THE LETTER (1940) B/W 96m dir: William Wyler

w/Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson, Gale Sondergaard, Bruce Lester, Elizabeth Inglis, Cecil Kellaway, Victor Sen Yung, Doris Lloyd, Willie Fung, David Newell

From The Movie Guide: "As THE LETTER opens, David Newell visits Davis's Maylayan rubber plantation while her husband, Marshall, is away on business. Davis shoots him to death, and later claims that Newell, an old family friend, tried to attack her and that she killed him in self-defense. Marshall, ever faithful, believes her absolutely and asks Stephenson, a respected lawyer, to defend her. Stephenson then receives word that Newell's Eurasian widow, Sondergaard, has in her possession a letter Davis wrote to Newell, asking him to come to visit her at the plantation on the night he was killed. ...

"Though W. Somerset Maugham's story [adapted by Howard Koch] could easily have been filmed as a turgid melodrama, director William Wyler's magnificent handling of the material and Bette Davis's taut and calculated performance converted it into enduring cinematic art. THE LETTER is as good today as it seemed upon its first release. Though Davis's strong performance is the film's center, Herbert Marshall (who had played the lover in an earlier version of the story) is excellent as the long-suffering husband, and James Stephenson actually manages to steal scenes from his costars as the honest lawyer who puts his career in jeopardy for a friend. [Studio head] Jack Warner asked Wyler to test Stephenson for the role, but when Wyler (to his own surprise) recognized the the superiority of Stephenson's acting and cast him, the unpredictable Warner balked at the move, worrying about the stock player's lack of name recognition. Wyler insisted upon keeping Stephenson, putting him in the odd position of having to fight to cast an actor Warner had originally suggested."

Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actress (Davis), Supporting Actor (Stephenson), B & W Cinematography (Gaetano Gaudio), Editing (Warren Low), and Original Score (Max Steiner).

THE LETTER also receives special recognition from FilmFrog for Davis' line to Marshall, which is one of the all-time great pieces of cinematic dialogue : "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed!" Oh, Bette.