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Directed by William Wyler

United States 1940 95 mins.

This second adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1927 stage play features Bette Davis’ turn as Leslie Crosbie, an adulterous yet misunderstood plantation wife in what is now Malaysia. Leslie, married to Robert (Herbert Marshall) yet unapologetically in love with another man, is caught in a bind when she kills her lover, ostensibly out of self-defense. However, the titular letter—a paradoxically threatening love note sent on the night of her crime—makes the truth murky at best, and sets up what amounts to a sham trial with racial overtones. The letter, miraculously for sale at a life-destroying price, forms the crux of further backroom machinations as shady characters spill forth from the shadows to vie for a piece of the prize. And while the duped Robert unknowingly heads toward financial ruin, Leslie tragically cannot escape her love for the other man, no matter how hard she tries. Davis is captivating, and was again nominated for Oscar in this “brilliant melodrama.”—Preston Wilder, Theo’s Century of Movies. 35mm print courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Genres: Thriller

Appears in: Bette & Joan

The Northwest Film Center recognizes and honors the Indigenous peoples of this region on whose ancestral lands the museum now stands. These include the Willamette Tumwater, Clackamas, Kathlemet, Molalla, Multnomah and Watlala Chinook Peoples and the Tualatin Kalapuya who today are part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and many other Native communities who made their homes along the Columbia River. We also want to recognize that Portland today is a community of many diverse Native peoples who continue to live and work here. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities—past, present, future—and are grateful for their ongoing and vibrant presence.