Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Letter (1940)

I apologize for not having a new entry recently, but the only movie I've seen of late was Spice World, which is a childhood favorite turned guilty pleasure, and I'm sure that if I did an entry on Spice World, I would soon be chased off by angry villagers carrying torches and pitchforks.

Anyway, here we have another Bette Davis classic, The Letter. Bette Davis plays Leslie Crosbie, a wife of a wealthy rubber plantation owner in Singapore who murders a man in, what she claims to be,
self-defense. Her husband believes her story completely, whereas the family lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) suspects that Leslie may not be telling the truth. This is confirmed when he receives the news there is a letter in the possession of the dead man's widow from Leslie, which sheds some light on the relationship between her and the man she killed.

William Wyler did a great job with directing this film (He's probably made some of Davis' best films), it's very moody and sultry, and he also gets a great performance out of Davis. Leslie Crosbie is someone who is constantly scheming, playing the role of a devoted and pure wife when she's anything but. And Davis portrays this cold, calculating nature perfectly, while also adding the confusion and forced emotionality she would need given her facade of being totally innocent of her crime.

But I must take this time to warn you, dear readers, that the ending of this movie sucks. Now, usually this is the fault of the director or screenwriter, but this movie has a tacked on ending that the crew was forced to add due to the Haye's Code that legislated morality in film. So, if you have an issue with the ending, it's not necessarily the fault of the filmmakers, instead the liability falls into the filmmaking bodies of the time that attempted to control what was and wasn't shown in the movies.

Aside from the ending, the film is fantastic. It's dark, it's moody, it's mysterious, and it has a series of strong performances all around with Bette Davis giving one of her best at the conniving wife. It's really one to see.

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