:  Herbert Marshall appears in both.  In 1929, he had the role of Mr. Hammond (a relative minor part) and, in 1940 he played Robert Crosbie.  A crime drama set on a Malaya rubber plantation , the opening scene of this noir film starts with a gun-shot and a man (Geoff Hammond, a well-regarded member of the European community) emerges onto the porch, followed by Leslie Crosbie (Better Davis) who fires five more time insuring that he is quite dead.  Witnessed by native workers who are in their barracks directly across from the house, there is little doubt that Leslie is the killer. The questions are why she did it and what will be the consequences for this apparent act of murder.  Leslie’s story is that Hammond tried to make love to her, and she shot him in self-defense.  Robert (Marshall) returns from a trip to find she has been arrested and will be tried.  He hires attorney Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) to defend her. However, during the trial, Joyce discovers there is an incriminating letter held by Hammond’s wife that could make Leslie’s story of “why” untrue.  Nonetheless, Leslie is acquitted. However, she eventually does suffer consequences for the murder she committed.  No spoiler here – you must watch the film to see how she gets her comeuppance! This 95-minute film does not move along as quickly as one would like at times; however, Davis, Marshall and Stephens turn in star quality performances.  Gale Sondergaard (an Oscar winning, although not for this film, supporting actress) deserves a special mention for her portrayal of Mrs. Hammond.  If you are a Bette Davis fan, we’d give the film Worth the Search; if not, it falls to the Good for an Afternoon rating category!

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