Friday, 19 April 2013

The Letter (1929) – ★★★★

The-Letter_1929_DVD_R0_Warner_05135Director: Jean de Limur
Writers: Monta Bell, Garrett Fort (screenplay), W. Somerset Maugham (play)
Stars: Jeanne Eagels, Lady Tsen Mei, Reginald Owen, Herbert Marshall

The Letter is a film that was long thought lost, until Warner Brothers released the restored version on DVD, albeit missing a few background sounds and scenes. I expected a bad quality film with a great performance by Jeanne Eagels. What I got was a great film with a powerhouse performance from Jeanne Eagels. It is only an hour long, and is rivetting minute after minute!

It follows the story of Leslie Crosby (Jeanne Eagels), who is married to a rubber plantation owner Robert (Reginald Owen). One night she invites her old flame, Geoffrey Hammond (Herbert Marshall), to her house to confront him about a Chinese woman (Lady Tsen Mei) he has been seeing. After pushing Leslie’s emotions to breaking point, she shoots him several times. The ensuing story is of her trial and her attempt to lie to the courts about what really happened that night.

shootb1 If there is one reason to see this film, it is to see the breathtaking performance of Jeanne Eagels. Her face is the face of a million emotions. There is desperation, love, fear, anger, and contempt in her portrayal of Leslie. I’d go as far as to say it is one of the greatest performances of all time. Eagels died six months after this film finished, which is devastating, for she could have been the Bette Davis of her time. There’s no telling where she could have gone with the talent she had, but at least her greatest role in The Letters will always be available to the public.

The other thing that is worth a mention is the brilliant supporting performance by Lady Tsen Mei, who was an absolutely striking actress that gave the film much more intrigue. Her facial expressions made her look as if she were a professional silent movie star. If only there were more of a market for foreign actresses in Hollywood back in the 1920s…

So yes, this is a great film. It has marvellous dialogue that is spoken in such a way that one can scarcely believe an actress could do a better job than Jeanne Eagels. I give it four stars, because whatever it lacked in film/sound quality, it overcame with its screenplay and perfect performances. This is a must-see film for movie buffs.

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