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A Letter to Three Wives

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JackFavell
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A Letter to Three Wives

Postby JackFavell » October 5th, 2009, 2:23 pm

Well, I just got done watching this movie, and it was quite a ride! Lean closer, girls, I am going to dish the dirt.

Before we get on to the juicy stuff, I just want to ask, why doesn't anyone write like this anymore? Did they ever? Or is Joseph L. Mankiewicz a figment of my feverish imagination? The script was bubbling over with one liners. The basis for the movie was an extremely strong storyline, the same as in All About Eve. Of course, that's an apt comparison since Joseph Mankiewicz wrote and directed both films. Within ONE YEAR of each other, in fact. Now the real question is why Letter to Three Wives isn't better known, and why Mankiewicz isn't a total household name.

The film had me curious from the first minute - that beautiful handwritten note in the lower left corner of the screen during the credits was tantalizingly mysterious. Of course, I love a good voice over, and Celeste Holm does the honors here. I was caught off guard by her delivery of the word, "dearest" as in, "two of my dearest friends". The stress on the word made it seem just a little bit phony. I started to look and listen closer to that voice over. I was drawn in, like a gossip is drawn into a conversation taking place behind a door left ajar.

Oh, yes, this film appeals to my baser nature - the side of me that wants to hear about that other mom, the snooty one with the nice clothes and the perfect hair, and how she got arrested for DUI the other day. It's like a train wreck waiting to happen, and the suspense is wonderful. I shouldn't get such a gleeful thrill out of it, but there it is. I do.

If you are going to have a gossipy story, you have simply GOT to have Thelma Ritter in the cast. She almost stole the show from the likes of Jeanne Crain, Ann Southern, Linda Darnell, Paul Douglas, Kirk Douglas, and Douglas Dumbrille. Actually Douglas Dumbrille was not in the cast.... I just got carried away with my Douglases. :lol: Connie Gilchrist, Jeffrey Lynn, the wonderful Florence Bates, Hobart Cavanaugh and Barbara Lawrence round out the cast. The production was top notch, with extremely high values. You could tell this gossipfest was going to be full of class....I like class. You like class? We hit the jackpot in this film - class plus money....plus dirt. An awesome combination.

The film starts with three married friends, Crain, Southern and Darnell, and, well, it's no accident that they cover almost the entire spectrum in hair color, because they represent us, the ladies of the moviegoing public. They also cover the spectrum financially. Farm girl Crain is married to young upper class Jeffrey Lynn. Radio writer Southern is married to middle-class but noble schoolteacher, Kirk Douglas; and lower-class Darnell has hooked herself a big fish - business baron Paul Douglas. The casting couldn't have been better - it's as if these people had sprung from the pages of the script fully realized. They are all friends.... the ladies share rides together, and they share something else.... a hatred of Addie Ross, a "friend" who happens to have been involved with all three of the gals' husbands at one time or another. Addie is looked on with something akin to adoration by all of the unsuspecting hubbies (Men are so stupid). ADDIE has class,we are reminded time and time again. She always does the right thing at the right time.... never makes a mis-step. Beautiful, so we're told, because we never actually see Addie, a conceit that works surprisingly well. I hated her myself.

The movie opens when the three wives receive a letter, just as they are about to embark on a boat to the annual picnic, on an island where there is no communication service. The letter is from Addie, and this is where I wish I had screen caps to show you her impeccable handwriting (for that alone I hate her). The ladies are informed that Addie has run off with one of their husbands. Always the thoughtful one, dear Addie neglects to tell them which husband it is. The three wives look nervously at the phone booth from the deck of the boat as they are pulling away from shore..... it's going to be a long day, full of worry, and with no answers till late that night. Each wife reacts in ways that are surprising.

I won't say too much more, because you really need to see it to find out which husband has transgressed. Yes, I am going to make you want to watch it desperately - I will torment your mind, giving you only little snippets of information .... I'll toy with you... for you see, I am Addie Ross! No not really... but you have to see this film. It's spellbinding, and incredibly fun, like a good schmooze with a girlfriend.

As each woman worries, we are treated to flashbacks in which each wife thinks of an event that might have led to the breakup of her marriage. It's a cautionary tale - we all could work on our relationships, try to make our husbands happier.... but until our marriage is threatened, do we really try? One of the most exciting aspects of the film was the music and sound.... used to great effect as an entry into the mind of each woman. A sense of foreboding is translated into the sound of a sink dripping, which then slowly becomes a sing-song phrase in the woman's mind, such as, "Why didn't George go fishing.....? " This phrase is then translated into music - a sort of talkbox (remember Peter Frampton?) distorted singing of that phrase slowly over and over....until we are suddenly in the flashback.

I can't say any more about the film.... please, just go watch it.... maybe it will give you some class, like it did me. :D

Your friend,
Addie

P.S. Watch your husbands, ladies....

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby MissGoddess » October 5th, 2009, 2:44 pm

It's a cautionary tale - we all could work on our relationships, try to make our husbands happier.... but until our marriage is threatened, do we really try?

Wow, Jackie, I had never thought of looking at the film that way, that is superb! You really are sharp. As sharp
as Addie's nails! :D

It's one of my favorites, a movie I can watch (or just LISTEN to) over and over. I agree the writing is
the apex of wit and sophistication and uniquely American. Mank manages to give each character
their own "voice" that absolutely expresses who they are.

Isn't if funny how today's technology (the cell phone) makes this story all but impossible?


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JackFavell
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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby JackFavell » October 5th, 2009, 3:23 pm

Wow, Jackie, I had never thought of looking at the film that way, that is superb! You really are sharp. As sharp
as Addie's nails!
:D

Meow!

I love that screen cap you posted... Thelma is just priceless in that scene and every other one she is in. Isn't it funny that as high class as Ann Southern wants to be, the one who Florence Bates REALLY connects with is Thelma?

I am amazed because she looks so young in this movie. Her scene with Ann Southern ("I know I'm not supposed to say Soup's on!") was CLASSIC! She had me cracking up over the smallest lines. She could spin a phrase in the most sophisticated way, and yet always stay within that very working class character.

Ann Southern was great as always in this film. I have turned into an enormous fan of hers. I totally sympathized with her working woman problems, and her wish for a better life. I don't think she hets enough credit as an actress, because she makes it look easy. And Linda Darnell, well, she was PERFECT. They were all perfect, but Darnell exceeded every expectation I had. It didn't hurt that she was playing against Paul Douglas, who is no slouch either. He is another of my favorites, I wish he had made a lot more movies. Darnell and Douglas were great at bickering ... a couple so right for each other that everyone around them could see it, but they couldn't. And isn't it interesting that of all the women, Darnell actually had the most class..... even if at first it was an act to get her what she wanted? She had the right blend of tough and tender.

I really enjoyed the problems these couples all had, because they seemed like such realistic ones, that sprung out of the situations they found themselves in.

I think it was Cinemaven who once said, "Is there anyone prettier than Jeanne Crain?" NO! Her scenes in which she combats her insecurity about her hair and clothes gave me hope... because Jeanne looked great in her old dress and her too curly hair. Maybe that means I look great too on those days when I want to cry looking in the mirror....

Naaaah.

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby MissGoddess » October 5th, 2009, 3:43 pm

JackFavell wrote:I love that screen cap you posted... Thelma is just priceless in that scene and every other one she is in. Isn't it funny that as high class as Ann Southern wants to be, the one who Florence Bates REALLY connects with is Thelma?

I am amazed because she looks so young in this movie. Her scene with Ann Southern ("I know I'm not supposed to say Soup's on!") was CLASSIC! She had me cracking up over the smallest lines. She could spin a phrase in the most sophisticated way, and yet always stay within that very working class character.


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Ann Southern was great as always in this film. I have turned into an enormous fan of hers. I totally sympathized with her working woman problems, and her wish for a better life. I don't think she hets enough credit as an actress, because she makes it look easy.


I agree, hers is my second favorite of the "trilogy". I can sympathize with both her and Kirk. Love Annie
in anything.


And Linda Darnell, well, she was PERFECT. They were all perfect, but Darnell exceeded every expectation I had. It didn't hurt that she was playing against Paul Douglas, who is no slouch either. He is another of my favorites, I wish he had made a lot more movies. Darnell and Douglas were great at bickering ... a couple so right for each other that everyone around them could see it, but they couldn't. And isn't it interesting that of all the women, Darnell actually had the most class..... even if at first it was an act to get her what she wanted? She had the right blend of tough and tender.


She makes me want to BE her, I admire her characterization so much!

(click to enlarge)
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I really enjoyed the problems these couples all had, because they seemed like such realistic ones, that sprung out of the situations they found themselves in.


They brilliantly distilled the essence of these classic and common family and social issues---if there is
one movie to which I would point to illustrate how well Mankiewicz understood women (American women,
especially) it would be this one.

Maybe that means I look great too on those days when I want to cry looking in the mirror....


I'm sure you're stunning. Why else would that Connecticut Mom have given you her back? :wink:


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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby JackFavell » October 5th, 2009, 3:49 pm

Oh my gosh, thanks or those caps! Florence Bates... that speech about the power of advertising on radio (or TV) was so hideous and still so true. Ugh!

Lovely shot of Darnell giving herself a run in her stocking.... I bet all the men in the audience were paying attention for that scene!

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby MissGoddess » October 5th, 2009, 5:48 pm

I love the whole diatribe on commercial radio and advertising, so relevant still.

Did you notice how Paul Douglas is so taken by Linda's first kiss that after
he lights his cigarette with the car lighter, he tosses it away like a match?
:lol: :lol:
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby mrsl » October 5th, 2009, 7:10 pm

Jack that was superb. I can hardly believe just this morning I wrote a couple of paragraphs on this movie. Did you see it? I adore this film and I'm always afraid I'm going to bore people with how often I refer to it, but it is so worth it. There are so many funny bits like the cigarette lighter, and that horrible dress of Jeannes', not to mention the train going by. But I particularly love your side comments like "I hate her", and the others. I found myself laughing so hard I was tearing, not only from my eyes :!: :!:

That is exactly what I meant when I said I love to see a movie I've seen countless times, critiqued like you did. I don't have that gift of description, and I so envy it. But I've learned to live with it, and just mention things that drew my interest. Did you want to belt that woman when she broke the record? Wonderful report on one of my very favorite women's movies. BTW, they did remake it in the 80's as a TV movie, and didn't come close to the charm of this one, just like The Women remake which was abominable.

.
Anne


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* * * * * * * * What is past is prologue. * * * * * * * *

]***********************************************************************

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby JackFavell » October 5th, 2009, 7:15 pm

Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! I missed the lighter! I am going back to watch it again.

mrsl - you actually inspired me to watch the movie with those paragraphs you wrote.... I meant to mention it, but I got carried away. I thank you for talking about it!

That last kiss, where Linda tells him that he might just have made the biggest mistake of his life? WAS THAT A KISS OR WHAT? And oh boy, she proved to him he HAD made the biggest mistake of his life! He knew it, we knew it.....God, I wish I could be that sure of myself, and know that I'm something special, like Lora Mae. I loved that about her. No matter where she was from, no matter what her life was like, she was proud. She had real confidence in herself. Just not in other people.

I'd be amazed if Paul Douglas wasn't a little puddle on the floor after that take.... and do you think he left work that day humming a tune? Maybe he took all his friends to the premiere so he could gloat.....

(Personally, I find Paul Douglas rather sexy, so I think Darnell had a good day too...but I understand he is not most girl's idea of a dreamboat.)

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby MissGoddess » October 5th, 2009, 7:19 pm

(Personally, I find Paul Douglas rather sexy, so I think Darnell had a good day too...but I understand he is not most girl's idea of a dreamboat.)

I kind of know where you're coming from with that. His sarcasm always gets me rolling
and I do find that attractive
.
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby CineMaven » October 5th, 2009, 8:06 pm

JackFavell writes:

"Oh, yes, this film appeals to my baser nature - the side of me that wants to hear about that other mom, the snooty one with the nice clothes and the perfect hair, and how she got arrested for DUI the other day. It's like a train wreck waiting to happen, and the suspense is wonderful. I shouldn't get such a gleeful thrill out of it, but there it is. I do."

Oh let's just be girls together and dish...dish.

"You could tell this gossipfest was going to be full of class....I like class. You like class? We hit the jackpot in this film - class plus money....plus dirt. An awesome combination."

This film fairly SPARKLED with wit, production values and those three leading ladies, my god...my god! The movie was
P E R F E C T ! :lol:

"The letter is from Addie, and this is where I wish I had screen caps to show you her impeccable handwriting (for that alone I hate her)."

Becuz I write calligraphy (and am not married), I love her. (I love the way she wrote the letter "M"). And it was a stroke of genius to NOT show Addie; the producers let OUR imagination do the work. Besides, who could be The Woman who could compete with Linda Darnell in that movie? (Well...maybe Rita Hayworth; they wouldn't have dared put Ava to compete with another brunette, could they?)

Jackaaaay, what a great write-up you did on this movie as O.P. You hit the right points with humor and great descriptive observation! (I loved how you described the sound motif Mankiewicz used. I'd have written two paragraphs while you write: "One of the most exciting aspects of the film was the music and sound.... used to great effect as an entry into the mind of each woman.")

* You're so right about Thelma. She is absolutely peerless!!! * I see the appeal of Paul Douglas; big ol' gruff teddy bear who would melt if you were nice to him. He was married to Jan Sterling, no slouch herself in the looks department. * The relationship that seemed the most real to me was Kirk & Sothern. And how futuristic, the wife being the bread winner and Douglas kind of being okay with it. (Wait till you see how he reacts to his wife in "THE DETECTIVE STORY." Whew, boy!) I liked Kirk's diatribe against media. This movie and "THE HUCKSTERS" remind me of each other in this respect. * I guess Jeanne & Jeffrey Lynn's relationship is not as bombastic as the other two, but I'm just taken by Jeanne Crain. I guess you could see this couple as the Military coming back into civilian life.

This is a great movie, and your write-up...superb!
"You build my gallows high, baby."

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby JackFavell » October 5th, 2009, 8:38 pm

Thank you so much, CM. I really appreciate your words of encouragement. I sweated over that OP, but I wanted it to look as if I hadn't. :D

I can't believe Paul was married to Jan (Ace in the Hole) Sterling. WOW. Maybe he didn't come home from the studio humming. Maybe he raced home from the studio to be with Jan!

Becuz I write calligraphy (and am not married), I love her. (I love the way she wrote the letter "M"). And it was a stroke of genius to NOT show Addie; the producers let OUR imagination do the work. Besides, who could be The Woman who could compete with Linda Darnell in that movie? (Well...maybe Rita Hayworth; they wouldn't have dared put Ava to compete with another brunette, could they?)


That's funny. I decided somewhere along the way that Addie had to be redhead... just to round out the group. I pictured her as blonde through most of the picture, though.

Really we should love Addie - she actually helps these women realize what is important to them, and strengthens their marriages.... though I don't think she meant to.

Alright, I'll admit something, since it's just us girls here. Shhhh. Don't tell. I was hoping it was Jeffrey Lynn because I thought he was kind of a jerk.... and beautiful Jeanne deserved better!

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby MissGoddess » October 5th, 2009, 8:45 pm

I didn't like Jeffrey Lynn, either. Never have.
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby JackFavell » October 5th, 2009, 8:57 pm

SPOILER, sort of

Jeanne should have ended as an Addie, single and discovering her own power and strength....

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby CineMaven » October 5th, 2009, 9:13 pm

Not like Jeffrey Lynn?? Wow!!! I was totally into this boy-next-door. Jeffrey, Richard Carlson and Richard Greene were my faves.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w065TOGMbYc[/youtube]

Okay...more for me, then.
"You build my gallows high, baby."

http://www.megramsey.com

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Re: A Letter to Three Wives

Postby mrsl » October 5th, 2009, 11:58 pm

I agree that keeping Addie out was a stroke of genius. It allowed our imaginations to run completely wild. As you said, who would you choose to play her if necessary? This way the viewer is wondering all through the movie what she looks like. All three women had awful moments and good moments in their little section. Jeanne had the glory of coming home to that beautiful house, I don't thing she understood until that moment just who her husband was. It must have been excruciating for Ann for her 'perfect' dinner to turn out being served on TV trays, but later her feeling of joy when her husband finally instilled in her the belief that she had nothing to prove to anyone, especially that dink of a boss. Finally, Lora Mae and (again), that train coming through when Mr. Big is picking her up, but at the end, realizing she meant more to her husband than she ever thought she would. I loved the conversation between Lora Mae and Ma just before Paul came into the room. Momma knew what she was talking about.
.
Anne


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* * * * * * * * What is past is prologue. * * * * * * * *

]***********************************************************************


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