Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

The Letter(s)


ChristineHoard
 Share

Recommended Posts

Today is Herbert Marshall Day and TCM is showing both versions of The Letter back-to-back tonight.  I, for one, am really looking forward to this and hope a lot of you are, too.  I've seen Bette Davis' performance many times and I think it's one of her best roles but I never have seen the complete Jeanne Eagels version so this will be a real treat.  It should be interesting to compare the two performances plus Herbert Marshall, who I think is somewhat underated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I circled those two back-to-backs as soon as they released the August schedule.  Two great performances, and while the Davis version might be shown 500 more times before I die, the Eagels version may well be a one time contract for only a limited number of showings.  I believe the Eagels premiere was only about 2 years ago, with this being only the 2nd or 3rd time it's been shown after that, and the first time that it's been coupled with the Davis version.  I've already got my recorder set.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

DO NOT MISS THE 1929 VERSION OF THE LETTER!!!!!

 

It's fascinating (at least I liked it when it ran last, some others here were iffy on it.)

 

...And I admit that I am a BIG fan of the 1940 version; I have probably seen it more than 20 times, it's definitely one of my favorite films of the 1940's. The 1929 version is quite different- in this version we see Jeff Hammond (the murder victim) and he has quite a long scene at the beginning of the film before he is shot. This time, the role is played by Marshall ! In the 1940 version, he is the husband (and is excellent, btw.) I think he's even better in the 1940 version, but he's damned good in the 1929 version.

 

The 1929 version is a  lot shorter and missing audio for the first few minutes, it is also, and I stress this, not exactly the complete film as was released. If memory serves me correctly, the 1929 version that showed up on TCM a year or so ago and is presumably airing again tonight is sort of a work print- not the official released version. (Jeanne Eagels actually flubs a line about "dowdy planter's wives" in the final scene, but keeps going,) Nonetheless, everyone in the cast is excellent, including OP Hedgie (sp?) as the cuckolded husband- man was he ever a versatile character actor.

 

The ending to the 1929 version is a real shocker too. Very abrupt, very hard. Reminds me a little of the ending to I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.

 

Viewing both versions back to back is like a lesson in film school on all the levels- acting, screenwriting, direction, etc.

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have never seen the 1929 film, but plan on doing that tonight. I would also like to see the 80's tv film starring Lee Remick at some time.  I hope a lot of people tune in the 1930 Hitchcock film MURDER tonight, I am glad TCM is airing it in a primetime slot instead of a late, late night (early morning) one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm so happy that T.C.M has given Herbet Marshall has own day in their 'Summer Under the Stars' schedule. I never thought it would happen. He's one of my favourite stars of classic Hollywood, but he doesn't seem to be very well-remembered. Christine, I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks he's underrated.

 

I was disappointed that Marshall's role in the 1929 version of "The Letter" was so brief, but his performance was very fascinating and disturbing to me as a Marshall fan who is used to seeing him play nice guys. He's so mean to Eagles in his scene...wow. I really liked his vulnerability and sensitivity in the 1940 version of "The Letter", but I prefer the 1929 version because I think the Jeanne Eagles performance is mesmirizing. I love her jittery intensity and stage accent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm so happy that T.C.M has given Herbet Marshall has own day in their 'Summer Under the Stars' schedule. I never thought it would happen. He's one of my favourite stars of classic Hollywood, but he doesn't seem to be very well-remembered. Christine, I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks he's underrated.

 

I was disappointed that Marshall's role in the 1929 version of "The Letter" was so brief, but his performance was very fascinating and disturbing to me as a Marshall fan who is used to seeing him play nice guys. He's so mean to Eagles in his scene...wow. I really liked his vulnerability and sensitivity in the 1940 version of "The Letter", but I prefer the 1929 version because I think the Jeanne Eagles performance is mesmirizing. I love her jittery intensity and stage accent.

Jeanne Eagles performance is mesmerizing. I love her jittery intensity and stage accent.

 

Fascinating version. RO said she died that year of a cocaine overdose, I wonder if that had anything to do with it. Such a loss.

 

Interesting ending.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The 1940 version of The Letter has long been a favourite of mine. One of the great opening sequences in movies, as Davis shoots her lover, benefiting from James Wong Howe's magnificent photography and gliding camerawork, and Max Steiner's great, moody musical score. Those shots of the moon throughout the film are haunting.

 

d7478386-5583-4abf-a546-79fb4c022413_zps

 

The film had impeccable work from all the cast. Those moments, brief as they are, in which Gale Sondergaard, as the dead man's widow, seethes with a silent rage as she glares at Davis always give me a chill. Herbert Marshall is fine as the husband, and, in studying Bette Davis's skilfull portrayal of a deceptive woman who is yet oddly sympathetic, it is a wonderful illustration of how this actress could provide us with so much more when she gave us less on screen. Thank you William Wyler for that. This is easily my favourite Davis film and performance of her Warners years.

 

I would like to pay special tribute, though, to a performance which I feel makes every bit as much of a contribution to the film as that of anyone else, yet sometimes seems to get overlooked: that of James Stephenson as the defense attorney. It is a magnificently understated portrayal, his most subtle of facial reactions able to convey so much. It's a memorable portrait of an honourable man who compromises his personal ethics and regrets it. Stephenson brings an integrity to his role that makes his character admirable in spite of the fact that he is a lawyer that illegally suppresses evidence.

 

Stephenson makes the conflict that his character feels over his own actions credible and understandable, but never for a second overstates it. Again, thank you William Wyler.

 

When Stephenson tragically died the year after The Letter was made we lost a character actor who may have been on the verge of finally getting the kind of roles that could have demonstrated what was obviously a strong acting talent that had been largely hidden from view.

 

Letter40_zps33c8a51c.jpg

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 I watched both films last night, my first viewing of the 1929 film. A lot of similarities between the two films, but with different emphasis on the finer points. A lot more harsh confrontation in the earlier film.  The later film plays on much more sympathy for the characters.  In his comments Robert Osborne said Bette Davis and the director (1940 film) disliked the ending that was forced upon them because of the production code, she had to pay for her crime by being killed.  The 1929 film had a great ending with the woman getting her "punishment" by having to stay with her husband (who she clearly didn't love) and in a place that she clearly loathed.  She was condemned to her own special hell and probably lived a long and very unhappy life.  I guess that wasn't enough punishment to satisfy the "code" in 1940 but I believe the new ending was still a very good one. She felt terrible guilt about the pain she caused her husband over her affair, and regret about killing the man she really loved.  Did she somehow sense that her "executioners" were waiting outside of the house and she willing walked out there to face her punishment for her crimes?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Did she somehow sense that her "executioners" were waiting outside of the house and she willing walked out there to face her punishment for her crimes?

 

That was always my interpretation of that final scene away, Mr.R.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was great to watch both versions last night.  James Stephenson was terrific and most worthy of his Oscar nomination.  I was sorry to learn he died shortly thereafter.  All the performances were understated, subtle, and yes, thank you William Wyler for perfect direction.  Thanks to James Wong Howe for the outstanding photography and Max Steiner for the music.  Herbert Marshall - what a contrast between the two roles in the two movies.  He's a cad in version #1 and very sympathetic in version #2.  Jeanne Eagels was a revelation to me.  She was jittery intensity and I wondered, too, in the back of my mind if her heroin addiction had anything to do with it or if it was all acting.  Either way, she was awesome and the ending blew me away.  It was so abrupt.  It was also very pre-code in that Marshall's character wasn't married to his Chinese girlfriend and he said "damn" twice plus some of the other language in the film.  No soundtrack music in version #2.  I think it was RO who said moviemakers were unsure how audiences would react to music; they'd wonder where it was coming from and would be confused., etc., so soundtrack music wasn't really used much in very early talkies.  Overall, I prefer the 1940 version with its perfect acting and production but I am so glad I got to see the 1929 version with the great Jeanne Eagels and pre-code daring.  Now if only TCM could get a print of Helen Morgan in Applause I would be delighted to have seen two great very early talky performances by actresses gone too soon.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The 1940 version of The Letter has long been a favourite of mine. One of the great opening sequences in movies, as Davis shoots her lover, benefiting from James Wong Howe's magnificent photography and gliding camerawork, and Max Steiner's great, moody musical score. Those shots of the moon throughout the film are haunting.

 

d7478386-5583-4abf-a546-79fb4c022413_zps

 

The film had impeccable work from all the cast. Those moments, brief as they are, in which Gale Sondergaard, as the dead man's widow, seethes with a silent rage as she glares at Davis always give me a chill. Herbert Marshall is fine as the husband, and, in studying Bette Davis's skilfull portrayal of a deceptive woman who is yet oddly sympathetic, it is a wonderful illustration of how this actress could provide us with so much more when she gave us less on screen. Thank you William Wyler for that. This is easily my favourite Davis film and performance of her Warners years.

 

I would like to pay special tribute, though, to a performance which I feel makes every bit as much of a contribution to the film as that of anyone else, yet sometimes seems to get overlooked: that of James Stephenson as the defense attorney. It is a magnificently understated portrayal, his most subtle of facial reactions able to convey so much. It's a memorable portrait of an honourable man who compromises his personal ethics and regrets it. Stephenson brings an integrity to his role that makes his character admirable in spite of the fact that he is a lawyer that illegally suppresses evidence.

 

Stephenson makes the conflict that his character feels over his own actions credible and understandable, but never for a second overstates it. Again, thank you William Wyler.

 

When Stephenson tragically died the year after The Letter was made we lost a character actor who may have been on the verge of finally getting the kind of roles that could have demonstrated what was obviously a strong acting talent that had been largely hidden from view.

 

 

 

Very good write up here;  In the book Film Noir (Ward \ Silver),  the lawyer is the noir man in the story (and yes,  the book does list the 1940's version of The Letter as an early noir).   The lawyer is the one that is taken in by the femme fatale (well the dead lover too,  but he doesn't have much of a choice in the matter!).

 

As for Mr. Roberts' point about Leslie knowning she was going to be killed;  I assume this was the case since there is the scene with the knife outside on the ground.   She knows there is danger out there and that doesn't make her retreat.   

 

I really like the Wyler \ Davis version for how shuttle it was.    While some of that may be due to the Production code to me it works better.  e.g.  I like that the lover isn't in the story.   To me any focus on him takes away from the core of the plot.   Marshall was fine as the lover.  I just don't feel the role was necessary.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 I watched both films last night, my first viewing of the 1929 film. A lot of similarities between the two films, but with different emphasis on the finer points. A lot more harsh confrontation in the earlier film.  The later film plays on much more sympathy for the characters.  In his comments Robert Osborne said Bette Davis and the director (1940 film) disliked the ending that was forced upon them because of the production code, she had to pay for her crime by being killed.  The 1929 film had a great ending with the woman getting her "punishment" by having to stay with her husband (who she clearly didn't love) and in a place that she clearly loathed.  She was condemned to her own special hell and probably lived a long and very unhappy life.  I guess that wasn't enough punishment to satisfy the "code" in 1940 but I believe the new ending was still a very good one. She felt terrible guilt about the pain she caused her husband over her affair, and regret about killing the man she really loved.  Did she somehow sense that her "executioners" were waiting outside of the house and she willing walked out there to face her punishment for her crimes?

The 1929 film had a great ending with the woman getting her "punishment" by having to stay with her husband (who she clearly didn't love) and in a place that she clearly loathed.  She was condemned to her own special hell and probably lived a long and very unhappy life.

 

Unless she finally thought of stowing away on a ship and moving to America. Clever gal like her, I bet she did just that. Here's hoping.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The 1929 film had a great ending with the woman getting her "punishment" by having to stay with her husband (who she clearly didn't love) and in a place that she clearly loathed.  She was condemned to her own special hell and probably lived a long and very unhappy life.

 

Unless she finally thought of stowing away on a ship and moving to America. Clever gal like her, I bet she did just that. Here's hoping.

 

That so called punishment angle doesn't work for me and as you noted it wouldn't have worked on a women like Leslie.   One reason the lawyer helps Leslie with the letter is to save the husband embarrassent  (from having a less than faithful wife).    Well all Leslie has to do now is sleep with every man in the area (and not just the white ones!).   What would the husband do then?   Ship her back to America.     

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

That so called punishment angle doesn't work for me and as you noted it wouldn't have worked on a women like Leslie.   One reason the lawyer helps Leslie with the letter is to save the husband embarrassent  (from having a less than faithful wife).    Well all Leslie has to do now is sleep with every man in the area (and not just the white ones!).   What would the husband do then?   Ship her back to America.     

Well all Leslie has to do now is sleep with every man in the area (and not just the white ones!).

 

Hah, good one. I never even thought of that!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just watched the '29.

 

Like the remake, this version starts with a tracking shot -- this time a "Hitchcock"-style track-in (so hilariously parodied in High Anxiety).

 

Unfortunately, that's it for camera movement in this film. This has to be one of the most static early talkies I've ever seen. I was actually laughing during the scene where the lawyer learns about the letter from the Chinese assistant. The director -- and I use that term loosely -- declined to block the scene in master shot plus over the shoulder closeups as the characters carry on their conversation like normal human beings. So we end up with the actors not facing each other, but both facing the imaginary audience, as neither wants to be the one to sacrifice and go to profile.  

 

As for the legendary performance of Jeanne Eagels, it's plain to see she had charisma, and she's more flesh and blood than Bette Davis. But she did not completely understand film acting technique, and once again, received no help from her director. Her famous climactic speech, where she uncontrollably spews out run-on, monotoned sentences is a precursor of method acting, but is not totally successful in the context of the film itself. I think it would have worked better toned down a bit, and broken up with some reaction shots of the husband, and perhaps her moving around the room.

 

Herbert Marshall on the other hand seemed to understand talkie acting from day one. Even this early he was able to dynamically portray blase disinterest.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It was great to watch both versions last night.  James Stephenson was terrific and most worthy of his Oscar nomination.  I was sorry to learn he died shortly thereafter.  All the performances were understated, subtle, and yes, thank you William Wyler for perfect direction. 

 

I've read that Stephenson and Jack Oakie- nominated for his comic Mussolini parody in The Great Dictator were considered the front runners for the award that year (1940).

 

Walter Brennan- who already had won two supporting Oscars in the four years since the award had been started- was not expected to win, but he did, for The Westerner. It caused a major scandal and from that year on, extras were no longer involved in the voting process for selecting acting winners. (it was believed Brennan won because he rose from the ranks as an extra himself and still had friends among them.)

Brennan was nominated for supporting actor the next year for Sgt. York and lost for the only time. He was never nominated again.

 

For the record, I think Brennan is actually pretty damn good in The Westerner and had it been his only Oscar, I'd've been fine with it.

 

Stephenson is wonderful in The Letter- a definite improvement on his predecessor in the 1929 version- but I think Marshall is even better (especially since it was so different from his image as a suave, confident, alpha lady killer, like his role in the original Letter or, say, Trouble in Paradise )- and I'd chose him if there could only be one nominee- although having been a leading player, it's possible Marshall did not want to be nor had he been considered supporting (back then, things were different.)

 

Either way, The Letter was a real career and image changer for Marshall, from then on he was cast (I think) more often as weaker or more passive (and many times doomed) characters. The romantic lead days were gone. 

 

He changed the game with his performance in The Letter, that he did not get nominated for  it or (especially) for  The Little Foxes is ridiculous.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just watched the '29.

..........edited for space  

 

As for the legendary performance of Jeanne Eagels, it's plain to see she had charisma, and she's more flesh and blood than Bette Davis. But she did not completely understand film acting technique, and once again, received no help from her director. Her famous climactic speech, where she uncontrollably spews out run-on, monotoned sentences is a precursor of method acting, but is not totally successful in the context of the film itself. I think it would have worked better toned down a bit, and broken up with some reaction shots of the husband, and perhaps her moving around the room.

 

Herbert Marshall on the other hand seemed to understand talkie acting from day one. Even this early he was able to dynamically portray blase disinterest.

Interesting treatise. Cinematically, I am sure you are correct.

 

However, I had 1000% more interest in the fate of Eagels than I did Davis, and will watch the 1929 version every time it is shown. TCM can roll film on the 1940 version without me in my seat.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've read that Stephenson and Jack Oakie- nominated for his comic Mussolini parody in The Great Dictator were considered the front runners for the award that year (1940).

 

Walter Brennan- who already had won two supporting Oscars in the four years since the award had been started- was not expected to win, but he did, for The Westerner. It caused a major scandal and from that year on, extras were no longer involved in the voting process for selecting acting winners. (it was believed Brennan won because he rose from the ranks as an extra himself and still had friends among them.)

Brennan was nominated for supporting actor the next year for Sgt. York and lost for the only time. He was never nominated again.

 

For the record, I think Brennan is actually pretty damn good in The Westerner and had it been his only Oscar, I'd've been fine with it.

 

Stephenson is wonderful in The Letter- a definite improvement on his predecessor in the 1929 version- but I think Marshall is even better (especially since it was so different from his image as a suave, confident, alpha lady killer, like his role in the original Letter or, say, Trouble in Paradise )- and I'd chose him if there could only be one nominee- although having been a leading player, it's possible Marshall did not want to be nor had he been considered supporting (back then, things were different.)

 

Either way, The Letter was a real career and image changer for Marshall, from then on he was cast (I think) more often as weaker or more passive (and many times doomed) characters. The romantic lead days were gone. 

 

He changed the game with his performance in The Letter, that he did not get nominated for  it or (especially) for  The Little Foxes is ridiculous.

 

Marshall was 50 when he made The Letter so even without this fine performance in the film his days as a suave,  lady killer were likely behind him.    I didn't know Marshall was that old until I looked it up a few days ago.    To me he looked very good for his age unlike a lot of the other lady killers from his era who just faded away (often due to excess drinking).

 

Even in the 1950s Marshall look well and could pull off a man that in his late 40s.    I also wish Marshall would have been nominated for The Letter and The Little Foxes.     He clearly deserved it.   The good news is that he continued to work and was in many fine films while other actors were 6 feet under. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

© 2022 Turner Classic Movies Inc. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...