A LETTER TO THREE WIVES
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
Jeanne Crain as DEBORAH BISHOP
Linda Darnell as LORA MAE HOLLINGSWAY
Ann Sothern as RITA PHIPPS
Kirk Douglas as GEORGE PHIPPS
Paul Douglas as PORTER HOLLINGSWAY
Barbara Lawrence as GEORGINAN ‘BABE’ FINNEY
Jeffrey Lynn as BRADFORD ‘BRAD’ BISHOP
Connie Gilchrist as MRS. RUBY FINNEY
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
BY KEVIN CARR
While I’m a film fan, I’m not as well-watched as I should be, especially when it comes to films released before I was born in the 1970s. I tend to catch up on a lot of the genre titles from earlier eras, but that’s mostly because this is where my casual interests lie. However, it’s the dramas – often the most famous ones – that have been left out of my repertoire.
“A Letter to Three Wives” is one of those classic films that has been all but forgotten to the modern generation. Fans of black-and-white dramas from the 40s remember it, sure, but it’s an easy one to slip through the cracks for a modern viewer. Of course, being a two-time Oscar winner helps it along, but having lost the big prize of Best Picture, it has become a bit of a footnote in Academy Award history.
Now “A Letter to Three Wives” has been released on Blu-ray, and it offers a chance for the modern viewer to see it in its pristine format. The story follows three women and their relationships with their men. An unseen narrator has sent a letter to the three of them, informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands. Throughout the film and told with flashbacks, we see the three different relationships and the challenges they face. The reveal for the end is whom has run off with the narrator.
“A Letter to Three Wives” is based on a story from “Cosmopolitan” magazine, back in a time when this now-advertising-heavy fashionista magazine printed full stories. As I understand, there’s been some changes from the original source material to the film, but since I haven’t leafed through any issues of “Cosmo” from the 40s lately, the changes go unnoticed (though they do seem to fall more in line with the Hayes Code than reality).
It plays out like a stage production, focusing on the three different relationships first. Each woman is beautiful but carries her own baggage. This offers a much more complicated and intricate plot than you’d expect from a lighter romance from this era.
The acting in the film is its strength, with Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell and Ann Sothern carrying the flawed protagonist focus. Unlike many films even today, there’s a lot more focus on the development of the women in this film while the men in their lives – played by Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas and Jeffrey Lynn – are really just window dressing. It’s this angle that makes the film most intriguing.
Still, at its heart, “A Letter to Three Wives” is a perfectly enjoyable film. It takes some time to get ramped up into the story, and the imperfect (and thus more real but not necessarily more appealing) relationships on display takes some time to get behind. However, overall, it’s a fine film that is worthy of its Oscar wins.
The “A Letter to Three Wives” Blu-ray comes with a commentary by Kenneth Geist, Cheryl Lower and Christopher Mankiewicz. There’s also a “Biography” featurette on Linda Darnell as well as a “Fox Movietone News” segment about the Oscars for that year.