It opens in the most quiet ways. A scene of soft music on a plantation in Singapore, and then a shot is heard. A man stumbles out of the house, down the veranda with a wound. He falls to the ground and out comes Leslie Crosbie, gun in hand, emptying the bullets, attracting the attention of all around. And there unfolds a story of mystery, secrets, lies, and deception.The existence of an incriminating letter is what leaves the question of Leslie Crosbies innocence in the air. She claims that the man that she killed had attacked her, telling her with force that he loved her, and that she had no choice but to shoot him to protect herself. To her lawyer, Howard Joyce- a family friend, it seems an easy case, until a letter surfaces which is in possession of the deceased mans widow. Is it an legitimate letter? Did Leslie Crosbie write it? And what does it say? Will it prove that Leslie is lying about her claim of self-defense?
Bette Davis as Leslie Crosbie is spectacular. She possess both fear, vulnerability, but also arouses suspicion and doubt throughout the story. She is strong in her role as usual but also shows that rare sensitivity one treasures in Bette Davis' acting. From the opening scene of her firing her revolver right up to the culmination of the movie she is superb.
The supporting cast lacks nothing, their intensity and believable emotions creates the story around her. James Stephenson, as Howard Joyce, is outstanding in conveying his protection of Leslie Crosbie as well as his doubt of her. Herbert Marshall- who plays Robert Crosbie- is also superb as an oblivious, always supporting and loving husband.
Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, The Letter is one of Bette Davis' best works, as well as one of the best films ever. It was nominated for seven Oscars-including Best Picture, Actor, Actress, and Director- but won none. Director William Wyler with the help of his staff created the exotic locations of Singapore on a sound stage in Burbank. Nothing in this film lacks a single thing, nothing can be changed. It is odd to think that the ending differs from the original play because the Production Code wouldn't have allowed the original ending to be released. it is odd because I couldn't imagine this film to end in any other way.