Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


THE LETTER (1940). Director: William Wyler.

"Strange that a man can live with a woman for ten years and still not know the first thing about her."

In Singapore, while her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) is away, Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) shoots a man in cold blood, but claims he tried to have his way with her and she had no choice. Her story seems to hold together until her lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) learns from his assistant Ong Chi Seng (Victor Sen Yung) that the dead man's widow, Mrs. Hammond (Gale Sondergaard), has in her possession a certain compromising letter that was written by Mrs. Crosbie to her husband ..... This is a superb picture on every level, one of Davis' more artistic vehicles [Davis herself is affected but effective], with director Wyler working at the peak of his form, and splendid performances from Marshall, Sondergaard, Sen Yung, and especially Stephenson [who was nominated for an Oscar and tragically had only one more year to live]. A fine score by Max Steiner and expert cinematography by Tony Gaudio as well. Cecil Kellaway is listed in the cast but his dialogue scenes appear to have been cut. Henry Koch's great script was taken from a short story and play by W. Somerset Maugham.

Verdict: A classic. ****.

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