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Letter [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

Bette Davis , Herbert Marshall , William Wyler    DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Region 1 encoding (requires a North American or multi-region DVD player and NTSC compatible TV. More about DVD formats.)

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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 DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Unrated (US MPAA rating. See details.)
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: 11 Jan 2005
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • ASIN: B000055XM8
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 225,216 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite films 16 Feb 2005
By Miguel M. Santos VINE VOICE
Based upon a Somerset Maugham's story and a subsequent play, "The Letter" is the story of a woman who has murdered a man that she claims tried to rape her. Only a letter surfaces questioning her version.
Before anything else, this film is Bette Davis. She gives one of her best performances, my favourite along with Margo in "All about Eve", truly unforgettable and perfectly timed. The rest of the cast is excellent as well and William Wyler has here one of his best films - the production values are astonishing, showing how big Warner Bros was expecting the film to be: music, decors, costumes are exquisite.
The DVD shows a very good copy, restored, with incredible detail. If you seen the film you might remember Bette Davis' lace shawl - as a test, I zoomed it, and even zoomed three times it was very rich in detail (and my TV is far from be ideal for such tests) . The extras could be more (I'd love an audio commentary and a making of) but what there is good: two radio versions, the original trailer and an alternative ending, in case censorship problems would arise. The differences are subtle and mostly concern a scene towards the ending and although I enjoyed it very much, I am very glad that they kept the one in the film.
I know I am not the only one who enjoys this film. Over the summer of 2004, this film and 19 others were submit to vote and the five favourites were released on DVD. "The Letter" won by far.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  103 reviews
77 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed!" 24 Jan 2005
By Phillip Oliver - Published on
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent adaptation of Somerset Maugham's play about the wife of a Malaysian plantation owner who kills her lover and claims it was self defense. However, there exists an incriminating letter...

The role of Leslie Crosbie was previously performed on stage by Katherine Cornell and Gladys Cooper and filmed in 1929 with Jeanne Eagles. Davis gives one of her greatest performances in a carefully nuanced orchestration of pent-up sexual frustration. Equally good is Herbert Marshall as her suffering husband and James Stephenson as the lawyer who reluctantly defends her. Tragically, Stephenson would die of a heart attack the following year at the age of 52. Both Stephenson and Davis would receive Oscar nominations for their work here.

Another unforgettable performance comes from Gale Sondergaard who plays the Eurasian wife of the victim and possessor of the incriminating document. Her chalky face and garish jewelry will give you up the creeps as will the looks of death she gives to Davis. She has very few lines (and they are in Mandarin) but what an entrance she makes! The confrontation scene between Davis and Sondergaard, eerily played with no music aside from wind chimes, has to be one of most tense and memorable scenes ever filmed. Speaking of music, the score by Max Steiner is one of his best.

Other great elements of "The Letter" are the atmospheric photography and sets which perfectelly set the mood of the hot and humid nights on a rubber plantation and the ever present full moon, appearing and disappearing behind clouds and casting shadows (and an accusing glance) on the face of the guilty heroine.

The dvd looks great (on a 36" tv at least) with the wonderful black and white photography sharpy rendered and no notices of nicks or scratches. An alternate ending is featured which basically excerpts a scene in which Davis tells Marshall that she still loves the man she killed. Davis did not want the scene included because she felt that her character could not be so callous to her husband! Director William Wyler wisely included it! Two radio versions (in 1941 and 1944) are also included with both Davis and Marshall reprising their roles. Vincent Price plays the lawyer role in the 1944 version.
70 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DAVIS DELIVERS... 7 Nov 2001
By Lawyeraau - Published on
This is a terrific film in which the opening scene focuses on a Malayan plantation on a hot, sultry night. The workers appear to be sleeping peacefully in hammocks drifting in the breeze. Suddenly, the absolute stillness of the night is rendered by gunfire. A man runs out of the main house, and hot on his heels is Leslie Crosbie, mistress of the plantation, emptying her gun into this unfortunate fellow.
Leslie Crosbie, cooly played by Bette Davis, has the hired help send for her husband, played by the wonderful Herbert Marshall, who is working. He arrives home, as does the family attorney, marvelously played by the underrated James Stephenson. She tells them what happened. It is essentially a story of self defense in which she fired the gun at the now dead man, who turned out to be a friend of her husband, in order to ward off his unwanted and unexpected sexual advances.
She is arrested, though it is taken for granted that she will be acquitted at trial. All is going smoothly, until a letter in Leslie's hand to the deceased surfaces. Its contents call into serious question Leslie's account of what happend that fateful evening. Unfortunately, the letter is in hands of the mysterious Eurasian widow of the dead man. She will, however, sell the letter to Leslie. The attorney initially balks at buying the letter, as it is an act that could result in his disbarment. He ultimately caves out of friendship for Leslie's husband and acquiesces to the unusual arrangement demanded by the widow for its return, in addition to the monetary sum demanded, a sum that will leave Leslie's husband flat broke.
The letter is ultimately turned over to Leslie. It is never presented at trial, and Leslie's account of that fateful evening is uncontroverted. Leslie is, of course, acquitted. She returns home with her husband, who, despite having realized that his wife had been unfaithful to him and had loved another, is willing to make a go of their relationship, because he still loves her. Leslie, however, is still enamored of the lover she killed.
Gail Sondegaard is unnerving as the Eurasian widow. She appears throughout the film and never utters one word. Yet, her seemingly sinister presence bespeaks volumes. The ending of the film is very Hollywood, but brings the film full circle. This is a marvelous film with great, award calibre performances by the entire cast. It is no wonder that the film received numerous Academy Award nominations. It is a must see film for all Bette Davis fans and classic movie lovers.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Atmospheric, Great Film 14 Jan 2000
By James L. - Published on
As a rule, I'm not a fan of melodrama. I watched this film because I knew it had a great reputation, I had read the short story by Somerset Maugham, and it was directed by William Wyler, who is always dependable. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The film captures well the original short story, but it extends it to make it even better. The beginning and ending of the movie are simply perfect, and it's great in between. The photography and the musical score are excellent. Davis is very effective in her role as the treacherous wife, and James Stephenson as her lawyer is extremely good. But it's Gale Sondergaard and her nearly wordless performance that really stands out. She was a tall, attractive woman with a powerful presence, and that presence is used to full advantage in this film. It's a well-crafted film, and even if you don't like melodrama too much, I think you will end up really appreciating this movie a lot.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bette Davis As the Perfect Femme Fatale! 10 Aug 2006
By Kenneth M. Gelwasser - Published on
I was recently trapped at a young nephew's birthday party at a local arcade. After four hours of non-stop video games and blaring rap music I had enough. Tired and with a headache, I was ready to put my feet up and soak in some good old fashion entertainment. Luckily, I had the antidote in a recently acquired DVD of the 1940 William Wyler drama/thriller "The Letter".This is just the movie to take you away from everything and just suck you in. The film takes place in the exotic Far East of a colonial Singapore rubber tree plantation. In the opening (and best) scene of the movie, we watch as Leslie Crosbie (a brilliant Bette Davis) calmly walks out on her front porch and grimly shoots a man dead as he attempts to flee. In the short aftermath she explains in precise detail to her husband (Herbert Marshall) and the authorities, that she was forced to kill family friend, Geoffrey Hammond, after he tried to sexually attack her. Even though there is dead body lying there with six bullets in it, everyone seems to automatically take Leslie at her word. That is until defense lawyer, Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) starts finding inconsistancies in her story. With each inconsistancy, new facts are revealed, which Leslie tries to explain and rationalize. Things finally come to a head, when an incrimating letter appears, which could possibly doom this murderous woman. We watch how this 'Femme Fatale' with a steely coldness and conviction, will say and do anything to save her own skin. Even if it means hurting everyone around her. When they came up with the saying "they don't make 'em like they use to", they must have been thinking of this movie. William Wyler's direction is marvelous. He just gets your attention from that very first riveting, classic shot all the way to the movie's climatic ending. The film features great performances from a wonderful cast. Bette Davis really is just amazing in this villainous role. Bette plays a woman who is (over) acting out the role of a victim for all the other characters to see. But the viewer understands how subtley, with each roll of those big beautiful eyes, with each furrowed brow and with the tight shots of those nervous, delicate hands, that this is a woman who is constantly scheming and coniving to get her way. Its just an astonishing performance. The supporting cast does an admirable job. Herbert Marshall is very good as the weak, cuckholded, husband. The scene where he finally reads the infamously, incrimating letter is just priceless. He just shows all his emotions in his face. James Stephenson is also very good as the lawyer, who unravels all of Bette Davis' lies and eventually compromises his own pricinples. Finally, mention should be made for a spellbinding performance from Gale Sondergaard as the mudered man's, Eurasian wife. The character she plays appears mysterious and Sphinx-like. She rarely speaks, yet is a totally commanding presence in every scene she's in. Sondergaard is so good in the role, she actually steals away her big scene with Bette Davis! Now, that takes some doing! Everything seems to work in this movie to create a forboding mood. From Max Steiner's bewitching score to the beautiful, yet eerie, B&W cinematography. I love this movie and just can't get enough of it. A true classic! Highly recommended!
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Bette 27 April 2000
By "mr_nasty" - Published on
The greatest American actress ever (at least in my opinion) did it again in this spectacular drama which is arguably Davis's best performance from her Warner Brothers years. In this film she plays a plantation owner's wife who is accused of killing a man (the opening scene with Davis walking out of the house firing a gun repeatedly is quite famous), who later is found out to have been her lover. James Stephenson, as Davis's lawyer, earned an Oscar Nomination for his understated performance, and Herbert Marshall plays her unwitting husband. Gale Sondergaard also vamps it up as the vengeful Oriental wife of the man Davis has killed (she doesn't speak much, but MAN, is she intimidating). Davis, as usual, upstages everybody without even trying, and she earned her fourth academy award nomination for this performance (she lost to Ginger Rogers for "Kitty Foyle," a movie not even worthy to be compared to this one), and the film scored 6 other nominations including Best Picture. For an older Hollywood film, I find it fascinating to examine some of the psychological elements at play throughout - an example being Davis's knitting, a sign both of sexual frustration and of deceit in literature (both appropriate to the fallen woman type she plays). Highly recommended, very suspenseful drama that will definitely keep you interested until the end.
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