The pristinely remastered Warner Archive September 24, 2019 Blu-ray release of the 1940 Bette Davis drama "The Letter" educates as well as entertains in that it provides a very basic primer on Criminal Law 101. This is in addition to a pedigree that extends beyond Davis to having this seven-Oscar nominated William Wyler joint being based on a W. Somerset Maugham play.
The peek inside a law school classroom begins within a few minutes of the opening scenes. The workers at the Chinese rubber plantation that Robert Crosbie (Herbert Marshall) operates are awakened by gun shots coming from the big house.
These men next witness visitor Geoffrey Hammond scurrying out the front door as Robert spouse Leslie (Davis) is emptying her revolver into him. This is quickly followed by the clouds clearing and Davis looking up at the moon with her signature crazed look that makes wonderful use of her fabled eyes that literally are the thing of song.
This is a prime example of an early lesson in the criminal law class that every new student must take. The professor tells the class that there is a dead body on the floor and asks the scholars what are the legal consequences. The correct answer, as is the case regarding every question about legal interpretation, is "it depends."
The plot thickens on Robert, attorney/close friend Howard Joyce, and the equally friendly local law-enforcement official gathering to hear the story.
Davis shows why she is an actress, rather than a movie star, in telling about how Geoffrey shows up unannounced and forces himself on her in a manner that requires fending him off with extreme prejudice,
Public and police sympathy being on the side of Leslie does not prevent her from being a guest of the state. The surprising thing is that she does not mind her temporary surroundings.
The titular correspondence comes to the attention of Howard before the aforementioned proceeding; this evidence that directly contradicts much of the story of Leslie in a manner that increases the chances of her taking a seat in Old Sparky.
The circumstances of the appearance of this "smoking gun" represents poetic justice in that scorned woman Leslie meets her match. Their showdown is a film highlight that perfectly portrays cultural conflicts that continue today.
Even including Geoffrey, Robert is whom comes out the worst for wear. He gets a rude awakening that also ruins his dreams. This is in the form of learning that the woman whom he thinks is his soulmate is a femme fatale,
This being a Golden Age film, no crime goes unpunished. However, full restitution is not made.
Archive further delivers by including an alternative ending to "Letter" as a Blu-ray bonus.