Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Girl Week 2016: A Letter to Three Wives, a guest post by Joel


It's Day 2 of Girl Week 2016! Back on Sunday, I mentioned I would have some help this week. That help comes in the form of super reader Joel. As always, I'm glad to allow him to use this space to further our collective movie knowledge. Today, he brings us a film that focuses on not just one, but three ladies. I'll let him take it from here.

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
1949. Not Rated, 103 minutes.
Cast:
Linda Darnell
Ann Sothern
Jeanne Crain
Kirk Douglas
Jeffrey Lynn
Paul Douglas
Thelma Ritter
Connie Gilchrist

A story of the friendship of three women and the unexpected conflict that enters their lives and marriages one Saturday. Overseeing a children’s island excursion friends Lora Mae (Linda Darnell), Rita (Ann Sothern) and Deborah (Jeanne Crain) await a fourth member of their circle, Addie Ross who is supposed to come along. She doesn’t show up but just as the boat is departing a letter arrives addressed to all three in which Addie informs them that she has left town…and oh by the way has taken one of their husbands with her but doesn’t say which one. Trapped for the day away from all communication the three reflect on their marriages and we see why they each might have reason to worry.

Has unsophisticated Deborah’s blueblood husband Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) tired of her and been swept away by Addie’s worldly charm? Could successful radio writer Rita’s schoolteacher husband George (Kirk Douglas) become feed up with the demands of her career and the feeling of being emasculated? Did wealthy Porter (Paul Douglas) finally have enough of his contentious relationship with the wisecracking wrong side of the tracks Lora Mae who he’s sure married him only for his money?


Winner of best director and screenplay Oscars, both for Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the dialogue is witty and sharp, the situations wonderfully true and the performances by almost all exceptional. Modern technology has made the basic premise of three woman isolated from communicating with their husbands for a day pretty much obsolete but that just makes this all the more enjoyable.

All three segments are good but the second two are the strongest. The Sothern/Douglas vignette looks at the struggles between education versus crass commercialism, sadly contemporary even if now it is TV and the internet that is dumbing down the nation instead of radio as presented here. The last though is the real gold. Linda Darnell, giving a nomination worthy performance, and Paul Douglas share a cynical outlook and delivery which puts bite into every word and while it is mostly employed to comic effect beneath their hesitant defensive dance is an obvious feeling which each is too afraid to show. The supporting cast is small but each adds a special touch to the film. Perhaps most important to the success of the picture is the unseen Celeste Holm a perfect choice for the narrator, her silky, venomous delivery tells you all you need to know of the mantrap Addie Ross. A great film superbly structured like a jigsaw puzzle that never lets interest in the characters lag for a minute.


Thanks to all of yesterday's contributors. Click below to read their posts.



14 comments:

  1. Thanks Joel for putting this movie on my radar. I've never heard of it before but I have to say - I really want to know the outcome!
    - Allie

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    1. I can't recommend it highly enough! It's loaded with great dialog and one of the many terrific things about its structure is that while each couple get their spotlight vignette the other two couples are woven into those so you really get a feeling that the six of them ARE friends involved in each other's lives. This was Mankiewicz's lead up to All About Eve.

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  2. Joel! I NEED this movie in my life!!! I almost saw it a few years ago when I 'thought' I set it to record on my DVR and then realized that it was 'Letter From an Unknown Woman'. I will get on this one soon. Your love of Darnell has brought her into my life (as you know) and for that I am eternally grateful!

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    1. Knowing your love of this type of film I can say with assurity that you're gonna be crazy about the movie. I'll be anxious to hear your thoughts on it!

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  3. Dell,

    The post looks fantastic! That forlorn last picture is so perfectly placed!! Thank you for letting me participate.

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    1. No problem. Glad you've given me so much content to work with. Thanks to you, the rest of the week looks great, too!

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  4. I'll have to look into this film, I haven't seen it. Great post, Joel!

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    1. Thanks! Definitely do track it down, it is shown pretty regularly on TCM and a few other stations, I've recommended it to many friends and they all really liked it.

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  5. I love this movie! It has 3 great, strong female leads and it is a great study on human characters and relationships. It is done honestly with all 3 wondering about their husbands. Even though we never see Addie, she almost steal the movie! Poor Linda Darnell was so good in this film but never taken completely seriously. Booze got into her life and she died too young from burns suffered after falling asleep(passing out) with a lit cigarette

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    1. Happy to see you love this too. It is a great film, so well constructed and acted. I don't know about stealing the film, the other performers are so strong, but Celeste Holm's contribution as Addie is priceless to the success of the movie. Without her silky/snide narration Addie would just be a concept that the audience couldn't understand and wouldn't know the real threat she presented.

      The fire that Linda Darnell perished in wasn't caused by her falling asleep with a cigarette but was determined to be from some sort of electrical short. She, the woman whose house she was visiting, her former secretary, and the woman's daughter had all retired for the night to the second floor bedrooms-they had stayed up late watching one of Linda's early films, Star Dust, when they were awakened by smoke. Both the woman and her daughter climbed out on the ledge but Linda was afraid of falling-she apparently had weak wrists and ankles-and decided to try to exit out the front door but became trapped. She did have a drinking problem but according to her secretary they hadn't been drinking that evening. A very sad end for a talented but underappreciated woman.

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    2. ahhhhh-I have read in my books that it was due to a cigarette! I did not know this at all but I know some of my books are older when they may have written what was gossip and not fact. Good to know!

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  6. Truly, it is such a perfect script that one almost weeps with joy. There is a reason some movies become classics and it starts with the words.

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    1. That's so true and Mankiewicz was right in the thick of his most fruitful period. Of course you need people who can add the necessary punch to those words and he has a cast full of them here.

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