Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1949
Directed by
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
103 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Letter To Three Wives. A

Although Mankiewicz won Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars for A Letter To Three Wives and it was, along with All About Eve (1950) his most successful film, it is now, unlike the latter, largely forgotten. This is probably because although it spoke to post-WWII America’s need for reassurance, its intrinsic merits are limited.

Based on a novel by John Klempner (the original story had five wives) it tells the story of three comfortably middle-class women (Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, and Linda Darnell)  who receive a letter from their mutual friend, the presumably (she remains unseen, her intermittent voice-over being spoken by Celeste Holm) glamorous Addie Ross letting them know that she has run off with one of their husbands. The film is divided into three main episodes with each wife recalling past episodes in their respective marriages as each wonders how they failed to satisfy their spouses.

Mankiewicz was well-known as somewhat of an Old World littérateur and although as a result we get some delicious swipes at the mores of his adopted country, for instance in Kirk Douglas’s rant about radio advertising, the script, if clever, is intensely wordy and gives the portrayal of modern middle class American life an overly staged quality

Whilst lacking the more stylish verve of Sirk’s comparable portraits of The American Dream there are also problems with the overall feel of the film which is in turn exacerbated by the casting. It is not apparent what, other than a script contrivance, makes these three women friends, whilst the idea that the group are held together by old school ties is rather vaguely handled.  In fact, they seem to be a highly disparate lot. Jeanne Crain is hardly convincing as a one-time farm girl (her husband, played by Jeffrey Lynn, is barely seen) whilst Kirk Douglas is improbable as a school teacher and bottle-blonde, Ann Sothern, better known for her brassy comedic roles, is an equally unlikely spouse for him (if anything she should have swapped roles with Darnell).

By far the best part of film is that devoted to gold-digging Lora Mae (Darnell) and her white-goods retailing husband, Porter (Paul Douglas), but this is largely down to Darnell herself in one of her best performances. Mankiewicz has a lot of fun with her part, particularly in the scenes involving Thelma Ritter and Connie Gilchrist, as her mother in the latter’s cold water flat next to a railway line.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst