22 August 2014 | wes-connors
Jeanne Eagels Is Fired Up
Left alone on her husband's rubber plantation, four miles from Singapore, neglected Jeanne Eagels (as Leslie Crosbie) sends a letter to handsome Herbert Marshall (as Geoffrey Hammond), hoping for a romantic evening. Desperate for attention, Ms. Eagels is instead told, "All good things must come to an end," as Mr. Marshall tells her their affair is over. Eagels is told she disgusts Marshall, who has replaced his blonde English mistress with a Chinese woman. Eagels thinks the native woman is "common" and "vulgar." Declaring she still loves Marshall, Eagels decides to take matters into her own hands. This gets her in trouble with the law. Covering herself, Eagels convincingly hides her secret – but her Asian rival "Lady" Tsen Mei holds "The Letter"...
For her first "talking" motion picture, Eagels wisely agreed to star in W. Somerset Maugham's "The Letter" for producer Monta Bell and debuting director Jean de Limur. Eagels' greatest Broadway success had been in Maugham's steaming "Rain" (1922-26), which was filmed with Gloria Swanson as the hit silent "Sadie Thompson" (1928). Considering her success with this film, Eagels would have likely been considered for the sound version of "Rain" (the part went to Joan Crawford) and further acclaim. However, she had addictions and overdosed after one more film (the presently unavailable "Jealousy"). Notably, Marshall appeared in both the 1929 and 1940 versions, but as different characters...
As many have noted, Eagels shows the effects of drug use in her final films, but it works for the character she plays in "The Letter" – she is desperate and wasting away in a remote location. While employing some stage overplaying at times, Eagels still delivers an electrifying performance. She certainly earned her "Academy Award" consideration, and had the skills to continue into the sound era. This film was famously re-made in 1940 with William Wyler directing and Bette Davis starring. That version is much more polished, and Ms. Davis is likewise stunning. This 1929 version is incomplete and rough in spots, but still enjoyable. The racism is much less confusing, herein; there are scenes and situations which seem to be white-washed for the 1940 version.
******* The Letter (3/17/29) Jean de Limur ~ Jeanne Eagels, O.P. Heggie, Reginald Owen, Herbert Marshall