The Letter

  • Film
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A superbly crafted melodrama, even if it never manages to top the moody montage with which it opens - moon scudding behind clouds, rubber dripping from a tree, coolies dozing in the compound, a startled cockatoo - as a shot rings out, a man staggers out onto the verandah, and Davis follows to empty her gun grimly into his body. The contrivance evident in Maugham's play during the investigation and trial that follow is kept firmly at bay by Wyler's technical expertise and terrific performances (not just Davis, but Stephenson as her conscience-ridden lawyer), although Maugham's cynical thesis about the hypocrisies of colonial justice is rather undercut by the addition of a pusillanimous finale in which Davis gets her comeuppance at private hands. A pity, too, that Tony Gaudio's camerawork, almost worthy of Sternberg in its evocation of sultry Singapore nights and cool gin slings, is not matched by natural sounds (on the soundtrack Max Steiner's score does a lot of busy underlining).

Release details

Duration: 95 mins

Cast and crew

Director: William Wyler
Screenwriter: Howard Koch
Cast: Bette Davis
Herbert Marshall
James Stephenson
Frieda Inescort
Gale Sondergaard
Sen Yung
Cecil Kellaway
Bruce Lester
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