Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Letter To Three Wives (1949)


“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.”

            One of my favorite plot devices of storytelling is flashbacks especially in films. I love seeing what drove the people to their current situation. I just love knowing what is going on in a character’s head. A Letter to Three Wives is an interesting story mostly told through flashback. It centers around a woman who has connections to the husbands of the three wives.  
            Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell), and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern) and their husbands have been friends for years. One Saturday they are taking a boat trip to a camp ground volunteering for underprivileged children. Each woman is worried about their husbands going away or doing something out of their normal Saturday routine. They wonder about their husband’s activities but they are not necessarily worried until they are given a note at the dock. The letter is addressed to all three of them and is from their friend Addie Ross. In the letter Addie tells her friends that she is leaving town for good… and taking one of their husbands with her.
            On the boat each woman flashbacks to a time when Addie Ross was mentioned in their lives and their husbands were not too happy.
            Deborah remembers her first day in town. During the War she had served as a WAVE where she met her husband Brad. That night he wants her to come with him to a party at the country club. Deborah is nervous because she is from a small farm town and does not have a nice dress. She thinks she is going to embarrass herself in front of everyone. Rita and her husband George (Kirk Douglas) come to the house to go with Brad and Deborah to the party. Brad tells Rita that Deborah is a little nervous. Rita goes up to see Deborah and try to sort out her dress situation. Deborah accidentally cuts off the flower in the front of her dress and puts a hole in the dress. At the party Deborah drinks more than she is use to. She gets dizzy while dancing with Brad and has to run to the bathroom. To make the whole matter worse the flower of her dress comes unraveled and the hole is exposed. Rita helps Deborah fix herself out and return to the party. When Deborah looks for Brad she finds her husband outside on the balcony talking to Addie Ross. Before the War Brad and Addie were close having known each other since they were kids and most likely going to marry each other.    
            The next flashback comes from Rita. Rita works writing radio programs for an advertising company. George is not thrilled with her job. She works until all hours of the night and as an English teacher does not think the type of writing she does is real literature with significant stories. One night Rita has her boss come to the house for dinner. She is in a frantic mood all day worrying about what their maid is going to cook and how the maid will talk. The doorbell rings. A delivery boy brings George a record. It is his birthday that day and Rita completely forgot. She feels terrible. The record is a classic recording from before the War. Addie got it for George. He is so happy with the record. Lora Mae and her husband Porter come over. Porter runs a store and Rita thought it would be good for him to come over to see if her boss could advertise his store. The night does not go as planned. Poor George gets his record broken by Rita’s boss when she excitedly wants to listen to her radio program. After the program George is furious with the boss and the program. He cannot understand why this show is so popular with its awful lifeless plot.
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            The last flashback comes from Lora Mae. When she first started going out with Porter she was a salesgirl in his store. He had asked her out. Lora Mae saw her relationship with Porter as a way to get out of her poor life. She lived with her tough as nails Irish mother and younger sister. Lora Mae does her best to act like a lady and to get Porter to treat her as such. Porter though is not a typical man. He is rough and ignores (or maybe does not notice) Lora Mae’s playfulness and teasing. She goes to his house one night. She sees Addie’s photograph in a frame on his piano. Lora Mae tells Porter she wants her photograph on a piano in her own home. Porter tells her he is not the marrying type. With that Lora Mae breaks things off and goes home. On New Year’s Eve, Lora Mae is home by herself. Porter was supposed to go to Addie’s house for a party instead he went to Lora Mae to tell her he loves her and will marry her. Now their relationship is not very happy they hurl insults at each other constantly without either batting an eye.
            That night after their trip they have a party to go to at their club. Rita finds George home as does Lora Mae with Porter. Deborah goes home to the butler telling her that Brad will not be home that night. She thinks Brad has run away with Addie. That night at the party Porter tells George that he thinks Lora Mae does not love him. George lets him know that Lora Mae is crazy about him. Deborah thinking Brad has run away is a bad state. She gets up and announces her belief. Porter grabs her hand and tells her that he was the one who was going to run away with Addie Ross but he loves Lora Mae too much. He turns to Lora Mae and tells her that based on what she has heard with a witness standing by that she has grounds to divorce him. Lora Mae says she did not hear a thing and he gets up to dance with her.
            I liked Ann Sothern and Linda Darnell in their roles. Ann Sothern, up to this point, I have only ever seen her in her comedic roles in the Maisie series. I thought her dramatic acting was great she was very versatile. Linda Darnell I believe I have only seen her in one film before this and her role was small. She was perfect for her character. Lora Mae was a tough girl with a tough attitude and Darnell did a great job. Jeanne Crain I was not too thrilled of. Apparently 20th Century Fox wanted Crain to play Eve Harrington in All About Eve but Joseph Mankiewicz said she was not much of an actress even though he liked her. I cannot blame him for saying Crain was not much of an actress. Compared to Sothern and Darnell, Crain was not that great. And if you are wondering who the voice of Addie Ross is… take a look on IMDB under the trivia section for the film.
            Vera Caspary, author of the book Laura in which the famous Film Noir is based off, wrote the screenplay for A Letter to Three Wives. It definitely has a touch of Caspary’s wit and intelligence. The story this film plays out very much like the film and book of Laura and I love both book and film version.
            A Letter to Three Wives is a good film. It is dark, dramatic, and, at times, humorous. The film won Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards. It definitely deserved both. A Letter to Three Wives allows you to get into pretty much every character’s head and in turn the characters and the story stay in your head. This is definitely one of the best classic films I have seen and highly suggest seeing it.