Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Letter (1940)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Letter (1940)

In director William Wyler's great noirish melodrama of murder, betrayal, and deceit:

  • the shocking opening murder scene on a porch as British plantation owner's wife Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) pumped six bullets into a man's body - the victim was her neighbor Geoffrey Hammond (David Newell) as he staggered out of a tropical bungalow on the grounds of a Malayan rubber plantation
  • the emotional scene of Leslie's dramatic, self-defense narrative and confession to her lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) about what had happened the night of the murder: ("...When I walked past him toward the veranda to call the boys, well, he took hold of my arm and swung me back. But I tried to scream and he flung his arms about me and began to kiss me. I struggled to tear myself away from him. He seemed like a madman. He kept talking and talking and saying he loved me. Oh, it's horrible, I can't go on...He lifted me in his arms and started carrying me. Somehow, he stumbled on those steps. We fell and I got away from him. Suddenly, I remembered Robert's revolver in the drawer of that chest. He got up and ran after me but I reached it before he could catch me. I seized the gun as he came toward me. I heard a report and saw him lurch toward the door. Oh, it was all instinctive. I didn't even know I'd fired. Then I followed him out to the veranda. He staggered across the porch, grabbed the railing, but it slipped through his hand and he fell down the steps. I don't remember anything more, just the reports one after another till there was a funny little click and the revolver was empty. It was only then I knew what I'd done")
  • the timely emergence of an incriminating letter that proved Leslie Crosbie had invited Mr. Hammond to her bungalow the night of the murder, proving pre-meditated murder (and that he was her lover), according to her lawyer Howard Joyce: ("This letter places an entirely different complexion on the whole case. It'll put the prosecution on the track of - suspicions which have entered nobody's mind. I won't tell you what I personally thought when I read the letter. It's the duty of counsel to defend his client, not to convict her even in his own mind. I don't want you to tell me anything but what is needed to save your neck. They can prove that Hammond came to your house at your urgent invitation. I don't know what else they can prove, but if the jury comes to the conclusion that you didn't kill Hammond in self-defense...") - his words caused Leslie to faint and collapse onto the floor
Dramatic Re-claiming of the Blackmail Letter Scene
Mrs. Hammond
Leslie's Debasement
  • the dramatic re-claiming of the blackmail letter scene from Mrs. Hammond (Gale Sondergaard), Hammond's Eurasian wife, and her dramatic entrance through a jangling bead curtain; the sequence of Leslie's personal apology and debasement to pick up the incriminating letter, in exchange for $10,000 (that had emptied her long-suffering husband Robert's (Herbert Marshall) bank account); with the suppression of the letter, Leslie was quickly acquitted in her trial
  • later, during a celebratory party, as she was standing on her balcony, Leslie saw a gleaming dagger planted there
  • the scene of Leslie's incredible confession to her kind and generous husband Robert; although he knew of her affair, he offered to forgive her if she professed her love for him - she admitted her ultimate betrayal in the final line of the film that she still loved the man she killed: (Robert: "That's not enough, unless... Leslie, tell me. Now. This minute. Do you love me?" Leslie: "Yes, l do. (They kissed) No! l can't, l can't, l can't!" Robert: "Leslie, what is it? Leslie, what is it?" Leslie: "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed! Oh, no")
  • the final retribution scene as Leslie walked deliberately into her own dark tropical garden where she saw the outer gate was ajar; shadows came over her as the moon was covered by clouds; outside the gate in the darkness, she was confronted by vengeful, retribution-seeking Mrs. Hammond, and another man-servant; she was grabbed and gagged by the man (to stifle her screams), and then stabbed to death by a flashing dagger in Mrs. Hammond's hand
  • the view of Leslie's body revealed on the ground, as the moonlight illuminated the murder scene

Opening Shocking Murder Scene

Leslie Crosbie's Confession to Lawyer Howard Joyce

The Dagger

Leslie to Husband: "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed!"

Onto Her Balcony and Into the Garden

Moonlight Murder Scene - Leslie's Stabbed Corpse


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