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A Letter to Three Wives
A Letter to Three Wives
Actors: Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2005     1hr 43min

Joseph Mankiewicz's unique intriguing comedy stars Ann Southern, Linda Darnell and Jeanne Crain as three wives who must wait out a long day to learn which of them has lost her husband to another woman. Just as their boat ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Creators: Arthur C. Miller, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, J. Watson Webb Jr., Sol C. Siegel, John Klempner, Vera Caspary
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Love & Romance, Classics, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Format: DVD - Black and White,Full Screen - Closed-captioned,Dubbed,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 02/22/2005
Original Release Date: 01/20/1949
Theatrical Release Date: 01/20/1949
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 43min
Screens: Black and White,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, English
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

"Three Wives"-Truth, Compassion, Wit
Michael M. Wilk | Howard Beach, NY | 12/18/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

""A Letter to Three Wives" would probably bomb at the box-office these days because it isn't mawkish, vulgar, or depressing. Too bad! It's insightful without being depressing, compassionate without being maudlin, and razor-sharp funny without being sophomoric. In short, it is a film written and directed by an adult aimed at adults. "Three Wives" examines, with wit to spare, the importance placed on money, class distinction, and what women had/still have to deal with concerning the opposite sex, with a couple of jabs at entertainment,advertising, and consumerism thrown in for good measure. All of the performances are excellent, with a remarkable performance by the gorgeous Linda Darnell as a gold-digging dish (with a heart of gold) from the other side of the tracks. Also present are Connie Gilchrist and an unbilled Thelma Ritter,whose presence in a film always guaranteed howls of laughter. (Her roles were written with her in mind, by the way) "Three Wives" was unnecessarily remade, without the wit or charm, into a made-for-TV movie in the late 1980s, its only redeeming quality being Ann Sothern, one of the original "Three Wives" played a small role in it. To sum it up, "A Letter to Three Wives" is a delicious piece of apple pie, its ingredients being a brilliant, insightful script and direction, three beautiful women, and excellent performances-enjoy!"
An Amusing Satire of the Relations Between Men and Women
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 10/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Three suburban wives board an excursion boat to chaperone an all-day outing with a group of school children. Just before the boat leaves the dock a messenger arrives with a note for the three of them. It's from Addie Ross, an old friend who may not be much of a friend. "Dearest Debby, Lora Mae and Rita," she writes. "As you know, by now, you'll have to carry on without me from here. It isn't easy to leave a town like our town, to tear myself away from you three dear, dear friends who have meant so much to me. And so I consider myself lucky to be able to take with me a sort of memento, something to remind me of the town that was my home, and of my three very dearest friends, who I never want to forget, and I won't. You see, girls, I've run off with one of your husbands. Addie" For the next few hours, unable to get to a telephone, each of the three women can only reflect back on her marriage and wonder if she is the one who has just lost her husband. Only that afternoon when they return will they learn which husband Addie made off with.

There's Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain) married to Brad (Jeffrey Lynn). She was a small town girl swept away by a glamorous officer, who now lives a life of country club complacency. She has never lost her insecurity. There's Rita Phipps (Ann Southern) married to George (Kirk Douglas). She and her husband started out as school teachers. He still is but she is carving a successful and well-paid career as a radio soap opera writer. There's Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell) married to Porter (Paul Douglas). She wanted away from the other side of the tracks, and managed to make a marriage happen with the town's biggest businessman.

As they flash back, we learn a lot about each one of them and the state of their marriages. Hovering over everything is the presence of Addie. "That's Addie, for you," gushes Brad at one moment. "Always the right thing at the right time. Thoughtful and generous." "Generous to a fault," agrees George. "To a fault. That's Addie," say Rita, making a face. We never meet Addie, never even see her, but she keeps up a voice-over commentary with us that is amusing, a little malicious and wise about the ways of husbands.

By the end of the movie the three couples have learned a good deal about themselves and what's important. Addie indeed had run off with one of the husbands. And nonetheless the movie has a happy and satisfying ending.

Many critics think this is Joseph Mankiewicz' best movie after All About Eve. He won Oscars for best screenplay and best direction (and then repeated the next year for Eve). There are any number of good things about the film. The situation could have degenerated into melodrama but Mankiewicz' writing is so amusing and sophisticated it raises the game. It crackles with commentary on any number of issues, and most are still pertinent today. "I'm a school teacher," George Phipps says. "That's even worse than being an intellectual. School teachers are not only comic they're often cold and hungry in this richest land of ours." Try substituting "television writing" for "radio writing" and hear the zingers snap home as George offends a radio advertising executive. "The purpose of radio writing," he says, "as far as I can see is to prove to the 'masses' that a deodorant can bring happiness, a mouthwash guarantee success and a laxative attract romance." Mankiewicz' brief satire of a radio soap opera, "Another Day in the Notebook of Linda Grey, Registered Nurse," is almost as good as some of Bob and Ray's stuff.

All the actors do fine jobs, but particularly appealing, I think, are Ann Southern as Rita, Linda Darnell as Lora Mae and Paul Douglas as Porter. Unbilled and stealing scenes is Thelma Ritter as the Phipps' maid. Also unbilled but a key element in the movie is Celeste Holm. She does Addie's voice...warm, low pitched, amused, and not to be trusted if you're a wife.

The black and white DVD looks great. There are several extras, including a TV biography of Linda Darnell and a commentary track which includes two of Joseph Mankiewicz' biographers and his son."
Sharp, Funny, and Socially Savage
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 01/09/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Jeanne Crain was a very pretty girl, Ann Sothern was chiefly noted for her comic turns, and Linda Darnell was a memorable beauty--but although all three appeared in popular films none were particularly celebrated for their acting talents until Joseph L. Mankiewicz tapped them for the roles of three society wives in this poison pen letter to both sexes. Wickedly witty in script, and remarkably acid in tone, A LETTER TO THREE WIVES would put every one involved in the film firmly on the Hollywood map.Three society wives (Crain, Sothern, and Darnell) are committed to hosting a children's picnic on an isolated island--and as the ferry prepares to depart they receive a letter from town femme fatale Addie Ross (never seen but memorably voiced by Celeste Holm.) Addie informs them that she is leaving town forever... but has decided to take one of their husbands along as a memento. And each of the three wives, cut off from the outside world for the day, is left to wonder: when I go home tonight, will my husband still be there?During the day each of the wives recalls scenes from her marriage. Deborah (Craine) arrived in town as a pretty but very awkward farm girl fresh out of the navy and with a wardrobe consisting of a single and very ugly mail-order dress; she has never felt entirely secure. Rita (Sothern) is married to a schoolteacher, and has committed the unpardonable sin of becoming the writer of a popular radio show that brings her more money than her husband will ever earn. And Lora Mae (Darnell) was a beauty born on the wrong side of the tracks who connived her way into a wealthy marriage and now specializes in bickering with her gruff and boorish husband. And always they have been victim to Addie--a woman who "has class," who stings them with competition and evil wit, and who has their husbands eating out of her hand.Although the construction is artificial, the script is wickedly knowing, painting a truly subversive vision of American marriage and mores of the late 1940s. Of the three leads, Ann Sothern dominates with her spirited "Rita"--but Darnell has the best of the script, a series of manipulations and drop-dead quips and ripostes, and Crain is perfectly cast as the insecure beauty who is as out of place as a dove at a gathering of eagles. The supporting cast, which includes Kirk Douglas, Thelma Ritter, and Connie Gilchrist is remarkably fine as well. And before all is said and done, small town society gets raked over coals.If A LETTER TO THREE WIVES has a flaw, it is the same flaw that would trouble Mankiewicz's later and even more celebrated ALL ABOUT EVE: the point of view that a woman is ultimately nothing without a man, an idea that tends to limit the scope of the film and at times even belittle its characters. Some viewers may also be disappointed with the film's conclusion, which--although extremely ironic--lacks the sharp bite you might expect. Even so, this is a truly memorable and often very funny film, and one that deserves to be seen more often today than it usually is.GFT, Amazon Reviewer"
High Ho! Mankiewicz Delivers The Goods
Michael C. Smith | San Francisco, CA United States | 06/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The foundation of any great film is an even greater screenplay. In "A Letter To Three Wives" Joseph L. Mankiewicz achieved greatness as a writer first and a as director second. The screenplay sparkles with wit and humor and an edgy take on the modern world that is as up to date today as it was fifty-four years ago.
Joe was a great writer and a consummate wit; were he not in the movies one might think him an intellectual. (Hats off to his "Cleopatra"). He understood women and wrote some of the most complex, deep and exciting women on the screen. He gave them life on the page and then with his brilliant eye for casting and directing he brought them to life on the screen. Eve Harrington, Margo Channing, in "All About Eve". Maria Vargas in "The Barefoot Contessa", and his most complex of all his smart Cleopatra, a modern woman of politics and passion in an ancient setting.
The unseen Addie Ross, the clumsy Deborah, Rita the writer, and the smart and guarded Lora Mae are just a few of the gems Joe Mankiewicz presented to us in his Oscar winning "Letter". He brings out some of the best acting Jeanne Crain would ever do. She is both vulnerable and comic. Ann Sothern dominates the screen as a feminist ahead of her time. She cements the image that she would carry the rest of her career, that of a beautiful smart woman making it in a man's world. The stunning centerpiece to this work is the top-notch performance handed in by Linda Darnell as tough wrong side of the tracks Lora Mae. This is a great performance by an actress who herself felt she had little to offer as an actress. Here with the help of her writer and director Miss Darnell delivers the goods as no one else of her generation possibly could.
In a small role as Sadie Dugan, Thelma Ritter in her third film nearly steals the picture from all involved. Paul Douglas as Lora Mae's husband and meal ticket is at the top of his form. He matches Lora Mae word for word and punch for punch. And what a face he had! Kirk Douglas is right on the money in this early film of his career. The entire production is superb.
Darryl F. Zanuck always stressed the importance of good writing and good story at his studio, 20th Century-Fox and over the decade that "Letter to Three Wives" ushered in he gave us some great works. He hired some of the best writers and directors of the day to work at his studio. At the top of that list was Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Personal differences aside between the two men, they did some wonderful things together. With what Fox is now doing in it's incredible classics series on DVD, I hope they will devote some much needed attention to this classic film."