DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (director/writer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz; screenwriters: Vera Caspary/based on a novel by John Klempner; cinematographer: Arthur Miller; editor: J. Watson Webb Jr; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Jeanne Crain (Deborah Bishop), Linda Darnell (Lora Mae Hollingsway), Ann Sothern (Rita Phipps), Kirk Douglas (George Phipps), Paul Douglas (Porter Hollingsway), Barbara Lawrence (Babe), Jeffrey Lynn (Brad Bishop), Connie Gilchrist (Mrs. Finney), Florence Bates (Mrs. Manleigh), Hobart Cavanaugh (Mr. Manleigh), Thelma Ritter (Sadie), Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (Messenger), Celeste Holm (voice of Addie Ross); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol C. Siegel; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1949)

"A sophisticated and witty slice of life drama."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The observant Joseph L. Mankiewicz'  ("There Was A Crooked Man"/"Cleopatra"/"Sleuth") social drama makes some barbed comments about married life in a close-knit prosperous suburbs. It's based on John Klempner's novel. Mankiewicz and Vera Caspary write the creative script, and their sharp dialogue gives it some teeth.

A letter is addressed to three wives, Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern) and Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell), who are on the beach, awaiting to take a ferry ride, while attending an annual picnic in New York's affluent Westchester County. Each wife, via a messenger, receives a letter from their "best friend" Addie Ross (Voice of Celeste Holm), the community's most desirable woman, a classy socialite, announcing that she is running away with one of their husbands: but she does not say which one. Thereby each wife, in a flashback, recalls her relationship with her hubby. Deborah is an insecure small town farm girl who met during the war, while both were in the Navy, the town's most 'classy' man, Brad (Jeffrey Lynn), who was engaged to Addie and expected to marry her after coming home from his service duty. The poor girl is scared stiff of meeting hubby's elite suburban friends, afraid she won't fit in. Rita is married to the intellectual, Brahm's loving, low paid high school English teacher George (Kirk Douglas), and is the family breadwinner working as a radio writer and raising twins. They have a cheeky cook, played with zest by Thelma Ritter.  In the third flashback, the knock-out Lora Mae is from the "other side of the tracks," who is a working girl employed in one of Porter Hollingsway's (Paul Douglas) seven appliance stores and gets the older divorced man, a wannabe playboy, who vowed to never marry again, to marry her. Connie Gilchrist has a juicy part as Lora Mae's proud divorced Irish mother and Barbara Lawrence as her jealous baby sister. They live in a house that when the train passes by the whole house shakes.

The identity of the hubby Addie steals away isn't revealed until the final moments. This comes after the three marriages are put under the microscope and fully probed. The result is a sophisticated and witty slice of life drama, that has clever framing devices and is most entertaining.

In 1985 there was a TV remake that was dreadful.

REVIEWED ON 3/26/2015       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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