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The Letter


Price: CDN$ 39.89
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Product Details

  • Actors: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Frieda Inescort, Gale Sondergaard
  • Directors: William Wyler
  • Writers: Howard Koch, W. Somerset Maugham
  • Producers: William Wyler, Hal B. Wallis, Robert Lord
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, DVD-Video, Full Screen, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: NR
  • Studio: Warner
  • Release Date: Jan. 11 2005
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000055XM8
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #8,633 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: DVD
Once you've seen the opening moments of William Wyler's superb "The Letter" you aren't apt to forget what great Hollywood film making is all about for a very, VERY long time. Bette Davis stars in this potent, diabolically delicious melodrama as Leslie Crosbie; the unscrupulous wife of a Malaysian rubber plantation owner. After packing six slugs into a man exiting her boudoir...not her husband...Leslie embarks on a deeply disturbing odyssey to vindicate her murder. Hmmm....vengeful Eurasian, Mrs. Hammond (Gale Sondergaard)will have something to say about that. To this morbid end of tragic curiosity, Leslie is ably aided by the naiveté of her husband, Robert(Herbert Marshall). But then there's the letter; a bit of forgotten business that threatens to unravel all of Leslie's well laid plans and lay bare her genuine passion for the man that she's killed.
The play by Somerset Maugham on which the film is based must have seemed like old hat to Davis. For there can be no other reason why she's so cleverly fiendish and stylishly sinister as Leslie. But then all is not to be realized in sweet escapism when a letter surfaces that could blow the whole truth wide open and send Leslie to prison for life. Superbly crafted with the fine animal instincts of a jungle cat at every turn, "The Letter" was nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture but won not a single statuette. Wyler's impeccable direction, and Davis's mesmerizing and unsympathetic performance are what transform this standard melodrama into movie art!
Unfortunately all is not well with the transfer from Warner Brothers.
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Format: DVD
Once you've seen the opening moments of William Wyler's superb "The Letter" you aren't apt to forget what great Hollywood film making is all about for a very, VERY long time. Bette Davis stars in this potent, diabolically delicious melodrama as Leslie Crosbie; the unscrupulous wife of a Malaysian rubber plantation owner. After packing six slugs into a man exiting her boudoir...not her husband...Leslie embarks on a deeply disturbing odyssey to vindicate her murder. To this end, Leslie is ably aided by the naiveté of her husband, Robert (Herbert Marshall) and by her popular following of fair weather friends, helmed by Mrs. Hammond (Gale Sondergaard).
The play by Somerset Maugham on which the film is based must have seemed like old hat to Davis. For there can be no other reason why she's so cleverly fiendish and stylishly sinister as Leslie. But then all is not to be realized in sweet escapism when a letter surfaces that could blow the whole truth wide open and send Leslie to prison for life. Superbly crafted with the fine animal instincts of a jungle cat at every turn, "The Letter" was nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture but won not a single statuette. Wyler's impeccable direction, and Davis's mesmerizing and unsympathetic performance are what transform this standard melodrama into movie art!
Unfortunately all is not well with the transfer from Warner Brothers. Seemingly contrasting a bit on the overly dark side, fine details are generally lost in the deep and foreboding blackness. Yes, most of the picture was designed to have a very dark image, but contrast and tonality in the gray scale here are what seem to be lacking over all throughout this black and white image. Also, the image is not very stable. Long shots tend to be a bit blurry and out of focus.
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Format: VHS Tape
In some ways, "The Letter" has dated in the sixty plus years since it was released. The idea of the benefiting third world or non-Western countries by colonizing them has been replaced by the idea of globalizing them. Women are no longer viewed as being ultimately dependent on men. The old movie code that required all criminals to pay for their crimes is long gone. But while natural changes in social attitudes may make "The Letter" look somewhat quaint, it remains a classic. Much of the dramatic power remains intact, and it's extremely well directed, edited, photographed and directed. [Bette Davis made 3 films with director William Wyler and 11 with cinematographer Tony Guadio. All three were nominated for Oscars for this film.]
Unlike most movie thrillers of its day, "The Letter" does not start quietly, then build to some shocking event. A few moments are spent establishing the fact that we are on a rubber plantation in Singapore. It is night. We see the full moon. The camera pans to native workers asleep in their hammocks. It moves on to the exterior of a house. Suddenly, a shot rings out. A man stumbles out onto the veranda and tumbles to the ground. He is followed by an obviously enraged woman, Leslie Crosbie [Davis], who pumps five more shots into him. The rest of the movie tells the story of how the killing came to be, how justice can be manipulated, and how people are often not what they appear to be.
Here, Bette Davis gives one of her best performances. She was such a great actress that I suspect some of the reasons many people came to dislike her were that they could not separate the performer from some of the characters she played. She gives Leslie Crosbie a depth and range of emotions that does not exist in the screenplay.
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