racechanging: The Letter

The Letter

Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis), the wife of a rubber plantation administrator, kills Geoffrey Hammond claiming it was in self-defence, although she had shot him six times. Everyone chooses to believe her and she thinks that thinks she is going to get away with it.

But then the Eurasian Mrs Hammond (Gale Sondergaard) turns up with a letter written by Leslie that could prove that Geoffrey had been her lover.

A great film but the Hays Production Code dictated two changes from the original story that destroyed its moral ambiguities: Gale Sondergaard’s character had to be a wife not a mistress; and Leslie had to be appropriately punished (stabbed by Mrs Hammond).

Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress but went home empty-handed. It was also nominated for Best Picture (Rebecca won that year) and Best Director.

The makeup

Perc Westmore was the credited makeup artist; Gordon Bau also worked on the movie.