A LETTER TO THREE WIVES: The Essentials
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Just as they are leaving with a group of orphans for a Hudson River outing, three suburban housewives receive a note from Addie Ross, a friend against whom each woman measures herself. Addie claims to have run off with one of the women's husbands. As they try to get through the day, each thinks back on her marriage, considering the likely reason her husband would have run off with the other woman. Deborah (Jeanne Crain) remembers the disappointment her husband felt when he discovered the chic WAVE he fell for during World War II was a simple farm girl who could barely keep up with the educated Addie. Radio writer Rita (Ann Sothern) thinks her career as a radio writer has led her to neglect her husband (Kirk Douglas), who may have been drawn to the more attentive Addie. Social climber Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) recalls how she trapped department store magnate Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas) into marrying her when he had hoped to wed the more socially upright Addie. As the day finally ends, each returns home to prepare for the opening of the social season, the big country club dinner at which one of their husbands will not be present.
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Vera Caspary
Based on the story "One of our Hearts" and the novel A Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner
Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, J. Russell Spencer
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Jeanne Crain (Deborah Bishop), Linda Darnell (Lora Mae Hollingsway), Ann Sothern (Rita Phipps), Kirk Douglas (George Phipps), Paul Douglas (Porter Hollingsway), Barbara Lawrence (Babe), Jeffrey Lynn (Brad Bishop), Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Finney), Florence Bates (Mrs. Manleigh), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Manleigh), Thelma Ritter (Sadie), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Messenger), Celeste Holm (Voice of Addie Ross)
Why A LETTER TO THREE WIVES is Essential
A Letter to Three Wives is considered one of the screen's best treatments of marriage, offering inside looks at three suburban couples, each of whom represents a different side of the issue. The Bishops (Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn) are the typical postwar marriage of two naive young people who met when both were in uniform. The Phipps (Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas) are a working couple, plagued by career conflicts, particularly the fact that she out-earns him. And the Hollingsways (Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas) are an upwardly mobile couple held together by memories of their original sexual chemistry and fear of what a divorce could do to his business.
Each couple's story also plays out in its own comic style. The unsophisticated Crain's marital problems take the form of romantic comedy as she tries to deal with her insecurities. Writer Sothern and teacher Kirk Douglas move the film into the realm of high comedy as they cross swords with wit and he struggles to survive a dinner with her boss, the pretentious producer of a group of radio soap operas. Darnell and her rough-hewn husband, Paul Douglas, represent a broader take on the battle of the sexes, though her taming of him during their courtship and the height of their emotions, from lust to anger to jealousy, gives their story an almost Shakespearean character.
A Letter to Three Wives represents one of the most ingenious uses of the flashback in American movie history. Director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz links the stories of the three marriages with recurring characters, visual motifs and sounds, with Addie Ross, the unseen small-town temptress, always somewhere behind the action.
When this film became his first hit, Joseph L. Mankiewicz became 20th Century-Fox's top director. It also brought him the first of two pairs of Oscars® for Best Directing and Best Screenplay (the second set was for 1950's All About Eve), a feat still unmatched.
Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas gave their best performances as the battling Hollingsways. The film also marked Douglas' big screen debut after a successful Broadway run as junkyard tycoon Harry Brock in Born Yesterday.
After a notable scene telling off Santa Claus in her screen debut, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and a small role as a receptionist in Call Northside 777 (1948), Thelma Ritter played her first major role as Sadie, Sothern's maid and Darnell's mother's best friend.
by Frank Miller