“This letter places an entirely different complexion on the whole case.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
However, Peary accurately points out that “perhaps the most interesting character is Stephenson, who despises Davis yet commits a crime for her… that could ruin his career”.
Peary argues that “obviously, [Stephenson] finds himself intrigued by [Davis’s] wicked nature because that’s what makes her special and excitingly different from his conventional wife”; however, it’s equally plausible that Stephenson merely feels loyalty to his long-time friends, and dedicated to carrying out his promise of acquittal.
Character motivations aside, the film itself remains a wonderfully produced and directed piece of exotic noir. As Peary writes, “Wyler’s direction is moody” (I would use the word “atmospheric” instead), and “there are long passages in which dialogue is sparse or nonexistent and the erotic tension is built through Max Steiner’s music, shadows, sounds (wind, wind chimes), the moon floating through the clouds, character movements and expressions”; Tony Gaudio’s stark cinematography contributes as well to the film’s sense of mystery and menace. However, while Peary argues that “the worst aspect of the film is the embarrassingly invidious portrayal of the non-white characters, which almost justifies the colonialists’ matter-of-fact racism”, I can’t really agree with this assessment. True, it would have been better to cast an Asian (or Eurasian) actress in Sondergaard’s role:
… but her performance as a bitter woman grieving her murdered husband isn’t particularly offensive (I don’t blame her for feeling vindictive!); and Victor Sen Yung’s portrayal as her deceptively obsequious courier is far from dumb or demeaning, instead effectively demonstrating alternate forms of power played out by savvy non-Europeans in a neo-colonial arena.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: