Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

This drama delivers.

Email would make the premise of this film obsolete, so let's hear it for the storytelling merits of the United States postal system.

Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell) and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern) have a few key factors in common.


They're all friends and get together regularly with their husbands to socialize at a country club.

Each has boarded a ferry to help chaperone a picnic for a whack of youngsters on the same Saturday morning.

All their husbands have more than passing interest in Addie Ross (Celeste Holm), described but never seen as a ravishing woman with a solid head on her shoulders.

Just before the ferry is about to leave, the three ladies get a letter from Addie herself. When you come back later today, she says, I will have left town with one of your husbands.

How's that for hitting an iceberg before even leaving dock?


As we learn through flashbacks, each woman has reason to worry it's her husband who's jumped ship.

Deborah's the farm girl who grew up in a cash-strapped family. She's finding it hard to adjust to the upper-middle class circle her husband Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) calls home. The confidence she experienced in the navy during the Second World War, serving alongside other women in the same boat, is gone now that she's rubbing shoulders with the well-to-do of this unnamed American town.

Rita writes scripts for radio shows. She's so busy with her career she forgets about the birthday of her husband, George (Kirk Douglas). But, Addie remembered. She even sent him an album of one of his favourite classical recordings. George isn't keen about the dreck Rita writes to pay the bills. Rita's a little upset at the suggestive comment Addie penned in her card to her better half. There's some tension over her salary being bigger than his.

Lora Mae spends most of her time bickering with her husband, successful businessman Porter (Paul Douglas, Panic in the Streets (Fox Film Noir)). Funny how he never found the time to move Addie's portrait from his living room. Porter is convinced Lora Mae married him for his cash, not love.


A Letter to Three Wives doesn't get caught up in just hand-wringing among the three women. There are plenty of laughs too.

Thelma Ritter is a delight as Sadie Dugan, maid to the Phipps and best friend of Lora Mae's mother. Her wisecracks are a hoot.

George does a slow burn as he's forced to listen to cruddy radio show after cruddy radio show when his wife invites a powerful industry type over for dinner. Hold on when said power magnet asks him for his impression of the shows he's just suffered through.

Joseph Mankiewicz won two Oscars, direction and screenplay, for A Letter to Three Wives. The 103-minute black-and-white drama was also nominated for best picture.

This, folks, is a film well-worth seeing. Highly recommended.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Jeffrey Lynn appeared alongside James Cagney in The Roaring Twenties.

Barbara Lawrence, who appears as Lora Mae's younger sister, is still alive. Her other credits include the original Unfaithfully Yours and Oklahoma!

Wow, Carl Switzer (Alfalfa in the Our Gang shorts) has a small role in this film. Did you know he was murdered in 1959 over an argument about $50?

Celeste Holm appeared in the Oscar winner for best picture, Gentleman's Agreement

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