Thursday, May 27, 2021

Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, and Ann Sothern receive “A Letter to Three Wives”

A Letter to Three Wives (1949) is an American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, and Ann Sothern. The supporting cast includes Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Jeffrey Lynn, Connie Gilchrist, Barbara Lawrence, and Thelma Ritter.

The film is based on the novel A Letter to Five Wives (1945) by John Klempner. Mankiewicz wrote the screenplay based on an adaptation by Vera Caspary (Laura). The cinematography was by Arthur C. Miller, with music by Alfred Newman. A Letter to Three Wives was one of Twentieth Century-Fox’s most important productions of the year.

The movie tells the story of a woman (Addie Ross) who sends a letter to three of her “dearest friends” (Crain, Darnell, and Sothern) informing them that she has run off with one of their husbands but not revealing which one. The letter is delivered while the women are getting on board a riverboat to chaperone a group of underprivileged children. While they cruise up the river and spend the day picnicking with the children, each wife reflects on her marriage and wonders if it’s their husband who has run off with Ross.

Linda Darnell, Anne Sothern, and Jeanne Crain

Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1929 – 1972) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. Mankiewicz won Academy Awards for directing and writing A Letter to Three Wives (1949), and All About Eve (1950). He is the only director to win back-to-back Academy Awards for writing and directing. Other films directed by Mankiewicz include Dragonwyck (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Julius Caesar (1953), The Barefoot Contessa (1954), and Guys and Dolls (1955). He directed the 1963 crisis-plagued production of Cleopatra which negatively affected his career as a director.

Jeanne Crain (1925 – 2003) was an American actress whose career spanned more than three decades. While still a teenager, she was asked to take a screen test with Orson Welles. He was testing for the part of Lucy Morgan in his production of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). She didn’t get the part (Anne Baxter did), but she was on her way. She had a bit part in The Gang’s All Here (1943) but had a leading role in Home in Indiana (1944). The film was a box office hit and Crain became a favorite of film fans everywhere. She had another hit with Winged Victory (1944) and co-starred with Dana Andrews in the musical State Fair (1945). That same year, she was the “good girl” opposite Gene Tierney’s “bad girl” in Leave Her to Heaven. More good roles came her way including leads in A Letter to Three Wives (1949), The Fan (1949), and Pinky (1949). The latter won her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. She lost that year to Olivia de Havilland. Crain’s popularity continued into the 1950s but suffered when she was released from her exclusive contract with 20th Century-Fox. She continued to work in films and on television until 1975.

Paul Douglas and Linda Darnell

Linda Darnell (1923 – 1965) was an American film actress. She signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox at age 15 and became a star almost overnight. She was immediately cast opposite Tyrone Power in Day-Time Wife (1939). She made two films with Power in 1940: Brigham Young and The Mark of Zorro. In 1941, she was again paired with Power in Blood and Sand, which also starred an up-and-coming Rita Hayworth. Darnell’s most famous role was that of Amber St. Clair in Forever Amber (1946), which turned out the be the biggest hit of the year. The role of Amber was the most sought-after female role since the casting of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). Other important films she starred in include Unfaithfully Yours (1948), A Letter to Three Wives (1949), and No Way Out (1950). She died tragically at age 41 in a fire while visiting friends in Glenview, Illinois.

Ann Sothern (1909 - 2001) was an American actress who worked on the stage, radio, film, and television. Sothern’s most commercially successful film role was as Maisie Ravier in a series of films while she was at M-G-M. Maisie, a Brooklyn showgirl was based on the short stories by Nell Martin. Films in the series include Congo Maisie (1940), Gold Rush Maisie (1940), and Up Goes Maisie (1946). The character was so popular that Sothern played the character on the radio in The Adventure of Maisie (1939 - 1947) series. At M-G-M, Sothern starred in the film version of Panama Hattie (1942) opposite Red Skelton, which was a box office success. In 1949, she starred in A Letter to Three Wives which brought her great reviews but did little to advance her career. In 1953, Sothern starred as Susie MacNamara in the television series Private Secretary, (1953 - 1957) and the next year starred in The Ann Sothern Show (1958 - 1961). Sothern continued working on stage, screen, and television. Her last film role was in The Whales of August (1987). For her role in that film, she earned her only Best Supporting Academy Award nomination.

Jeanne Crain, Jeffrey Lynn, Kirk Douglas, and Ann Sothern

A Letter to Three Wives trivia

  • Originally, the film was going to be called A Letter to Four Wives with the fourth wife being Anne Baxter, but her character wasn’t considered as strong as the other three so her segment was cut.
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the Best Director and Best Screenplay Academy Awards for his work on this film and would repeat the wins the next year with All About Eve. No one has ever achieved this feat.
  • One of Thelma Ritter’s early roles, so early in fact she doesn't even receive on-screen billing.
  • Tyrone Power, Joan Crawford, Gene Tierney, Dorothy McGuire, Maureen O’Hara, and Ida Lupino were all considered for roles.
  • Linda Darnell and Mankiewicz were involved in an affair during the production.
  • Darnell and Barbara Lawrence played sisters the year before in Unfaithfully Yours.
  • Silent film star Mae Marsh has a small role as the womens’ washroom attendant at the country club.

To watch the movie on YouTube, click on the link below.

Why watch this movie?

  • Another great example of what the studio system could produce at its peak.
  • One of writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s best films.
  • It’s a showcase for the talents of Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, and Ann Sothern.
  • It boasts early performances from Kirk and Paul Douglas and Thelma Ritter.

To join us for a discussion on Zoom, June 1, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click on the link here. Once you RSVP, you’ll receive an email with a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of the ensemble cast?
  2. Do you think this film is still relevant in the 21st Century?
  3. Did you have a favorite wife?
  4. A favorite scene or piece of dialogue?

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