Here is the first high pressure emotional performance of the all-talkies. We have had stars who emoted in the sound films but, in "The Letter," Jeanne Eagels runs the whole distraught gamut. It is great work.
"The Letter" may or may not be a popular film. It's an unusual one — a mature story for grown-ups. Don't take little Willie to see it. Somerset Maugham wrote "The Letter" as a stage play and it moves into a sound film almost intact. The one big elaboration is a battle between a deadly cobra and a mongoose. This was originally a short German film. It adds a thrilling and macabre moment.
The wife of a British plantation manager kills her lover, but by blackening her victim's character, she succeeds in wriggling out of the crime on the stand. Acquittal is just ahead — when an incriminating letter, written by the murderess to the dead lover, turns up.
See the film for the rest of the unsavory story. Miss Eagels plays the unfaithful wife who shoots her lover down in cold blood. The woman is u terly unworthy — and Miss Eagels plays her unrelentingly. She hasn't a redeeming quality, but the star's performance is a corking one.
O.P. Heggie is admirable as the friendly British lawyer who saves the woman. The rest of the cast is fairly good. The atmosphere of a far Eastern rubber plantation (the location is near Singapore) is e.xcellently maintained.
You will like Miss Eagels' dynamic work but you will probably hate the woman she portrays. You may not like the story. But "The Letter" is a real landmark in the progress of the microphone drama.