Past Film/Video | Classics | Series & Festivals

The Letter

(Jean de Limur, 1929) 

Preceded by Accent on Girls (1935) and MGM Convention Reel (1937) 
Introduced by David Stenn, television writer/producer and film preservation supporter

35MM Print | New Restoration

A black and white image of a woman wearing a flowered dress holding a gun.

Although Jeanne Eagels career was cut short by her untimely death, her groundbreaking performance in The Letter garnered her the first posthumous Academy Award nomination for acting.

Based on the play by W. Somerset Maugham, The Letter features an impressive turn from popular stage actress Jeanne Eagels in her only surviving sound film performance. She stars as Leslie Crosbie, the bored wife of a neglectful rubber plantation owner. Leslie carries on a torrid affair with Geoffrey Hammond (Herbert Marshall), who later spurns her for a Chinese mistress. Leslie kills her former lover, and her self-defense claim is about to work until an incriminating letter suddenly materializes. The film is not nearly as well known as the 1940 remake with Bette Davis (who was greatly inspired by Eagels’s performance) but is perhaps far more interesting for some of the pre-Code content not possible in the later version. (65 mins., 35mm)

The Letter is preceded by two shorts. Accent on Girls (10 mins., 35mm) stars Ina Ray Hutton, the “Blonde Bombshell of Rhythm,” who led one of the first all-female big bands. The MGM Convention Reel (10 mins., 35mm) reveals stars such as Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, and Joan Crawford partying and celebrating. Long suppressed due to scandal, the film is still timely and revealing today.

David Stenn, a writer and producer for television, a biographer, and a prominent supporter of film preservation, introduces the films and discusses the unique restoration story behind each.

See the complete 2024 Cinema Revival lineup.

The Letter, courtesy of Warner Bros.

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"An important piece of theater history, preserving the performance style of a brilliant, eccentric and spectacularly self-destructive actress."
David Kehr, New York Times

About the speaker

David Stenn chevron-down chevron-up

David Stenn’s writing/producing credits for television include Hill Street Blues, Boardwalk Empire, 21 Jump Street, Beverly Hills, 90210, and The L Word. He is the author of biographies Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild and Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow. Stenn’s Vanity Fair article “It Happened One Night…at M-G-M” shed light on Hollywood’s best-suppressed scandal and brought vindication to rape survivor Patricia Douglas after 66 years in hiding. He adapted this story into the documentary film Girl 27. Stenn serves on the Film Committee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and board of directors at the UCLA Film & Television Archive in Los Angeles.

The Letter restored by the Library of Congress and the Film Foundation. Funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. 

Accent on Girls and MGM Convention Reel restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding by David Stenn.

National Endowment for the Arts 
Ohio Humanities

Rohauer Collection Foundation

Ohio Department of Development

Greater Columbus Arts Council

The Wexner Family 
Institute of Museum and Library Services

Ohio Arts Council, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts 
Ohio State’s Global Arts + Humanities Discovery Theme 
The Columbus Foundation 
Nationwide Foundation 
Vorys, Sater, Seymour, and Pease

Mike and Paige Crane 
Axium Packaging 
Nancy Kramer 
Ohio State Energy Partners 
Ohio History Fund/Ohio History Connection 
Larry and Donna James 
Bruce and Joy Soll 
Rebecca Perry Damsen and Ben Towle 
Jones Day 
Alex and Renée Shumate


Past Film/Video

The Letter