The Letter (1940)

95 mins | Drama | 23 November 1940

Director:

William Wyler

Writer:

Howard W. Koch

Cinematographer:

Tony Gaudio

Production Designer:

Carl Jules Weyl

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

The W. Somerset Maugham play, which opened in New York on 26 Sep 1927, was based on a short story by Maugham published in 1925. According to materials contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA rejected the original story that Warner Bros. submitted for this film on the grounds that it contained adultery and unpunished murder. As a result, Warner Bros. changed the ending to punish "Leslie's" sins. In the original play, the wife lives out her life without her husband and the character played by Gale Sondergaard was "Hammond"'s Chinese mistress. That character was changed to his Eurasian wife to placate the Hays office. Although Cecil Kellaway is listed in the onscreen credits, his character was apparently cut before the film's release. He only appears in a longshot during a party scene.
       The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Editing, Best Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Black and White Cinematography. Among the other films based on the W. Somerset Maugham play are Paramount's 1929 version, which was directed by Jean de Limur. That film starred starred Jeanne Eagles as Leslie, with Herbert Marshall in the role of Hammond (See Entry). Warner Bros. made another version in 1947, called The Unfaithful , starring Ann Sheridan and Lew Ayres and directed by Vincent Sherman, and in 1982 John Erman directed a television movie starring Lee Remick and Ronald Pickup. In 1938, Merle Oberon and Walter Huston starred in a Lux Radio Theatre version of the ... More Less

The W. Somerset Maugham play, which opened in New York on 26 Sep 1927, was based on a short story by Maugham published in 1925. According to materials contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA rejected the original story that Warner Bros. submitted for this film on the grounds that it contained adultery and unpunished murder. As a result, Warner Bros. changed the ending to punish "Leslie's" sins. In the original play, the wife lives out her life without her husband and the character played by Gale Sondergaard was "Hammond"'s Chinese mistress. That character was changed to his Eurasian wife to placate the Hays office. Although Cecil Kellaway is listed in the onscreen credits, his character was apparently cut before the film's release. He only appears in a longshot during a party scene.
       The film was nominated for the following Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Editing, Best Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Black and White Cinematography. Among the other films based on the W. Somerset Maugham play are Paramount's 1929 version, which was directed by Jean de Limur. That film starred starred Jeanne Eagles as Leslie, with Herbert Marshall in the role of Hammond (See Entry). Warner Bros. made another version in 1947, called The Unfaithful , starring Ann Sheridan and Lew Ayres and directed by Vincent Sherman, and in 1982 John Erman directed a television movie starring Lee Remick and Ronald Pickup. In 1938, Merle Oberon and Walter Huston starred in a Lux Radio Theatre version of the play. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
14 Nov 40
p. 3.
Film Daily
14 Nov 40
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
1 May 40
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 40
pp. 8-9.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Nov 40
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
14 Nov 40
p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald
16 Nov 1940.
---
New York Times
23 Nov 40
p. 12.
New York Times
1 Dec 40
p. 5.
Variety
20 Nov 40
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture; Jack L. Warner in charge of production; A William Wyler Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
COSTUMES
Gowns
MUSIC
Orch arr
SOUND
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Tech adv
Unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Letter by W. Somerset Maugham (London, 24 Feb 1927).
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 November 1940
Production Date:
began late May 1940
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
16 November 1940
Copyright Number:
LP10068
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
95
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
PCA No:
6442
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Leslie Crosbie, the wife of a British rubber planter in Malay, shoots and kills Jeff Hammond, and claims that she was defending her honor. To defend Leslie, her husband Robert sends for family friend and attorney Howard Joyce, who questions Leslie's story. Howard's suspicions seem justified when Ong Chi Seng, his clerk, offers to sell the attorney a letter that Leslie wrote Hammond on the day of his death, asking him to visit her. Howard confronts Leslie with the damning evidence, forcing her to confess to Hammond's cold-blooded killing, but Leslie cleverly manipulates the attorney into agreeing to buy back the letter. The document is in the possession of Hammond's widow, who demands that Leslie personally deliver $10,000 for the letter. The transaction is completed and, without the evidence of the letter, Leslie is acquitted of her crime. It is only after she is freed and Robert plans to draw $10,000 out of his savings account in order to buy a rubber plantation in Sumatra, that he learns of the high cost of the letter and of his wife's duplicity. Confronted with the truth, Leslie confesses her guilt and her love for Hammond, and although her husband forgives her, Mrs. Hammond cannot and stabs Leslie, making her pay for Hammond's life with her ... +


Leslie Crosbie, the wife of a British rubber planter in Malay, shoots and kills Jeff Hammond, and claims that she was defending her honor. To defend Leslie, her husband Robert sends for family friend and attorney Howard Joyce, who questions Leslie's story. Howard's suspicions seem justified when Ong Chi Seng, his clerk, offers to sell the attorney a letter that Leslie wrote Hammond on the day of his death, asking him to visit her. Howard confronts Leslie with the damning evidence, forcing her to confess to Hammond's cold-blooded killing, but Leslie cleverly manipulates the attorney into agreeing to buy back the letter. The document is in the possession of Hammond's widow, who demands that Leslie personally deliver $10,000 for the letter. The transaction is completed and, without the evidence of the letter, Leslie is acquitted of her crime. It is only after she is freed and Robert plans to draw $10,000 out of his savings account in order to buy a rubber plantation in Sumatra, that he learns of the high cost of the letter and of his wife's duplicity. Confronted with the truth, Leslie confesses her guilt and her love for Hammond, and although her husband forgives her, Mrs. Hammond cannot and stabs Leslie, making her pay for Hammond's life with her own. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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