Mick LaSalle, film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and a champion of Pre-Code cinema, has often praised the few surviving film performances of Jeanne Eagels, who made her name in the theatre. Perhaps the best-known is her first ‘talkie’, The Letter, later remade with Bette Davis. Many viewers today are impressed by the raw power of Jeanne’s acting. In his regular ‘Dear Mick’ column, LaSalle answers an Oakland reader’s question: ‘Do you think that it’s possible to compare the quality of acting between generations?‘
Great acting has a truth, on its own terms, that may inevitably be influenced by its period in history, but which is grounded within the actor — it’s the actor’s truth … A perfect example of this is Jeanne Eagels in The Letter (1929). It’s a wild, mannered, crazy-over-the-top performance, with echoes of an earlier stage tradition. But you can’t take your eyes off her, because she is putting it all on the line and holding nothing back. You finish that movie, and it’s like Jeanne Eagels has just hit you in the face.
You can read more about her remarkable talent in Jeanne Eagels: A Life Revealed.