Want to view a great romance-drama that keeps one guessing at what the outcome will be until the end? 20th Century Fox’s 1949 film A Letter to Three Wives is that movie! It was based upon a novel, A Letter to Five Wives, that appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1946, written by John Klempner. Fox bought the rights to that novel and Joseph Mankiewicz wrote the screenplay and cut down the number of wives facing a dilemma in the movie from 5 to 3. Mankiewicz also directed the film, for which he won Best Director at the Academy Awards. The movie also won Best Writing, Screenplay, and it was a nominee for Best Picture.
The three wives are Deborah Bishop(Jeanne Crain-the reddish-haired actress on the film poster), Rita Phipps(Ann Sothern-the blonde), and Lora Mae Hollingsway(Linda Darnell-the brunette.) The movie opens as the three friends have arrived at a local boating launch by the river as the charity group these three ladies volunteer for is taking a group of poor children on a river boat ride and picnic. The three ladies are friends and are awaiting their fourth friend, Addie Ross, to appear as she also volunteered for the outing. Addie doesn’t appear( and in the film she never does, but her voice is in the film and it is supplied by Celeste Holm, doing an excellent job of taunting her three friends with her words.) A letter is delivered to the three friends at the river’s edge and the letter is from Addie. She has written to inform her friends that she has run off with one of their husbands! Her letter doesn’t reveal who’s husband she has managed to snag and it is at this point that the movie goes into a flashback, explaining how the three marriages became troubled.
First we see Deborah’s marriage. Deborah grew up on a farm. Her first real contact with the outside world was through her experience as a WAVE in the U.S. Navy during World War II. There she met her husband Brad,(played by Jeffrey Lynn.) Brad is from an upper-middle class family and after their wedding, Deborah is uneasy trying to adapt to her husband’s upper crust social circle of friends. Adding to Deborah’s unease is the fact that all of Brad’s friends expected him to marry Addie Ross!
Second in line of troubled marriages is Rita’s. She is not only a wife and mother, but she has a career, writing stories for radio soap operas. Her husband, George,(a young Kirk Douglas in an early movie role), is a school teacher and it doesn’t sit well with him that his wife earns more money than he does. He is also frustrated with Rita as she has a very demanding boss who Rita can’t seem to ever say no to. Rita also remembers that she forgot her husband’s birthday due to a dinner party she had to throw for her boss, and the only reminder for Rita came in the form of a lovely present for George from, guess who? Addie Ross!
The third marriage in peril belongs to Lora Mae. She grew up poor, right next to the proverbial railroad tracks. She manages to get a job as a secretary working for one of the wealthiest men in town who owns a statewide chain of department stores. He is older than Lora Mae, and is divorced. Mr. Porter,(played by Paul Douglas), falls for Lora Mae and she does become wife #2 for him. Lora Mae remembers that after one of her and Porter’s dates, she saw a picture of Addie Ross on his piano and she demanded it be removed, that she wanted her picture on Porter’s piano.
There is a dance at the Country Club later in the evening where all three couples are scheduled to meet for dinner, and it is there that the reveal is made. I won’t make that reveal, of course, as I want my readers to seek out this film. A Letter to Three Wives is shown on Turner Classic Movies from time to time and it is also available to rent through Netflix and Amazon’s instant rent feature. There is also a trailer for the movie on Youtube and a couple of scenes from the movie, too. If you do watch the trailer, it is depicted as a comedy but as I have seen the movie, it is much more of a drama, leading the audience to wonder just who’s husband has Addie run away with?
A Letter to Three Wives is a great classic film, with gorgeous cinematography, an intelligent plot, excellent acting all throughout not only by the leads but also by the supporting actors and actresses, too. Seek this movie out!