The Letter (1940)

The Letter Movie Review

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The LetterĀ Movie Review

The Letter is a 1940 noir film directed by William Wyler and starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson. It is such a good and intriguing, but ultimately not as great movie.

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With all my heart, I still love the man I killed

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A woman has killed a man and she must prove that it was in self-defense. The plot itself is the major problem I’ve had with this noir flick. On the one hand, it has some pretty intriguing moments from time to time, but on the other, it is relatively predictable and the twist itself isn’t the most exciting or satisfying one. That is the problem here – The Letter is never as exciting as are the classic noir features. It is a respectable picture, but never great which is unfortunate.

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The Letter Movie Review

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Leslie Crosbie is an interesting, albeit problematic character. I found her dilemmas to be greatly and dramatically conveyed, but her personality is a baffling one as I never really got this woman. Is she a bad or just troubled person? The movie never answered me that and I really thought Leslie to be this confusing creation, almost a non-entity. Robert is such a likable man and he is so good and caring as her husband. Mrs. Hammond is so intriguing, but more on that later. And Howard is so good and probably the best character here.

The acting is probably the strongest asset The Letter possesses. Yes, this most certainly isn’t my favorite performance from Davis as she overacted a bit in some scenes, but she is still very good and at times even fantastic, especially in those more emotional, more demanding scenes. But I have to say that Hertbert Marshall and James Stephenson do not get nearly enough credit as they should for they are overshadowed by Davis. But to me, both gave really good, underrated performances. Also, Gale Sondergaard is delightfully creepy and quite unforgettable as Mrs. Hammond.

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The Letter Movie Review

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Speaking of Mrs. Hammond, she is such an interesting appearance here. Her character is so mysterious and remains like that throughout the movie, but she is also such a strong and very memorable presence. The entire Asian part of the story is a really intriguing one as rarely have I seen that angle in the movies of the time. Everything about it is delightfully creepy and mysterious, especially her character and those outside scenes with the moon are some of the highlights, so well executed with some fantastic cinematography and score. However, this aspect is still a flaw to me as it was too mysterious and sometimes not explained properly. I never really got why Mrs. Hammond was after Leslie and that opening, while undeniably powerful and unforgettable, is still incredibly confusing to me.

The Letter is such a powerful film in terms of its technicalities. The score in particular is not only incredibly strong and memorable, but also wonderfully atmospheric. It is one of the best scored noir films. The directing from William Wyler is expectedly great, the pacing is just fantastic and the movie is very entertaining and never rushed for its short running time. I also really respected its originality and its mysterious quality. The cinematography is gorgeous as those sequences outdoors are so phenomenally shot and just beautiful to behold. The attention to detail is also splendid as everything is paid attention to and each and every thing makes an effect on the story from the letter to the knife. And the movie is quite emotional at times too.

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The Letter Movie Review

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The Letter is the first movie to infamously go 0 for 7 at the Academy Awards. But it definitely deserved those nominations with the acting nods being satisfying and the nod for score being especially deserved. Best Picture, Director and Editing are also pretty much deserved. As for me, this isn’t one of the strongest noir flicks I’ve seen, but it is still a pretty good one. Yes, some of its story elements are problematic, but at least it is an authentic and very entertaining movie that overall did not disappoint me.

The Letter is such a good, if not great noir flick. The story is so authentic and intriguing, albeit too confusing and unexplained at times. The characters are phenomenal, albeit the protagonist is problematic. The cinematography is just gorgeous, the score is absolutely fantastic, the acting is really strong and its pacing is great as well. It is in the end a flawed, but respectable film that benefits from such a strong mysterious quality to it.

My Rating – 4

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Posted in 1940, 1940s, FILM DECADES, MOVIE REVIEWS, Noir and tagged , , , , , , , .

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