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The Letter

May 8, 2013

The Letter (1940)
Director: William Wyler
Actors: Bette Davis, James Stephenson, Herbert Marshall

The Letter

Synopsis: Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) kills a man in seeming self-defence, but when the existence of an incriminating letter comes to the fore, Crosbie’s innocence suddenly appears more questionable….

Review: Yes, the movie is very melodramatic and features one of those perfunctory crime plots common to the 1940s with its murders, court case and pair of  femmes fatales, but it’s still another beautiful testament to the artfulness of filmmaking in this period with its gorgeous cinematography and expressionistic use of light and shade to augment the bold flourishes of the storytelling.

Director William Wyler makes great use of his Singapore setting, opening up the ambiguous murder with an extended tracking shot which throws up an ominous moon and the excessive undergrowth of the jungle, before settling on Leslie’s fatal felling of Hammond. The film is a lesson in lighting, bold framing and clever use of close-ups, and though fully within her repertoire, Bette Davis makes her character’s lurid arc absolutely gripping. (May 2013)

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