The Letter

DirectorWilliam Wyler
StarringBette Davis as Leslie Crosbie
Herbert Marshall as Robert Crosbie
James Stephenson as Howard Joyce
Based on a book bySomerset Maugham

Although not the most historically accurate of films, this adaptation of a Somerset Maugham story is highly evocative of planter life in South East Asia. Not wishing to ruin the plot for you, the story is about a housewife who murders a nearby plantation owner. Was it in self-defence or were there other motives? The film eventually hinges on a letter sent by the accused to the deceased on the day of his death. What is interesting about this film is that it was made in the era that it is set in. This means that it conveys highly authentic attitudes without the cultural baggage and sensibilities that many modern era films suffer from. The film captures the rigorous social heirarchy, the closed European mindset and the disgust that these Europeans felt towards any physical or emotional relationship with a non-European. The investigation and trial of the lady also shows many of the double standards of colonial justice and the rule of law: It's not that justice has to be served but that it must be seen to have been served. The colonial system pays a lot of attention to detail and form - but most of the European society would have been loathe to have convicted a white woman who defended herself against a drunken man (with an oriental lover). Of course, this is a hollywood film based on a work of fiction. Nevertheless, for evoking the world of 1930's rubber plantations - you would be hard pressed to find a more appropriate film.

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by Stephen Luscombe