Bette Davis and James Stephenson star in William Wyler’s 1940 drama The Letter.

Howard Joyce (Stephenson) must defend his friend’s wife, Leslie Crosbie (Davis), in her self-defense trial. Leslie supposedly shot a man, several times in fact, in self-defense after he tried to assault her in her home. As the case develops, it turns out Leslie had written the man a letter although she had stated that she had had no recent contact with him. The letter begged him to come and see her, specifically stating that her husband would be out. The dead man’s wife found the letter and blackmails Leslie.

Joyce knows he should not give in to the woman’s demand, but he also wants to win the case. Leslie claimed the letter was innocent, a simple invitation to discuss a birthday gift for her husband. But after reading a copy of the letter, Joyce knows there was something more. But he goes ahead and uses Leslie’s husband’s own money to buy the letter and save his case and Leslie’s neck.

After the trial. Leslie’s husband finds out about the high price of the letter and demands to see it’s contents. Leslie finally confesses her affair and the murder to Joyce and her husband. She became angry at her lover for marrying another woman, a Chinese woman at that, and killed him in a rage.

For a short time, the Crosbie’s go on with their lives as normally as possible. Finally Leslie breaks down and confesses that she still loves with all her heart the man she killed. I do not want to give away the complete ending, but I certainly did not see it coming!

Only Bette Davis can still look proud and dignified even when kneeling at another woman’s feet to pick up a purposefully dropped letter. Later in the film, she is calmly restrained as she tells her husband and lawyer the truth about her affair. But you can sense her anger when she recounts how and why she killed her lover.

Stephenson is great as the ethically conflicted lawyer and friend of the Crosbie’s.

It is interesting to me the way the letter itself was shot. Viewers never get a chance to read the letter for themselves as in most films. They only see the back of the letter as a character reads it. The contents are only read aloud once.

The Letter is a great story that was filmed and acting excellently. I would recommend it as I would most other Bette Davis films.

Below is an old poster from TCM advertising The Letter in their lineup for the summer of 2009. The link (http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/tcms-summer-under-the-stars-posters-are-phenomenal) has several other awesome posters. Which is your favorite?

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