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The Letter
IMDB Rating: 7.7/10 from 7,882 votes
Release: 16 May 1947 (Netherlands) /

The Letter

Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Romance
Director: William Wyler,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: The wife of a rubber plantation administrator shoots a man to death and claims it was self-defense. Her poise, graciousness and stoicism impress nearly everyone who meets her. Her husband is certainly without doubt; so is the district officer; while her lawyer's doubts may be a natural skepticism. But this is Singapore and the resentful natives will have no compunction about undermining this accused murderess. A letter in her hand turns up and may prove her undoing. Written by J. Spurlin

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Critic Reviews


What a wonderful film this still is, so long as you're not hamstrung with all the modern pc prejudices. Sadly I feel that one far-off day this film will be banned, when apparent white moral repugnance of the past overwhelms the remaining whites with shame. I've seen "The Letter" now maybe 12 times and it hasn't polluted my mind with imperialist or racial stereotypes, just filled it with pleasure that Wyler at Warners could make such an atmospheric studio-bound gem in 1940.

At the start woman shoots man - but was it murder or justified homicide? All of the cast are superb in their roles, Bette never looked sexier, Herbert Marshall never so realistic, and Gale Sondergaard never so sinister - but James Stephenson! He only made a few more films before his premature death but his understated sweaty performance as the lawyer in this electrifies me every time I watch - without him it might have a very different story! Although on a serious level it is (to me) typical Somerset Maugham fare, I haven't read any better from him as yet. Bette has some fine lines and scenes, and only occasionally hamming it up. Steiner's music is repetitive, but memorable anyhow, and the photography gleams well under the Warners arc-moonlight. But as near perfect in every department as it could get, it's still dignified Stephenson's film - he steals every scene he's in, come what or who may.

The Hays Office was the real uncivilised savage at the end, not the inscrutable "Orientals", but even with such a contrived messy ending it remains compulsive classic viewing for me, once every couple of years.

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