A few words about…™ The Letter – in Blu-ray

4 Stars

My technical background enables me to wax on about grain structure in old films, color fade, black levels, shadow detail, stability of the image, et al.

All of which makes my words regarding virtually all Warner Archive titles, to be quite honest, boring.

Take The Letter, one of Bette Davis’ finest, the William Wyler directed, 1940 Warner Bros. production.

Photographed in black & white by Tony Gaudio (The Adventures of Robin Hood), based upon the play by W. Somerset Maugham, with a screenplay by Howard Koch, and a score by Max Steiner, the film is a magnificent achievement.

Quite rightly, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, inclusive of Best Picture, Actress, Editing, Director, Cinematography (b/w), score, and Supporting Actor.

As far as I know, the original nitrate negative survives, but apparently a decade ago, the studio ordered a meticulously prepared wet-gate fine grain, which is the source of this Blu-ray.

As noted, this is boring.

The Blu-ray is magnificent in every detail, and to my jaundiced eye appears to be akin to an original 35mm print.

For those who really want to get into the weeds, there is a problem, but as far as I can tell, it’s been there for eighty years.

Look closely at the main title sequence, and you’ll see a lack of stability.

Not the type the you’ll find from an old telecine, where the entire frame wobbles about, but rather, within the production of the title negative itself, with a certain amount of movement between the background plate, and presumably, the hold-back matte, and title overlay.

I feel better, now that I’ve found something to write about.

Essential Davis, essential Wyler, and essential to any serious library.

A perfect Blu-ray.

Image – 5

Audio – 5

Upgrade from DVD – Absolutely!

Pass / Fail – Pass

Very Highly Recommended

RAH

Published by

Robert Harris

editor,member

34 Comments

  1. Robert Harris

    I feel better, now that I've found something to write about.

    Us, too!! What a snoozefest all this perfection has been!

    Now, who do we see about a recall?? 🙄

    All kidding aside, thanks for the great news and I can't wait to see this again as well! I've mentioned before but it contains one of my favorite Bette Davis moments from her entire career and I can't wait to make a night of it.

    Thank you, sir! 🙂

  2. Will Krupp

    Us, too!! What a snoozefest all this perfection has been!

    Now, who do we see about a recall?? 🙄

    All kidding aside, thanks for the great news and I can't wait to see this again as well! I've mentioned before but it contains one of my favorite Bette Davis moments from her entire career and I can't wait to make a night of it.

    Thank you, sir! 🙂

    Try not to make it too bumpy 😉 …

  3. Will Krupp

    'Tell ME my credits are wobbly! I'll show that son of a bitch a bumpy night"
    [​IMG]

    As Bogie (playing Philip Marlowe) says to Colonel Sherwood in the beginning of "The Big Sleep": "Hmmmmmmmmm! Then Colonel Sherwood asks, "What does that mean?" Bogie responds: "Just Hmmmmmmmmmmm!"

  4. Robert Harris

    For those who really want to get into the weeds, there is a problem, but as far as I can tell, it's been there for eighty years.

    Look closely at the main title sequence, and you'll see a lack of stability.

    Not the type the you'll find from an old telecine, where the entire frame wobbles about, but rather, within the production of the title negative itself, with a certain amount of movement between the background plate, and presumably, the hold-back matte, and title overlay.

    Similar to the credit for Max Steiner in Jezebel; just after the dissolve to it, the text jumps down a bit in relation to the background.

  5. Actually, there are two or three shots in the opening sequence that could have easily been culled from one of Universal’s Talbot epics.

    Precisely what might Ms Davis looked like, as the moon came out from behind those ominous clouds, had she been bitten by her victim before he succumbed?

  6. One of Wyler's, Davis', Steiner's and Warner's best, which is saying A LOT.
    Seems like this is the year for Davis and de Havilland on blu ray (Criterion are releasing NOW, VOYAGER in November and did THE HEIRESS earlier this year. Plus we have been blessed with HOLD BACK THE DAWN, a new rendition of THE SNAKE PIT, JEZEBEL etc). Keep 'em coming!
    P. S. Thanks for the review Robert.

  7. And what would they call this film if they ever decided to do a remake?
    "The email"? "The Tweet"?, "The Instagram"?
    Somehow, within our times, such concepts simply wouldn't translate with the same carriage or clout of success.
    And that, my friends, is why we love the classics and all that's done for the preservation of film.

  8. PMF

    And what would they call this film if they ever decided to do a remake?
    "The email"? "The Tweet"?, "The Instagram"?
    Somehow, within our times, such a concept would simply not succeed nor translate as well.
    And that, my friends, is why we love our catalog titles and all that's done towards the preservation of film.:thumbs-up-smiley:

    The Text.

  9. Robert Harris

    My technical background enables me to wax on about grain structure in old films, color fade, black levels, shadow detail, stability of the image, et al.

    All of which makes my words regarding virtually all Warner Archive titles, to be quite honest, boring.

    Take The Letter, one of Bette Davis' finest, the William Wyler directed, 1940 Warner Bros. production.

    Photographed in black & white by Tony Gaudio (The Adventures of Robin Hood), based upon the play by W. Somerset Maugham, with a screenplay by Howard Koch, and a score by Max Steiner, the film is a magnificent achievement.

    Quite rightly, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, inclusive of Best Picture, Actress, Editing, Director, Cinematography (b/w), score, and Supporting Actor.

    As far as I know, the original nitrate negative survives, but apparently a decade ago, the studio ordered a meticulously prepared wet-gate fine grain, which is the source of this Blu-ray.

    As noted, this is boring.

    The Blu-ray is magnificent in every detail, and to my jaundiced eye appears to be akin to an original 35mm print.

    For those who really want to get into the weeds, there is a problem, but as far as I can tell, it's been there for eighty years.

    Look closely at the main title sequence, and you'll see a lack of stability.

    Not the type the you'll find from an old telecine, where the entire frame wobbles about, but rather, within the production of the title negative itself, with a certain amount of movement between the background plate, and presumably, the hold-back matte, and title overlay.

    I feel better, now that I've found something to write about.

    Essential Davis, essential Wyler, and essential to any serious library.

    A perfect Blu-ray.

    Image – 5

    Audio – 5

    Upgrade from DVD – Absolutely!

    Pass / Fail – Pass

    Very Highly Recommended

    RAH
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    During this past year, my wife and I got a lot of enjoyment out of seeing the great Bette Davis in "Dark Victory", "Now Voyager", and "Jezebel". But somehow, we've never managed to see "The Letter".

    So RAH, I certainly cannot associate the word "boring" with your review of the Blu-ray for "The Letter", that you've provided here, since your recommendation for the disc, now has me eager to add it to our collection, by going to HTF's Amazon portal immediately after this comment is posted.

    Anyhow, thank you very much, RAH, for you guiding the way toward the Mrs and I, getting to have some more film enjoyment together. My wife will be grateful too, because she's not a big fan of many of the films in our Blu-ray/DVD collection, such as "The Wild Bunch", "Touch of Evil", or "Repulsion", but I'm sure that she'll enjoy "The Letter", as much as I also expect to like it.

  10. Robert Crawford

    Has anybody else watched this fine Blu-ray release besides RAH and I?

    I am certain that the answer will soon be "Yes";
    but catching up to Crawdaddy and RAH is never as easy as it may seem.:)

  11. Will Krupp

    I was fooled into a false sense of security and ordered through Amazon so, no (lol)

    Same here. Looks like I jinxed my record of prompt delivery from Amazon – they emailed yesterday to give me a ridiculous delivery estimate (late October). Maybe I'll try Deep Discount again.

  12. As Warner Archive titles aren't available in Canada and I've got Amazon US gift cards to use, I'm waiting for them to get The Letter in stock before I order it along with Gaslight, The Thin Man and Jezebel. The waiting is k-i-l-l-i-n-g me (I'm not a patient person!), but it will be such a treat when they all finally arrive.

  13. As Warner Archive titles aren't available in Canada and I've got Amazon US gift cards to use, I'm waiting for them to get The Letter in stock before I order it along with Gaslight, The Thin Man and Jezebel. The waiting is k-i-l-l-i-n-g me (I'm not a patient person!), but it will be such a treat when they all finally arrive.

  14. Andrew Budgell

    As Warner Archive titles aren't available in Canada and I've got Amazon US gift cards to use, I'm waiting for them to get The Letter in stock before I order it along with Gaslight, The Thin Man and Jezebel. The waiting is k-i-l-l-i-n-g me (I'm not a patient person!), but it will be such a treat when they all finally arrive.

    You can get Warner Archive titles through wowhd.ca.

  15. Andrew Budgell

    As Warner Archive titles aren't available in Canada and I've got Amazon US gift cards to use, I'm waiting for them to get The Letter in stock before I order it along with Gaslight, The Thin Man and Jezebel. The waiting is k-i-l-l-i-n-g me (I'm not a patient person!), but it will be such a treat when they all finally arrive.

    You can get Warner Archive titles through wowhd.ca.

  16. Andrew Budgell

    As Warner Archive titles aren't available in Canada and I've got Amazon US gift cards to use, I'm waiting for them to get The Letter in stock before I order it along with Gaslight, The Thin Man and Jezebel. The waiting is k-i-l-l-i-n-g me (I'm not a patient person!), but it will be such a treat when they all finally arrive.

    Not sure where you are, Andy, but Bay St Video in Toronto brings in all of the Warner Archive titles (I think they are usually one week off release) and sells them at reasonable prices considering the brutal exchange rate between the Canadian & U.S. dollars. I just walk two blocks from my home and pick them up in person. 🙂
    I've had Thin Man and Jezebel for weeks. Gaslight is in stock, but I didn't buy it.
    Unfortunately, they don't do mail-order sales.

  17. Andrew Budgell

    As Warner Archive titles aren't available in Canada and I've got Amazon US gift cards to use, I'm waiting for them to get The Letter in stock before I order it along with Gaslight, The Thin Man and Jezebel. The waiting is k-i-l-l-i-n-g me (I'm not a patient person!), but it will be such a treat when they all finally arrive.

    Not sure where you are, Andy, but Bay St Video in Toronto brings in all of the Warner Archive titles (I think they are usually one week off release) and sells them at reasonable prices considering the brutal exchange rate between the Canadian & U.S. dollars. I just walk two blocks from my home and pick them up in person. 🙂
    I've had Thin Man and Jezebel for weeks. Gaslight is in stock, but I didn't buy it.
    Unfortunately, they don't do mail-order sales.

  18. Rob W

    Not sure where you are, Andy, but Bay St Video in Toronto brings in all of the Warner Archive titles (I think they are usually one week off release) and sells them at reasonable prices considering the brutal exchange rate between the Canadian & U.S. dollars. I just walk two blocks from my home and pick them up in person. 🙂
    I've had Thin Man and Jezebel for weeks. Gaslight is in stock, but I didn't buy it.
    Unfortunately, they don't do mail-order sales.

    Thanks for the heads up, Rob! I'm about an hour or so away from Toronto but will definitely check them out the next time I'm in the city. 🙂

  19. Andrew Budgell

    Thanks for the tip, Nick. Do items ship from Canada?

    I think they ship from the US, but the prices are listed in Canadian dollars, shipping is free, and no import fees or taxes are charged.

    I'd also recommend Bay Street Video, though they tend to only have a handful of copies of something like the Warner Archive titles.

  20. Will Krupp

    I was fooled into a false sense of security and ordered through Amazon so, no (lol)

    I've learned my lesson. I ordered four WA titles from Best Buy. Three of them came today, and The Letter, which was sold out, will be here tomorrow or Saturday.

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