“I’m fed up with Addie Ross!”
Three small-town wives (Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, and Linda Darnell) in post-WWII America each worry that their husband (Jeffrey Lynn, Kirk Douglas, and Paul Douglas) may have run off with one of their “friends” (Celeste Holm).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Ann Sothern Films
- Celeste Holm Films
- Feminism and Women’s Issues
- Flashback Films
- Jeanne Crain Films
- Joseph L. Mankiewicz Films
- Kirk Douglas Films
- Linda Darnell Films
- Marital Problems
- Paul Douglas Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “sharp-edged yet ultimately sentimental look at three marriages in a small American town” — co-written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz — is “stagy, almost like three one-act plays put together” but “perceptive” and possesses a “literate, Oscar-winning script” which makes us “care about the characters” (who, he argues, “would be ideal as the initial characters in a TV soap”). We’re kept in suspense from beginning to end as we wonder which of their three husbands will turn out to be the adulterer who has run away with the unseen yet seductively voiced “Addie Ross”. The film’s three flashback vignettes each provide a glimpse into unique marital challenges of the era: former-WAVE Crain is insecure about transitioning from her pre-war life on a farm to her new role as a socialite wife; Sothern worries that her work as a successful radio writer may be threatening her cultured husband’s sense of masculinity; and Darnell reflects on the seductive wiles she used to climb the social ladder and snare her boss as her husband.
As in Mankiewicz’s next two movies — All About Eve (1950) and People Will Talk (1951) — A Letter to Three Wives not only features strong female protagonists but directly addresses feminist issues (work, identity, marital insecurity) not commonly on display in other films of the era. It’s notable that while Sothern is the overworked mother of twins, we never see them; the focus is entirely on her role as a writer painfully aware of how her success is impacting her marriage. The most intriguing storyline, however, is that between Darnell and Douglas: co-screenwriters Mankiewicz and Vera Caspary pull no punches in their depiction of a beautiful woman all-too-aware of the games played between men-of-means and working-class women, and how carefully Darnell must lure Douglas into marrying her in order to bed her. Collectively the three wives’ stories tell a fascinating tale of post-war lives for (white) American women.
Note: This film is also noteworthy for providing uncredited Thelma Ritter with one of her first post-Miracle on 34th Street (1947) wisecracking sidekick roles.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas as Lora Mae and Porter Hollingsway
- A witty, suspenseful script
- Creative use of sound
Yes, as an enjoyable mid-century classic.