A Letter to Three Wives Blu-ray Review
In 2010, based on the grosses of one film, Emma Watson and Kristen Stewart were among the top 10 box office stars of the year. However, take away their respective HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT sequels and you’d never know they made a movie. I bring this up because in the 1940’s, in the dark days before sequels, the top 10 box office stars in each year of that decade included at least two women. In fact, twice that decade the top 10 was evenly split with 5 men and 5 women. It was much easier to make a film headlined by women then. Where today we have ten male driven action films for one THELMA AND LOUISE or FIRST WIVES CLUB, sixty years ago it was the norm. One of the best of these films has just been released on Blu-Ray, 1949’s A LETTER TO THREE WIVES.
As narrated by the unseen Addie Ross, the film introduces us two three very different women: Lora Mae Hollinsway (Darnell), Deborah Bishop (Crain) and Rita Phipps (Sothern). All three ladies are married and as a group are inseparable. Among their favorite things to do: talk about Addie Ross. All three of them are jealous of Addie for reasons strictly in their heads. Or so they think. On a day all four of them are to meet for a daytime boat cruise only three of them show up. While pondering Addie’s tardiness a messenger arrives with a letter. From Addie. She apologetically begs their forgiveness for not keeping the appointment and wishes them well. And for a post script she adds that she is running away with one of the ladies husbands. Heck of a way to spend the first Saturday in May.
Adapted by director Mankiewicz from the novel “A Letter to Five Wives” (the story goes that, to save money, the studio went with four wives but, when the production began to run behind producer Darryl F. Zanuck told Mankiewicz to “take out one of the wives), this is one of the best female driven comedies from the Golden Age of Hollywood. And that praise is due mainly to the outstanding cast of leading ladies, all who give strong performances. The film is told in flashbacks, so you can see how each woman and their husbands got together and their relationship to date. Lora Mae is married to Porter (Paul Douglas, in his film debut), the wealthy owner of a string of department stores. Rita’s husband, George (a suave Kirk Douglas) is a schoolteacher. Deborah’s husband, Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) comes from money. All three couples have problems. Deborah doesn’t feel comfortable around Brad’s “moneyed” friends; George is uncomfortable with the fact that Rita makes much more money than he does as a writer of radio scripts and Lora Mae feels people think of her as a gold digger for marrying the much older Porter who, at one time, was her boss. Watching how these relationships developed is part of the fun in watching as you try to deduce which husband, if any, will be home when the trip ends.
A LETTER TO THREE WIVES was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It didn’t win the big prize but Mankiewicz took home two Oscars, for Best Screenplay and Direction.
A LETTER TO THREE WIVES BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: The film is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The black and white transfer is sharp with no muting of the images. I must say that I have yet to see a bad video transfer in this series of 20th Century Fox releases.
Audio: Presented in both DTS Master Audio Mono and Dolby Digital 2.0, the sound is cleanly mixed. There is a lot of overlapping dialogue here and not a word is missed.
Commentary with Ken Geist, Cheryl Lower and Christopher Mankiewicz: A very in depth commentary featuring Mankiewicz biographer Geist, author Lower and the director’s son, Christopher. Their comments seem to have been recorded separately (there is no interaction) but the info provided is top notch.
Biography: Linda Darnell “Fallen Angel” (44:04): An outstanding episode of A&E’s popular “Biography” program detailing the very sad and short life of Darnell.
Fox Movietone News: Oscars Presented for Achievements in Motion Pictures (1:15): A short piece highlighting the winners of the 22nd Annual Academy Awards