September 24, 2010

The Letter - 1940

The Letter, Bette Davis on Midget Window Card, 1941

The Letter, Bette Davis on Midget Window Card, 1941 Giclee Print
9 in. x 12 in.

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Framed   Mounted

A classic melodramatic film noir of murder and deceit, effectively directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Howard Koch was based on W. Somerset Maugham's mid-1920s London stage play (with Gladys Cooper in the lead role). Then, it was a Broadway play that opened in 1927 (with Katharine Cornell), followed by Paramount Studios' talkie of the same name in 1929 with Academy-Award nominated Jeanne Eagels (in her sound film debut) as the female protagonist. [It was the first full-length feature made at Paramount's Long Island studio.]

The film's startling opening scene occurs on a moonlight night on the grounds of a Malaysian rubber plantation. The wife of the plantation owner, Leslie Crosbie (Davis) trails after Geoffrey Hammond (Newell) as he staggers from the bungalow's porch, and pumps bullets into his body. She claims to her faithful, long-suffering husband Robert (Marshall) that Hammond, an old family friend, took advantage of her and that she acted in self-defense, but when lawyer Howard Joyce (Stephenson) is hired to defend her, a letter surfaces and reveals her real motives.

One of the trailers for the film provocatively asked: "What are the forbidden secrets in the letter? What is the strange spell that made this woman defy the unwritten law of the Orient?" Hammond's Eurasian widow (Sondergaard) uses the letter as part of a $10,000 blackmail scheme, demands a personal apology, and seeks the ultimate revenge. This great Bette Davis/Warner Bros. picture was positioned between the star's All This and Heaven Too (1940) and The Great Lie (1941).

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