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A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
Reviewed on 2011 August 27
A great old classic, with lots of dialogue that has as much relevance today, about a town — well, what you'd call her depends on your perspective; that’s a lot of what makes this work — that decides to cause a ruckus among three of her peers.
The movie opens in AnyPrettyTown, USA. We never get the name of the place but we hear all about it from a narrator. The three couples we follow live on the “right” side of the tracks. Deborah and Brad Bishop (Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn) are a striking young couple, though Deborah feels uneasy trying to blend into her husband’s social circle. Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern) and her husband George (Kirk Douglas) are more established in town, while the third couple is the most unusual: rich businessman Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas) and his wife who crossed over from the wrong side of the tracks, Lora Mae (Linda Darnell). The three wives get along well, and have one thing in common: their dislike of another woman in their circle, a character named Addie Ross, who we never see (but who is beautifully voiced by Celeste Holm). We learn Addie is also the narrator, and she dryly notes that if the women didn’t talk about her, they’d have little to talk about.
To be fair, the other wives probably wouldn’t go on about Addie if their husbands could shut up about her for a night. They probably got sick of hearing about Addie’s supposed grace, class, charm, insert euphemism here. “Always the right thing at the right time,” gushes one of them. Uh huh. Like most human scorpions, Addie strikes when her prey is at low ebb. When Deborah is feeling most insecure in this new life, when Rita and her husband have the most stress over her career, when Porter wonders if his wife really loves him — that is when Addie sends her three “dearest friends” a letter saying she’s skipping town with one of their husbands. A little souvenir of her life in the old town, as it were.
It’s a powerful movie that can get you to despise a character that isn’t even on camera. I don’t know if you could do a movie like this today; for one thing, today someone as obnoxious as Addie would probably flip out her Blackberry and text something like “lolz! i can haz your husband? kthanxbai!” A lot of the witty lines still work though, and a lot of the observations about marriage and human nature still hold true. It’s fascinating to hear the different way the men and women view Addie. What could have been a frothy soap-ish mess was wonderfully directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, and the acting was very good too. My favorite sequences were the ones between Lora Mae and the gruff, smitten Porter.
Four chocolate morsels.