A Letter To Three Wives (1949)

Just as they are about to take a group of less fortunate children on a riverboat ride and a special picnic, Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern) and Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell) receive a letter from their mutual friend Addie Ross informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands. 

However, she leaves them in suspense as to which one. 

This is the setup for A Letter To Three Wives (1949), and the main body of the movie describes in portmanteau fashion, how all three marriages are in fact strained, or in some difficulty or other.

This is the work of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, one of the more versatile talents in Hollywood at the time, and he even won a Best Screenplay Academy Award for this film.

This is one reason A Letter To Three Wives finds its way on to the Classic Film Noir website, but the reason it particularly appealed was the character of Linda Darnell.

Linda Darnell in A Letter To Three Wives (1949)

A Letter To Three Wives is not exactly what you'd cite as an example of 'a woman's picture', but there is plenty of she-based humour, drama and morality. There is something of a 'woman are silly' theme lurking in the early scenes of the film, although its not entirely black and white.

Addie Ross: She won't stay mad at him for long. She's too much in love. Pretty soon she'll be full of self-reproach. Ha ha! Women are so silly.

The scenery of the film is married life, and middle to upper class married life at that. And it fits in with the content of many 'woman's pictures' as this life is shown in the large from the female point of view.

Three Couples in Married Company in A Letter To Three Wives (1949)

Kirk Douglas (standing in the above picture) plays the husband of Ann Sothern. Together they are the squabbling couple whose marriage is falling apart because of her financial success as a radio soap opera writer versus his non-lucrative teaching career.

The background might be a standard 1940s Ladies Home Journal style of fiction and small town American attitudes about love, marriage, money and class. Roles might be fixed perhaps, but it is not a battle of the sexes, but it is a battle of some sort.

Porter Hollingsway: It's a man's world. Yeah! See something you want, go after it and get it! That's nature. It's why we're made strong and women weak. Strong conquer and provide for the weak. That's what a man's for! Teach our kids that, there'd be more men! 

Three Wives Read

Three Wives Ponder


A further theme is how modern technology has made women isolated from their husbands with communication being a problem.  The segment with Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn is the weakest of the three since they are the least charismatic performers.

However the theme of insecurity due to a perceived feeling of inferiority between partners in a marriage is highly relevant. Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas play well together and ably helped by the hilarious Thelma Ritter. 

Kirk Douglas in A Letter To Three Wives (1949)

Chops of  the hour go to Linda Darnell however,  may not at the time have been taken as a serious performer, although here she does plenty, including drama, comedy and pathos, as the cold woman seductress who learns to love.

Linda Darnell in A Letter To Three Wives (1949)

As an introduction to the conformist suburban culture of the 1950s,  A Letter To Three Wives is excellent. Despite there being no murders, shadows or criminality of any sort in this picture, that suburban backdrop




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