Remakes — Which is D.O.A.?

In my opinion, most film remakes do not measure up to the original, except perhaps in the field of special effects. When dealing with storytelling, most times a modernized story attached to a remake complicates the story to the point of being ridiculous.

Let’s consider the film noir D.O.A. While the original movie from 1949 —starring Edmond O’Brien and Paula Britton — has a very simple storyline, whereas the version from 1988, starring Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan and Daniel Stern, twisted and turned and had enough plot to sink a ship. I think it sank an otherwise good movie.

The opening scenes of the two versions are similar, both filmed in black and white and, in the case of the Quaid vehicle, more compelling, with the viewer seeing the world as the dying Dennis Quaid is seeing it, blurred, fuzzy and jerky images as he staggers his way into a police station to report his own murder. In the O’Brien vehicle we see him stagger into the station from behind, obviously sick or inebriated.

Both characters had been poisoned by a radioactive substance that had been dropped into their drink and have only a day or two to live.

And that was the end of the similarities between the two films. The 1988 vehicle tells the rest of the story in color; the 1949 film remained black and white, with an ominous atmosphere, with significant shadows haunting Edmond O’Brien as he tries to piece together the moment when he ingested the poisonous “luminous substance,” called radium chloride in the latter film.

Edmond O’Brien was already a mysterious character. He works as an accountant with a girlfriend/secretary, who we suspect he’s stringing along. He books a vacation without her. We don’t know why. Along the way he meets a woman at a convention in the hotel and they seem to hit it off.

The 1988 film was obviously a vehicle for stars Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, married at the time. It’s in color and takes place on a college campus where Quaid teaches English. He’s in the middle of a divorce, which he does not want to go through with. It’s obvious he still loves his wife, but she has moved on with her life. Quaid is living a boring existence, one that has made him jaded and unmotivated to do anything.

Insert here a student, Nick, who is trying to get Quaid to read his manuscript and Quaid brushing him off. Back in his office Quaid just prints a red “A” on the document without reading it. Then he learns the kid has committed suicide. Quaid discusses his guilt about not encouraging the kid with a fellow teacher who’s celebrating his just having made professor. After sharing congratulatory drink, Quaid throws the manuscript in the wastebasket. Later Quaid ends up at a local bar and shares drinks with a another student, Sydney, (Meg Ryan) who has a crush on him.

Both O’Brien and Quaid wake up after drinking and partying not feeling well and see a doctor. There they learn that they have been poisoned and have only a day or two to live, they panic and leave the doctor’s office to find out who poisoned them.

Here’s where Quaid’s storyline goes haywire. His soon-to-be-ex-wife is murdered; Quaid is also suspected of pushing the suicidal student off the roof. It’s gets truly bizarre, all while Quaid is fighting the incredulity of dying from poison.

In the end, both men discover who poisoned them. And while we see O’Brien succumb to the poison, Quaid simply walks into the night and back into the first scene where he staggers into the rainy night.

I believe the O’Brien version is a superior vehicle due to a tighter story line, the suspense and tension never letting up, and unlike Quaid, O’Brien doesn’t let any of his friends know what’s happening to him; he’s stopped trusting anyone. He’s all alone with his terrible secret.

Which one of the two do you appreciate more? Feel free to comment below.

On Dangerous Ground – Saving Robert Ryan

I’ve never known what to make of Robert Ryan. His performances never look like acting. He IS the character on the screen. One thing’s for certain, you can never take your eyes off that rugged face displaying the myriad emotions experienced by the character he’s playing. And, if he’s not on the screen, you want to know where he is and where he’ll show up next.

Ryan has been quoted that he’s played types that are diametrically opposed to everything he stood for – bigotry, intolerance, corruption, greed and brutality. He was the man who had to make the hard decisions as a general in Battle of the Bulge; the man with screaming paranoia when a stranger comes to town asking questions in Bad Day in Black Rock; the western gunslinger with nothing left to lose in The Naked Spur, the bigoted Army sergeant who terrorizes a Jewish man in Crossfire.

I’m going to go into depth on the film On Dangerous Ground, directed by Nicholas Ray and an uncredited Ida Lupino. In it, Ryan plays Detective Jim Wilson whose relentless days of encountering predators, sleazy backroom bosses, gamblers and murderers takes its toll on an otherwise good detective. He resorts to “getting the job done” by beating up his suspects until they confessed, resulting in charges brought against the department for police brutality. He explains his actions saying that no one likes cops, not the good guys or bad guys. You can see he’s begun to hate himself.

His partners on the squad see the writing on the wall and try to get Wilson to calm down, relax, take up activities outside the force so as not to bring the work home with him. The final blow comes when his superior officer, played by Ed Begley Sr., sends him on assignment upstate to help a local sheriff solve the murder of a young girl. Wilson calls it Siberia, a place of exile. And it is.

The Search

This is when you realize we’re not looking at Robert Ryan anymore. It’s Jim Wilson the detective driving out of the city – out of the familiar environment that’s been poisoning him. It’s a long way to his destination. As Wilson’s car travels the long, narrow dark ribbon of road, there’s no sound, no partners, no radio, no sirens or flashing lights. Wilson comes upon some road construction and, as he waits, we see his piercing dark eyes reflecting the lonely and empty life he’s been living. It’s as if Wilson is traveling back in time, out of the city to a rural isolated environment.

A young girl has been stabbed to death and the killer still at large. As Wilson begins to question the victim’s family members, the angry father, played by Ward Bond, adamantly objects. He wants action, not questions; he wants revenge, not justice. Wilson is not welcomed as a savior, but finds himself confronted by the same anger, distrust and hate that he had for the criminals he’d arrested, only now it’s directed at him. He’s treated as an interloper, someone letting the killer get away.

The suspect steals a car and Wilson has no choice but to follow him with the girl’s father. The camera is focused on the road, which is black and wet, then gray and slushy, then pure white with snow, making driving hazardous. The father is beside himself, shouting at Wilson to go faster, waving his loaded shotgun that will “get the job done.” But Wilson is out of his element and crashes the car after skidding on the icy road as the father pounds the dashboard yelling about the killer getting away. The killer had already crashed his stolen car, and they start following the killer’s footprints through the snowy forests and rocky hills.

Mary and Jim Wilson

The tracks lead them to an isolated farmhouse where they find Mary Malden, a blind woman (Ida Lupino) alone in the house. Wilson and the father find men’s clothes upstairs which Mary says belong to her brother who is away for a few days. The father goes back outside to search the outbuildings. Alone with Wilson, Mary says you can tell a lot about a person from his name. Wilson asks her whether she’s lonely and she senses his loneliness, saying one can be lonely in a room full of people.

Wilson becomes protective of Mary, making sure the furniture is where it should be and the fire rebuilt. This emotion is new for him. Mary thanks him, then, in confidence, she tells Wilson that her younger brother has mental issues and is in hiding nearby. She realizes that he’s done something terrible and asks Wilson to promise to protect him from harm and get him the help he needs.

Wilson struggles with this and has a hard time promising such a thing It’s an unfamiliar position for him:  “protecting” the suspect – but because of his feelings for Mary, he willingly changes his modus operandi in order to do the right thing.

Nicholas Ray uses the stark landscape to play another character in this film. Filmed in black and white, the contrasts are even more stark – white snow, black road and black rocky hills. Wilson’s trek through the snow after the suspect contrasts with fast driving through New York in a police car. Speed is not possible here, and Wilson has time to think about what he’ll do when he catches the perpetrator. Meanwhile, Mary’s home, with its comfortable fire and lantern light is a welcome respite from the harsh outdoors.

Wilson finds that the world is not black and white as he’s looked at it in the past. You see this realization on his face. People are not all bad or all good. Even murder victim’s father’s furious anger melts away when he sees the suspect is “just a kid.” And Mary, who was concealing the suspect, cannot be blamed for protecting him.

The contrast is quite obvious when Wilson heads back to New York and the road turns from a snowy ribbon to a rainy highway filled with cars and buildings, people and crime. No wonder he wants to turn the car around.

This gem of a movie is also enhanced by Bernard Herrmann’s music score. If you listen closely, you can hear echoes of North By Northwest, scored by Herrmann eight years later.

Obsession (1949) A Study in Psychological Torture

 

Obsession – Starring Robert Newton, Phil Brown, Naughton Wayne, Sally Gray

I stumbled on this black and white gem on TCM. The plot is a simple one: Clive Riordan, a psychiatrist, discovers his wife is having an affair with American Bill Kronin. He kidnaps Kronin and chains him up in an abandoned ruin of a building, surrounded by an almost impenetrable warren of bomb shelters and tunnels. Dr. Riordan taunts his prisoner by sharing how he eventually will murder him and dispose of his body.

Not only is this movie dark and noirish – the black and white surroundings are the post-war ruins of England, where broken down brick walls, rubble, wooden doors on rusty hinges open to abandoned warehouses, but it symbolizes the breakdown of Dr. Riordan’s marriage. It’s a psychological thriller, where the doctor’s adulterous wife suffers from not knowing what happened to her lover, and the anguish of the prisoner Kronin wondering when the end will come.

Dr. Riordan is played by Robert Newton, a mild looking actor who looks harmless enough, but when he is engaged in his nefarious scheme, his eyes betray the intensity of jealousy, rage and revenge. He carries out a careful plan, attaching a strong chain to Kronin that allows Kronin the freedom to walk to the bathroom and to a shelf of books. Dr. Riordan draws a chalk line on the floor to indicate how far away he needs to be to remain out of reach. He is careful to place food and drink just outside this circle.

Riordan tortures the prisoner by bringing rubber water bottles filled with acid and emptying them into a bathtub in the next room, telling Kronin that his body would be destroyed without a trace after his murder. Riordan would never reveal how he planned to kill the prisoner and the prisoner would typically try to guess every time he saw the doctor.

Dr. Riordan and his prisoner

This routine continues for some five months, when we are introduced to Superintendent Finsbury, expertly played by Naughton Wayne. Finsbury conducts his investigation step-by-step, calmly and completely, and soon lays his suspicions on Dr. Riordan, who has the interesting habit of disappearing many nights, ostensibly to “work in his laboratory” (minus an assistant named Igor).

There’s no blood in this movie, only the mental bloodletting of Kronin hearing the myriad methods by which he may die. It’s a delightful Hitchcockian paradox that not only does Dr. Riordan bring nourishment, he brings dread and death to his prisoner. 

Originally called “The Hidden Room,” Obsession is a more apt name due to the main character’s relentless torture of his prisoner. No need for car chases or explosions to  enhance the intensity of this obsession.

What psychological thrillers would you recommend? Please comment below; I’d love to hear from you!

Opposites Attract in The Petrified Forest

For a film with two settings and almost no action, The Petrified Forest is teeming with the opposites of the hopeful, the inspired, the disenchanted and the fatalistic, and holds your attention throughout.  This 1936 film, stars Leslie Howard, a young Bette Davis, and a thirty-six-year-old newcomer named Humphrey Bogart.

The film opens in a dusty, wind-blown Arizona desert where a lonely gas station/restaurant sits totally isolated along an empty road. You can feel the dryness,  heat, and the relentless sun baking everything to one gray color. The black and white film helps, too. (little joke).

Nowadays we would expect Bogart to appear in the beginning of the film, proud, arrogant, assured, but this is one of his early movies and he was unknown. Warner Brothers originally wanted Edward G. Robinson to play Bogart’s role as Duke Mantee, but it was Leslie Howard who insisted that Bogart be given the role he’d created on Broadway.

So Bogie doesn’t show up until halfway through, and instead, we are titillated by a young teenage Gabrielle (Bette Davis), a beautiful spark of life among the dreary surroundings, musing about poetry and art and yearning to see what the outside world holds.

She has many dreams, which she freely shares, but they’ve always fallen on deaf ears until Alan Squire (Leslie Howard) trudges out of the swirling dust. Alan is a burned out, homeless and penniless hitchhiker, yet he’s the first one to  listen intently to Gabrielle, and encourages her despite his own self-criticism and cynicism.

Gabrielle is immediately infatuated by Alan’s calm European manner and his worldly experience beyond the Arizona desert where she has yet to venture. Alan answers her many questions about Paris with soliloquys on romance, intellectualism and his own failed writing career.

Alan was more than delighted to answer her questions but he’s reminded of his own dreams and failures. He tries to warn Gabrielle not to expect too much from life, as he had done.

Alan reminisces with Gabrielle

Alan was headed for the Petrified Forest, a mile away, fascinated by the forest turned to stone just as his aspirations had done. At one point he says he’d like to be buried there.

Gabrielle’s obvious infatuation with Alan drives him to leave quickly and get on his way. He hitches a ride with a wealthy couple who’d stopped for gas, only to run smack into Duke Mantee (Bogart),  whose getaway car had broken down. Duke and his henchmen were killers on the run from the law.

That’s when the film is reborn.

As the new chapter begins; all the characters are returned to the café, and this time Duke Mantee is holding all the cards. Duke and his men had already blazed into the café and now held Gabrielle, her grandfather and an ex-football player hostage as well as the wealthy couple and Alan while they wait for their accomplices including Duke Mantee’s girlfriend.

During this waiting game, conversations between the characters take on an other-worldly atmosphere as each character reveals whether their lives had turned out as they wanted.

Gabrielle and Alan face Duke Mantee

Alan even asks the criminal Duke about his aspirations and motivations. When asked what his life had been like up to now, Duke Mantee says it was “great” – he’d spent most of it in jail. He knows his life is hanging in the balance: either he’ll be killed shooting it out with lawmen or hanged for his crimes. His future is already petrified – turned to stone – a tombstone.

The title of the film captures all elements of the story: petrification indicating extreme age- end of life, life turned to stone and becoming inflexible, a non-living forest, like the landscape around Gabrielle’s home. And there’s the emotion of being petrified, which pretty much describes the hostages in the café dependent on the whim of a criminal.

And, although they are opposites, Gabrielle and Alan become one in her dream of Paris and art and beauty, and they revel in her zest for life beyond the Petrified Forest. Alan’s (and Duke’s) redemption at the end I’ll not divulge, only to say that Alan ensures, through a most unselfish act, that Gabrielle will realize her dream.

 

How To Have a Successful Classic Movie Festival

 

 

Our one-day Classic Film festival has ended and three of us enjoyed five movies in less than 12 hours!

It was TCM Backlot that inspired me to entertain with a classic movie festival, and I thank them with all of my heart.

You need to know that just above my friends here on the couch hangs a gift from TCM Backlot – a print of the old MGM studios with the TCM logo. Here it is:

It was a mini vacation for all of us movie lovers and I recommend it wholeheartedly.  All my films were either purchased at the TCM Shop or recorded from a TCM showing.

Our first film was All About Eve, a curiously relevant story of a young actress’s drive to succeed and replace her idol on the stage and screen. Eve (Anne Baxter), becomes the antagonist in her climb to stardom, taking advantage of the generosity of her supposed idol, stage actress Margo Channing, played by a marvelous Bette Davis.

Eve hides her ambition behind a sweet smile and deferential manner, while ingratiating herself with the people close to Margo, including her husband, played by Bette Davis’s real life husband, Gary Merrill.

While all this is going on, it’s Margo Channing’s skeptical dresser, played by the fantastic Thelma Ritter, who takes our role as the audience, watching what’s going on with jaundiced eyes and states outright that no one could be as sweet and innocent as Eve portends.

Two thirds of the movie later, as the realization of Eve’s manipulations dawns on the players, we see that they are already caught in the web of Eve’s cunning and that their lives and relationships are at a standstill.

The denouement comes at the finale, as Eve discovers that she has made a pact with the devil, one Addison DeWitt, a theatre critic played by the cunning George Sanders, who has done his homework and uncovered the truth about the real Eve.

Justice never felt so good.

                                              *                          *                             *

 

Next up was The Lodger, a silent 1927 film, one of the first directed by Alfred Hitchcock and filmed in Hitch’s England, well before he came to America. Since we’ve seen or heard about Hitch’s more famous movies as his career advanced, you can see the talents of this storytelling genius emerging in this film.

The thick fog of London’s nights becomes one of the characters as the suspense builds, and we strain to figure out who was murdering blond women on the lonely streets. Neon signs blink on and off like silent screams and we’re made to wait as the scene slowly unfolds, introducing a very secretive man seeking a room in a boarding house, the lodger.

*                   *                     *

After The Lodger and getting our racing heartrates back to normal, I introduced my friends to one of Barbara Stanwyck’s early films, Ball of Fire (1941), where she plays a New York showgirl full of piss and vinegar and brimming with sex appeal.

Ms. Stanwyck, who was a petite woman just over 5 feet tall, nevertheless casts a giant shadow across the astonished faces of 7 secluded and proper professors residing in a large New York townhouse. She asks if she could stay there on the pretense of hiding from an abusive boyfriend. Actually, she’s hiding from the district attorney who’s investigating said boyfriend (Dana Andrews).

Ms. Stanwyck’s character, appropriately named Sugarpuss O’Shea for her nightclub act, is like a naughty Snow White to 7 clueless dwarves – these elderly professors dedicated to creating a new encyclopedia.

One of the professors, played by Gary Cooper, is a grammarian researching American slang expressions. His exposure to Sugarpuss opens a treasure trove of slang that nearly overwhelms him. We laughed ourselves silly as a surprised Cooper learns what yum yum kisses are and his fellow “dwarves” learn the conga dance.

This screwball comedy features a healthy supporting cast of S.Z. Sagall, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, Richard Haydn, Dana Andrews and Dan Duryea.

*                    *                    *

It was time to shift gears once again, as we settled in for the beautiful and perfect Laura from 1944, with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price, directed by Otto Preminger. We are told in the opening scene that Laura was murdered in cold blood in her apartment.

Dana Andrews plays Detective Mark McPherson, and spends a lot of hours in Laura’s apartment, trying to understand Laura, her associates, and her playboy fiancé (Vincent Price). He’s mesmerized by the full length painting of Laura over the fireplace and even has dreams about her.

Throughout the film the very recognizable “Laura theme” undulates and seems to tease McPherson into thinking Laura still lives. She’s beautiful and as pure a soul as Clifton Webb, a newspaper columnist,  describes her in his narration of the story.

The tight script reveals the traits and flaws of each character as we try and determine who might have murdered Laura. There was plenty of motivation for some of them. The ending does not disappoint.

*                        *                         *

Next up was The More The Merrier from 1941 starring Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn and Joel McCrea.

A delightful screwball comedy set in Washington, D.C. (my hometown) during World War II, the film could have been set during any turbulent time in any place where there was lack of housing. My mother relayed to me how the severe housing shortage in the nation’s capital was due to the military buildup of the war, bringing thousands of military and government personnel to the city. Mom had reached working age and was eager to join the ranks of the “government girls,” herself and work in support of the war effort within the burgeoning bureaucracy.

The film is the story of one of these government girls, Connie Milligan, exquisitely brought to life by Jean Arthur, who advertised a room for rent in her apartment. Naturally she expected applications from newly arrived women looking for a place to live, but when an amiable and harmless Mr. Dingle, (Charles Coburn) shows up in his rumpled suit and quiet manner, she relents.

But when Connie presents Mr. Dingle (Coburn) with a minute-to-minute schedule for sharing the morning chores as well as the kitchen and bathroom, that’s when things get crazy. The two of them briskly wend their way through the routine, passing each other between the kitchen, the morning stoop for the paper, and the shower. Soon Mr. Dingle gets locked out of the apartment while retrieving the newspaper, and ends up losing his trousers in the confusion.

But that isn’t all, that same day  another man approaches the apartment and Mr. Dingle rents half of his half of the apartment to this stranger, a virile Joel McCrea.  But Mr. Dingle doesn’t tell Connie of McCrea’s existence nor does he tell McCrea about Connie. The madcap happenings of the frantic morning routine, misunderstandings between fiancés, coworkers, and the three roommates started giggles that couldn’t be stopped.

And that wrapped up our mini classic movie festival with fantastic films, delectable food, and the comforts of home!

If you have ideas from your own movie festival — suggestions of films, food and other comforts, please share them in the comments!

 

 

My First TCM Classic Movie Weekend!

It’s finally here… an event I’ve wanted to host for the longest time – A Classic Movie weekend with my friends!

We have popcorn, veggies, crudites, drinks – pillows, blankets, all ready to go! We’ll be watching films from noon Saturday to 3pm Sunday! That’s a lot of movies and fun!

I’m hosting this is because so many of my friends, who love movies, haven’t seen many classic movies that started it all. True artists began creating magnificent scenes that bring tears, laughter and fear to their audiences.  They’ll be seeing some of the silent dramas and comedies, film noir, (of course, Eddie Mueller!), screwball comedies, and many movies that added phrases to our lexicon – “I vant to be alone…”

I can honestly say that TCM Classic Movies introduced me to the movies we’ll be viewing this weekend: Metropolis, The Lodger, Gilda, Grand Hotel, Scarlet Street, Ball of Fire, All About Eve, Notorious, The General, Rain.

We have enough food to last us 48 hours without leaving the house, and of course plenty of adult beverages!

As Ben Mankiewicz likes to say, classic movies were a unique way to bring stories to audiences, real characters to figure out what makes them tick, and ways to tell those stories without the crutch of blowing up buildings and car chases taking up half the movie!

Stay tuned for more updates!

 

The Letter: Exposure In The Tropics

Many fans have written about The Letter, the 1940 film masterpiece directed by William Wyler starring Bette Davis and Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson and Gale Sondergaard. Most extol the talents of the actors in their respective relationships with each other on the screen, but they fail to mention two other characters, the tropical moon and Max Steiner’s haunting musical score.

In the infamous opening scene, it is dusk on a rubber plantation in Singapore. You can see and hear the drip, drip, drip of white sap from the tapped rubber trees into waiting containers; native workers are relaxing in hammocks in their open-air quarters as music plays; and everything is bathed by a stark white light as the full moon rises above the palm trees. It creates sharp shadows and gives everything an eerie appearance. The main house, its windows illuminated with the soft golden light of oil lamps, has as its overcoat the same stark moonlight. The stage is set.

A single gunshot rips through the darkness. A shadowed man staggers out of the doorway, and as he grabs at the stair railing, Bette Davis, as Leslie, strides with purpose after him, pumping five more bullets into the body of the man, now a heap at the foot of the porch steps.

Her pistol empty, Leslie notices the moon emerging behind the wispy clouds, exposing her crime for all to see. Like a puppeteer, the moon makes the music score rise, creating gooseflesh and dread as it crescendos. The pair have a symbiotic and paralyzing effect on Leslie as she realizes her world has been changed forever.

Before we viewers know the full story behind the killing, Leslie appears distraught as she sends her servants to retrieve her husband from a far part of the plantation as well as the authorities. When later she relates to them what happened, her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall), their friend Howard Joyce, (James Stephenson), and the police official sympathize with her story of how the dead man, Geoff Hammond, their plantation foreman, tried to sexually assault her and that she shot him in self-defense.

Title: LETTER, THE (1940) BETTE DAVIS, Dir: WYLER, WILLIAM Credit: [ WARNER BROS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]
Robert especially, declares his love and admiration for her bravery amid the sheer terror she must have felt. He begs Howard, his best friend, to represent Leslie as her defense attorney. Howard agrees, but you can see some concern on his face, especially when Leslie dismisses questions about how the Hammond’s behavior that night was so unlike his character. The first seeds of doubt are planted.

After her account of events, Leslie is told she must turn herself in to the authorities in Singapore, where she will be charged with manslaughter and jailed pending her trial. She repairs to the bedroom to pack a bag. That’s where the moonlight invades, its cold light coming through the slatted shutters, painting the bedroom floor with the bars of a prison cell. Leslie gazes up at the moon with pleading eyes as if to say she was justified in what she did.

While Leslie is in jail awaiting trial, she keeps herself occupied with her “lacing,” a skill that requires extreme concentration and patience. Delicate white lace emerges from her busy fingers as if nothing has changed in her life to throw off her rhythm. In fact, she tells visitors she really doesn’t mind the incarceration because it gives her uninterrupted time to pursue her craft. We notice also that she is extended every courtesy by the prison matrons. Her husband is a well-known in the rubber industry, and after all, Leslie was forced to defend herself against sexual assault by Hammond, who had recently married a Eurasian woman — taboo in British society.

Leslie’s composure is interrupted when Howard is informed by his law clerk about a letter allegedly written by Leslie requesting that Hammond come to the house the same evening he was killed. The letter was being offered for a price by a representative for Mrs. Hammond, the widow, with the assurance that the prosecution would not get hold of it. Howard reads a copy of the letter, and extremely concerned, confronts Leslie. At first, she denies writing it, but as the music score rises and fills the room like a guilty conscience, she comes clean, with the explanation that it was only to ask Hammond’s assistance in securing a birthday present for her husband Robert.
By then, Howard and the viewers realize that all this time Leslie had been weaving a story as full of holes as the lace bedspread she is sewing.

Bette Davis and Gale Sondergaard in The Letter (1940)

 

Leslie begs Howard to risk his career by procuring this damning evidence, so she won’t hang, and to keep its contents from Robert. She offers their entire savings to do so, again without her husband’s knowledge. At that point, Howard becomes just as caged as Leslie by his loyalty to Robert and his guilty conscience.

Leslie, released to Howard’s custody, accompanies him to Chinatown to purchase the letter from Mrs. Hammond. The Eurasian woman appears in heavy mask-like makeup, dressed in Asian silk, and adorned with numerous necklaces and bangles. She drills her small steely eyes into Leslie’s wide ones, daring her to pick up the letter that she has disdainfully dropped on the floor. There is no escape for Leslie. The cold moonlight outside is guarding her escape, and, the music swells throughout the room, paralyzing her. Although she is swathed in white lace, Leslie knows that everyone in the room, including Howard, believes her guilty of cold-blooded murder.

Although Howard can barely get through his closing statement in Leslie’s defense at the trial, the jury declares Leslie not guilty. Robert and their friends, delighted and full of congratulations, plan a homecoming party for Leslie. Then Robert announces his plans to start a new venture far away from Singapore where he and Leslie can start a whole new life. He explains his intention to use their savings as a down payment on this new venture. Both Leslie and Howard try to talk him out of it, because they know that the savings are gone.
But it’s no use, Robert is adamant and asks why they are so against his idea. Then he learns about the savings, and purchase of the letter, and demands to see the letter. That’s when it all falls apart…

Leslie reveals the true message behind the letter and why she killed Geoff Hammond, her longtime lover who had broken off their affair to marry a Eurasian. Robert is crushed, but he decides to forgive her.

In the final scene the homecoming party is underway, but after a few minutes, Leslie can no longer face her friends, her husband, or herself. She retreats to the bedroom, dark except for the moonlight slicing though the slatted shutters. The shadows cross her face and Leslie feels her entrapment. Drawn outside by the moonlight, she leaves the bedroom through the garden door into the gardens, fearful of the shadows that threaten to engulf her. And with the music score rising like a tidal wave, Leslie pays the ultimate price for killing Geoff Hammond.

Like a judge and jury, the tropical moon and music score close the final curtain on a life gone wrong.