Our Readers Take the Floor ..., Labor Action, Vol. 4 No. 38, 30 December 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Dear Comrade Editor:
I always enjoy reading Susan Green’s movie reviews in her To See or Not To See column, but I’m afraid she missed the boat in her piece on The Letter. Susan writes that the British lawyer risks his career in defending the murderess out of friendship for her husband, the Malayan planter. I’m afraid. Susan’s natural inclination to give everyone the benefit of the doubt has fooled her. The real motivation of the lawyer, who actually despises the woman he defends and is not at all touched by sympathy for her weakling husband, is simply one of defending his class, the British imperialists who rule Malay. It wouldn’t do, you see, to reveal to the natives just how immoral, decadent and utterly rotten their “superiors” are! (As if the natives don’t know).
This point is made much clearer in Somerset Maugham’s play, upon which this Hollywood version is based. Before becoming a routine defender of the British Empire, Somerset Maugham wrote some striking satires on the English colonials, particularly about those of Malay. Mention Maugham to a Britisher in Singapore now and he literally explodes in your face.
Despite its Will Hays distortions, The Letter is an effective piece in describing the treacherous and cynical lives of the Malayan planter class. While making for excellent melodrama, the shots of native Singapore are absolutely phoney. Orientals just don’t leer that way – particularly the Chinese who are about the most naive, friendly and good natured people there are.
Last updated: 4.11.2012