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.