A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

LetterToThreeWivesPosterThree women receive a letter from another broad who says that she left town and took one of their husbands with her as a memento. I was hoping that these three dames would be busting the head of every snitch in Gotham City trying to dig up some info on which man of theirs had taken a powder. I even thought there might be some kind of hair pulling slap fight between these chicks that would end with all of them crashing into a giant fountain in the middle of town.

Admittedly, two of them are almost bickering at one point during the film and one of the characters gets off a jewel of a line about how they were starting to act like they were in a movie about a women’s prison (we wish!), but what do these women do once they get the letter? They go off to a picnic for some children’s organization!

The bulk of the film then takes place as each woman wracks her brain trying to figure out if she was a crappy enough wife that it was her husband who ran away. First up is Jeanne Crain. She plays Deborah Bishop and is married to Brad. Aside from the fact that she married a guy named Brad, what sort of problems is she having that is putting her marriage in jeopardy?

Funny you should ask because she and I remember it as if it were just yesterday…(cue flashback). And it should be noted that director Joseph L. Mankiewicz even accompanies his flashbacks with funny noises. Oddly, the noise he selects is something that sounds like Peter Frampton’s talking guitar!

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Debbie and Brad met in the service and he brings her back to his hometown to live. All his fancy-pants friends live there including a really young Kirk Douglas! Debbie though is just a farm girl with low self-esteem and she copes with the worry of fitting in with Brad’s friends by drinking herself into a stupor. It doesn’t help matters that the dress she’s wearing is an ugly thing with giant flowers sewn onto it.

Kirk Douglas’ wife, Ann Sothern tries to comfort Debbie by having her cut the flowers off, but that’s botched and results in having to reattach the one in the front with a safety pin. Naturally it would later fly off onto some dude’s plate while everyone is out dancing increasing the number of stressors Debbie experienced that night.

Addie Ross also causes Debbie problems. Addie was Brad’s long time gal pal and she’s the one who sent the letter at the beginning of the movie. Addie was milling around during all this and even though the movie never shows her to us (another gimmick of the movie is that Addie is only partially seen, her face is never shown, and she provides a deity-like voice over describing all the action to us) we can surmise that she wasn’t wearing an ugly dress with flying flowers on it. So Debbie thinks that maybe Brad took off with a woman who didn’t camp out in a martini when the going gets tough and who knows how to dress.

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Next up on the couch is Rita and George Phipps (Kirk Douglas and Sothern). Rita writes radio dramas and George is a schoolteacher. George doesn’t make a lot of money, but he loves what he’s doing. Rita is an ambitious sort who wants George to get into the radio business with her. In an effort to accomplish this, Rita invites a pair of sponsors over to her house for dinner.

Things go into the crapper once the sponsors ask George his opinion on the quality of the writing on one of their most popular radio shows. George excoriates it and also drops a stinging monologue on them about how their radio programs and ads reduce life to a series of commercial opportunities.

So Rita is wondering if George is fed up with her shallow ways and has demonstrated his deep, thoughtful approach to life, by running away with Addie Ross. What’s his connection to Addie? Only that she actually remembered his birthday and sent him a record, while his wife only remembered to make sure that he wore his tuxedo to the dinner with the sponsors!

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Finally, Frampton’s guitar takes us back in time for the ugly courtship between Lora Mae Hollingsway and Porter Hollingsway. She’s a chickie not from the wrong side of the tracks, but right on the tracks (the house shakes violently whenever a freight train rolls by) and Porter is a big shot businessman. She wants a rich catch and he just wants a hooch. Eventually, she twists his arm into marrying her. Gee, I can’t imagine why she might be worried that he might be running away.

Surely after that rundown, you can’t find much to root for in that bunch. I suppose that you might feel something akin to pity for Debbie, but she needs to be getting her drinking problem under control to save her marriage and not worry about this Addie skank. The other two are just materialistic slugs and I was thinking that Addie Ross couldn’t really be that much worse for either George or Porter than their climber wives.

The fact that I didn’t give a crap who got run off with kind of tempered my enthusiasm for the film. Then there was the weak happy ending where everyone realized they really did love each other. So, I just sat through the Cliff’s Notes of three dull relationships for no reason? Thank you, gutless movie. For a little while, I was actually worried that someone was going to be experiencing long lasting consequences for their mercenary behavior and poor self-esteem.

© 2013 MonsterHunter

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