A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

A Letter to Three Wives
Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern and Jeanne Craine

'A Letter to Three Wives' is a dazzling film comedy/drama made in 1949, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas. The film deals, in a very amusing and entertaining way, with the nature of female rivalries and how they can dramatically affect relationships. The film was based on the novel by John Klempner, "A Letter to Five Wives" but two wives were lost and many other changes were made by Mankiewicz in adapting it for the screen.

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'A Letter to Three Wives' has been overshadowed by the success of Mankiewicz's magnificent 'All About Eve' which he made the following year, but on release it was a great success, winning Mankiewicz two Oscars for writing and directing, (he was to win the same two awards for 'All About Eve') and being nominated for Best Picture, losing out to 'All the King's Men'.

The film stands up well on viewing today and its witty dialogue and superbly comic situations are as entertaining today as when first written. Another reason for the film's strange upstaging is the lack of success that the stars, other than Kirk Douglas enjoyed. All the other main players had successful careers but none of them became headline names.

The plot of the movie is based on the premise that three wives, played by Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern and Linda Darnell, going on a cruise day-trip as chaperones to underprivileged children, receive a letter from a mutual friend Addie Ross who boasts that, whilst they're away, she will be running off with one of their husbands. The question is, which one?

We never get to see Addie Ross but get to know her well through her voice-overs, done brilliantly by Celeste Holm. During the course of the day each woman assesses her marriage and recalls events that might have put it in danger, and each one, together with the audience, anxiously waits for the denouement at the end of the day. The narrative of the story is perfectly paced as the lives and problems of each couple are disclosed in flashback. There is a wonderful resoution at the end which I shall not spoil by describing it.

After more than 60 years some aspects of the film appear dated but this is more than made up for by the supeb performances and sparklingly witty script. All of the principals are excellent. Crain, Darnell and Sothern, as the three wives, all give terrific performance as do Jeffrey Lynn, Paul Douglas and Kirk Douglas as their respective spouses. They receive excellent support from Thelma Ritter, and Connie Gilchrist who also function as necessary comic relief to lessen the tensions arising from the main story.

In all, this is a wonderful movie. A great script, a great cast and, above all, it does what its supposed to do - it entertains.

Main Cast

Jeanne Crain ... Deborah Bishop
Jeffrey Lynn ... Bradford "Brad" Bishop
Linda Darnell ... Lora Mae Hollingsway
Paul Douglas ... Porter Hollingsway
Ann Sothern ... Rita Phipps
Kirk Douglas ... George Phipps
Barbara Lawrence ... Georgiana "Babe" Finney
Connie Gilchrist ... Mrs. Ruby Finney
Florence Bates ... Mrs. Manleigh
Hobart Cavanaugh ... Mr. Manleigh
Thelma Ritter ... Sadie (uncredited)
Celeste Holm ... Addie Ross (uncredited voice)


Director ... Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer ... Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay ... Vera Caspary, Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Adapted from ... The novel by John Klempner
Music ... Alfred Newman
Cinematography ... Arthur C. Miller
Format ... B & W
Production Company ... Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release date ... January 20, 1949
Running time ... 103 minutes

Academy Awards

Two Wins:
Best Director ... Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Best Writing, Screenplay ... Joseph L. Mankiewicz
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Picture ... Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation