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The Letter

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.

Appears in: Bette & Joan

Genres: Thriller

Other Films by William Wyler

The Little Foxes

The Little Foxes was the final collaboration of Bette Davis and William Wyler, a tumultuous creative—and sometimes romantic—partnership that brought Hollywood key works such as Jezebel and The Letter. Davis plays Regina Hubbard Giddens, a wealthy, independent Southern woman passed over for a huge inheritance, but between her scheming, already-wealthy brothers and her near-death husband,


Her role in Wyler’s sensitive Antebellum drama garnered Bette Davis the second—and somewhat shockingly, final—Oscar of her burgeoning career, unforgettably playing the careening New Orleans society belle Julie Marsden. Julie is engaged to Preston “Pres” Dillard (Henry Fonda in a particularly headstrong role), a banker in the midst of the biggest deal of his career,