Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Letter (1940)


“Strange that a man can live with a woman for ten years and not know the first thing about her.”

            I should have known what I was getting into with a film where the first scene is Bette Davis killing a man. First of all Bette Davis is in it and I can only handle her for no longer than an hour and a half at times. Strike one right there The Letter is an hour and forty minutes. Damn TCM’s Into Darkness: Investigating Film Noir program for making me want to watch this whole film!
            On a quiet lazy night on a plantation in Singapore, gun shots ring out from one of the houses on the plantation. The shots come from the gun Leslie Crosbie (Davis) is shooting at a man named Stephan Hammond. She shoots the gun until she empties it into Stephan. Leslie does not bat an eye or flinch a muscle. She tells her help to call for the town detective Withers as well as for her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall).
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            Before he comes back to the house Robert picks up his lawyer Joyce. When they get back to the house Leslie has locked herself in her room. She tells Robert that Stephan tried to make love to her and she shot him in self-defense. Leslie recalls everything that was supposed to have happened that led to her shooting Stephan. She says that Stephan came over drunk and kept drinking. It is obvious that she is lying to cover up something much more. Joyce and Withers encourage Leslie to turn herself in and nothing will happen to her if she sticks to the story she told them. Joyce questions out loud to Withers if Stephan was the type of man to get drunk and force himself on Leslie. Withers replies that Stephan could have been drunk and nothing else.
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            Leslie is put in prison. A few days after Robert begins to worry about her being in jail and have her stand trial. Joyce is still saying not to worry. Someone comes to Joyce that someone he knows has found a letter written by Leslie to Stephan the night he was killed. Joyce confronts Leslie about the letter. She swears she did not write it but before she leaves she confesses she did write the letter it was only for him to come over and help her pick out a gun for Robert for his birthday. Joyce tells her the letter is not what she claims it contains. The letter sounds desperate like she wanted to see him and she would not be guilty of any consequences that may happen.
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            The letter comes from Stephan’s widow. Robert tells Joyce he wants to buy the letter from her. Joyce takes Leslie to the widow. Now that the letter is not longer in play Leslie is acquitted of the murder. After the trial Joyce and Leslie show Robert the letter. She finally says out loud that she was in love with Stephan. Robert wants to go away and start his own plantation. He still loves Leslie but he is not sure if Leslie loves him. She tries to tell him she loves him but when she goes to kiss she breaks down and confesses she still loves the man she killed.

            The Letter was pretty boring. The story was so over dramatic and knowing that Leslie was a big time phony and really a murderer just pushed my attention out of the way. I stopped paying attention to Bette Davis once Leslie started dramatically lying about what happened. It is so obvious from her face and body language that she killed him out of lust that he had nothing to really do with her being an evil bitch. For the Into Darkness program one of the questions put forth to create conversation asked what is it about the opening that makes it a contribution to Noir. Well if you think about Noirs usually begin with quiet scenes where the world of the main characters was still decent and then a murder or a crime happens and the main characters are thrown in dramatic, suspenseful situations. The Letter took off like a Noir would later on but it did not keep the flow there was nothing suspenseful about the rest of the film. Watch The Letter if you are a Bette Davis fan otherwise skip it. 
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