The Letter (1929)

Adapting any literary source to the screen naturally demands considerable revision and compression…The two films considered here remain the definitive cinematic versions of The Letter, although in different ways. The 1929 version suffers from two limitations: the nascent use of sound and its abbreviated length.[1]

In comparing the two cinematic versions of The Letter, film historian John Thomas McGuire favours the 1929 version more for successfully unveiling the illusions surrounding the cultural and moral superiority of British over Asians, the Crosbie’s illusions about their marriage, and the illusion of Leslie’s cool reserve. On the other hand, the 1940 version, much closer to the original source material and enjoying a much superior production value, managed to unveil the illusion of the lawyer Howard Joyce’s professionalism. The borderline comedic use of Asian characters and Bette Davis’ unflinchingly cold portrayal of Leslie in the 1940 version were two of McGuire’s main gripes with the 1940 version.

Nevertheless, the NUS Museum will be screening the 1940 version at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium at U-town on 23 April. Do enjoy the 1929 version, available on youtube, and come compare the two for yourself! (Don’t worry, the 1940 version has much better image and audio quality, and enhanced by the cinematic atmosphere of the auditorium!)

[1] John Thomas McGuire. “Rending the Veils of Illusion: W. Somerset Maugham’s The Letter and Its Two Definitive Film Interpretations”, Framework, 53,1 (Spring 2012), pp. 7-21



  1. John Thomas McGuire

    I am impressed with your use of my article. Glad to see it has international effect!:)

  2. Fiona Tan

    We’re immensely grateful for that useful and interesting article and very thrilled to see your comment!

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