This screening will be introduced by author David Stenn, whose prior biographies of Clara Bow and Jean Harlow are highly regarded. (Stenn’s next subject will be the star of The Letter – and while you’re waiting, don’t miss Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed, which I co-wrote a few years ago with Eric Woodard.)
The Letter will be screened again at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 25, 2023, as part of To Save and Project, the 19th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation. (Another of Jeanne Eagels’ few surviving movies – the 1927 silent, Man, Woman and Sin – was featured in the 2018 festival.)
Members’ tickets go on sale today, with all tickets available from January 6, 2023.
The Letter. 1929. USA. Directed by Jean de Limur. Screenplay by Garrett Fort, from the play by W. Somerset Maugham. With Jeanne Eagels, O. P. Heggie, Herbert Marshall, Lady Tsen Mei. Digital restoration by the Library of Congress and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation; 35mm print courtesy of Park Circus. New York premiere. 65 min.
This important early talkie—the first sound feature to be produced at Paramount’s Astoria Studios—is also the only surviving sound film with the extraordinary Jeanne Eagels, whose raw-nerves emotionalism and indifference to technique make her seem an emissary from an Actors Studio of the future. Bette Davis was clearly influenced by Eagels in the 1940 remake though even Davis’s vaunted intensity is no match for Eagels’s abandon. Eight months after the release of The Letter she would be dead, a victim of drugs and alcohol.
The Letter is known to exist only in a single, oddly incomplete print that does not contain the final sound and music mix and which was the basis for a photochemical restoration at the Library of Congress some years ago. That version has now been digitized with a small amount of cleanup, and the soundtrack was restored at Audio Mechanics, which vastly improves the quality of the early sound recording.