The Letter (1940) Warner Archives Release Date September 24th 2019
Directed By: William Wyler
Starring: Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Frieda Inescort
Three-time Oscar winner William Wyler was among the best directors in Hollywood’s Golden Age with classics such as Roman Holiday (1953), The Best Years of our Lives (1946) and Ben-Hur (1959) just to name a few. The talented director paired up with the equally spellbinding Bette David for three films: Jezebel (1938) (Wylers answer to Gone with the Wind, a part that was rumored to have gone to Davis), the film we are going to talk about today, The Letter (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941). The two had a falling out but at least we got three amazing films. A series of loud shots and cries break the dead silent of a hot summer night. Leslie (Bette David) the prim-proper wife of a plantain owner is holding the still smoking gun in her hand. Its no mystery, she did it. But she claims it's not cold-blooded murder but rather self-defense. Things are not what they seem when a mysterious letter appears that seems to prove Leslie was having an affair with the slain man. The Letter is an entertaining crime mystery and early film-noir which exploded in popularity five years later in a Post-World War II America. Oscar winning Cinematographer Tony Gaudio (The Adventures of Robin Hood) helps craft a expressionistic moody pot-boiler that sets the tone for other noir films. As standard as the plot seems on face value, Wyler always has a trick up his sleeve and you never quite know where the film is heading. The film is wonderfully acted with Davis giving a subtle yet deep down ruthless portrayal of a spoiled woman, playing everyone including her husband. Her husband is played with equal brilliance by Hebert Mashall, prepares best known for the ‘50’s cult classic The Fly (1958). The Letter doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel but it still manages to be a fun, classic mystery thriller that keeps you guessing. If you are a Davis fan or a fan of classic movies this is a must watch. As ever, Warner takes a lot of care in how they clean-up and restore their films for Blu-Ray. Images are crisp and clean and there is a nice contrast with the stunning black and white photography. The sound is well done as well sporting a nice mono 2.0 soundtrack. Dialogue is clear with very little noise or distortion. The Warner Archives Blu-Ray thankfully ports over the extra’s from the previous DVD edition and includes: A alternate Ending and two radio adaptations one of which stars Bette Davis. I really enjoy this film and was so pleased to see how well it looks and sounds. Defiantly worth picking up.