Before its restoration in 2013, Jeanne Eagels’ penultimate movie, The Letter (1929), was falling into obscurity. But while the 1940 remake is more accomplished overall, Jeanne’s performance as a frustrated colonial wife more than holds up against Bette Davis in the same role. An in-depth comparison between the two is posted at the Notoriously Nora movie blog today.
It’s incredibly difficult to envision both women in swapped positions. Davis likely would not have been able to effectively command the same subtle control as Eagels, which was the key element to its plausibility. Similarly, it seems foreign and ill-advised to imagine Eagels bellowing ‘With all my heart, I still love the man I killed!’ with the same staccato driven force and impassioned intonation that is so characteristic of Davis. To an extent, the different embodiments of Leslie’s character are espoused to their respective originators, which also serves to bolster the sentiments of both films; still, the mind can’t help but to wander. Davis and Eagels are apples and oranges, both palatable in theory but appetizing selectively to different individuals — and both performances, no matter what one’s feelings are on either actress, are worthy of a full and thorough viewing.