Writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz won two Oscars for his work on “A Letter to Three Wives” and rightfully so. The 1949 film was released to Blu-ray for the first time on Sept. 17, and the restoration is incredible. The picture looks pristine, and the sound is clear. There are a few special features, but even without them
Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora May Hollingsway (Linda Darnell), and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern) are three women getting ready to board a ship full of children heading to a picnic. Before they leave, a messenger arrives with a letter addressed to all three of them. The letter is from their “best friend,” Addie Ross. It says that she has run off with one of the ladies’ husbands, but she doesn’t say which one. None of them will know whom until they return from the picnic, and the rest of their day is spent reminiscing about the good and bad things about their marriages thus far.
“A Letter to Three Wives” is a cleverly crafted comedy/drama/mystery about marriage and what it means to be in a good, loving relationship. None of the women have the same backgrounds, and none of them have the same story of how their marriage has been thus far. Deborah is a former farm girl who served in the Navy – where she met her husband, Brad (Jeffrey Lynn). Rita is a writer for radio soap operas, and she makes more than her school teacher husband, George (Kirk Douglas). Lora May comes from a poor background and winds up married to her boss, Porter (Paul Douglas) – who thinks she’s in just for the money.
Every marriage is given an equal amount of screen time – making it impossible to easily figure out which husband has gone with Addie Ross. The women have met Addie, but the viewer only hears her voice in the narration. All three of the husbands talk so fondly of her, of course, and none of the wives seem too happy about her being brought up in conversation.
All the performances are incredible, especially Darnell’s – whose Lora May is sharp-tongued, snarky, and wants to know if a man coming to get her is chivalrous or not. Douglas is great, too, as the school teacher who keeps correcting the grammar of those who use “radio English,” and his rant against radio and its effect on society is brilliant. This was before TV, Internet, and all the other technological gadgets of today, but the dialogue and humor of the film does not feel dated.
Kenneth Geist, Cheryl Lower, and Christopher Mankiewicz (Joseph’s son) all provide commentary for the film.
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