Friday, October 30, 2009

A Letter to Three Wives

A Letter to Three Wives (1949) was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starred Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain and Ann Southern.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and won the Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay.

A flirt, Addie Ross writes a letter to Deborah (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) and Rita (Ann Southern). They receive the letter just as they are boarding boat to take the town's children to an all day picnic. The letter says that Ida is leaving town and leaving with one of their husbands.

We learn through flash backs about the three woman and their lives and their husbands and about Ida Ross.

First we learn that Deborah is a farm girl who met her husband, Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) while they both were serving in the Navy. They meet and fall in love and Deborah returns to her husband's home. Deborah is scared to death of meeting Brad's friends as she will be the outsider and she is a farm girl and they all seem so sophisticated. Rita, Brad, George (Kirk Douglas) and Addie grew up together. Addie is an old sweetheart of Brad's. Deborah has one to many drinks before the country club dance and feels out of place in her four year old dress. At the dance, Deborah learns more about Addie. Porter (Paul Douglas) and Lora Mae's husband, says Addie has "class." Deborah's dress is torn in a most embarassing moment and she seeks solitude in the women's dressing room as the maid stitches back of her dress and Rita gives her reassurance and support. Deborah returns to the dance and sees her husband talking to Addie. We do not see Addie, as she is blocked by a tree and all we see is her husband laughing and a woman's arm holding a cigarette.

Deborah wonders if it is her husband that Addie has run off with. Addie and her husband are old flames. Her husband left that morning for a business trip to the city with an overnight bag. The dress he had picked out for her for this year's dance is one that Addie also wore recently. Is it her husband, she wonders?

Next we learn about Rita and George, childhood sweethearts. George is a school teacher and Rita writes for a radio show. Rita's flashback is about a dinner party attended by Rita's bosses, Lora Mae and Porter. Although a happy couple, George is upset about Rita putting on a show for her bosses like making their maid Sadie where a maid's uniform. George receives a gift from Addie with what appears to be a romantic note and we learn it is also George's birthday, and Rita has forgotten. The gift is a Braham's record recorded in Vienna before the war. When the recorded is accidently damaged by Rita's boss, George stews and brews. George finally blows up at Rita's boss and Rita.

We learn that George feels somewhat somewhat emasculated since she earns a substantial portion of the household income. We also learn George does not approve of radio stories as a form of entertainment. As he tells Rita's boss in a delightful quote "The purpose of radio writing, as far as I can see, is to prove to the masses that a deodorant can bring happiness... a mouth wash guarantee success and a laxative attract romance. " Rita, wonders if it is her husband. George left that morning in a suit and did not say where he was going. He always fishes on Saturday, where could he be going all dressed up? Did he leave with Addie?

The final flashback is about Lora Mae. We learn Lora Mae is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who married her boss, her much older boss. Lora Mae, her sister and her mother live in a tiny apartment near the railroad tracks and their apartment shakes violently when a train goes by. Lora Mae and Porter's courting is a strange one with her playing hard to get. While on their first dinner date, they run into George. George says that he and Rita are having dinner with Addie. Porter becomes very distracted and we can tell he is interested inAddie and they leave the restraurant. On a later date at Porter's house, Lora Mae stars at a photo on the piano, the photo is of Addie. Lora Mae wants to be the queen in the silver picture frame on the piano. Frustrated with Porter, she breaks off the relationship. New Years Eve, Porter comes to Lora Mae's house because he can't stop thinking about her and asks her to marry him even though he has been married before and does not wish to marry again.

During Rita and Deborah's flashbacks we also learn that Porter and Lora Mae's marriage is a strange one. Lora Mae loves to dance and Porter would rather sit at the table and drink. They also bicker frequently. He is a bit older and "knows all the answers," as she sarcastically tells him. The couple has never gotten along but obviously share a bond. Lora Mae wonders if it is her husband that Ida has run off with.

The women return home from the picnic and each hesitantly goes home to find out which of their husbands have run off with Addie.

This film also includes a delightful performance by Thelma Ritter who plays Sadie. She is George and Rita's maid and also an old friend of Lora Mae's mother and is featured in both Rita's and Lora Mae's flashback scenes.

We never see Addie Ross, her voice in narrating the film is provided by Celeste Holm. The film's technique of never showing Addie Ross is delightful. You have an image in your mind of what she looks like based on her voice and the men and women's reactions to her and the way they speak of her.

I enjoyed this movie. It has an excellent cast and excellent script. I highly recommend this movie for those who have not seen it.

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