A LETTER TO THREE WIVES [1949 / 2013] [65th Anniversary Edition] [Blu-ray] [USA Release]
All Of Them Wondered, While One Of Them Wandered!
Joseph L. Mankiewicz's timeless Best Picture Nominee and 2 Academy Awards® OSCAR Winner for Best Directing and Best Screenplay is even more intriguing on Blu-ray. Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell and Jeanne Crain star as three women whose boat trip is delayed when they receive a letter from a friend who claims to have run off with one of their husbands.
FILM FACT No.1: Awards and Nominations: 1949 Directors Guild of America: Win: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Gaston Glass (assistant director) (plaque). 1949 National Board of Review Awards, USA: Win: Top Ten Films. 1950 Academy Awards®: Win: Best Director forJoseph L. Mankiewicz. Win: Best Writing or Screenplay for Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Nomination: Best Picture. 1950 Writers Guild of America: Win: Best Written American Comedy for Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Vera Caspary.
FILM FACT No.2: Addie, who is never seen in the film, is voiced by Academy Awards® OSCAR Winner Celeste Holme. The film was adapted by Vera Caspary and Joseph L. Mankiewicz from “A Letter to Five Wives” a 1945 novel by John Klempner, which had appeared in Cosmopolitan. It was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who directed ‘All About Eve’ the following year.
Cast: Jeanne Crain, Jeffrey Lynn, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Barbara Lawrence, Connie Gilchrist, Florence Bates, Hobart Cavanaugh, James Adamson (uncredited), Joe Bautista (uncredited), Patti Brady (uncredited), Ralph Brooks (uncredited), John Davidson (uncredited), Sayre Dearing (uncredited), Franklyn Farnum (uncredited), Sam Finn (uncredited), Celeste Holm (voice) (uncredited), Stuart Holmes (uncredited), Wilbur Mack (uncredited), Mae Marsh (uncredited), George Offerman Jr. (uncredited), Thelma Ritter (uncredited), Cosmo Sardo (uncredited), Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer (uncredited), Charles Tannen (Radio Announcer) (uncredited), John Venn (uncredited) and Ruth Vivian (uncredited)
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (screenplay), Vera Caspary (adaption) and John Klempner (Cosmopolitan Magazine novel)
Composer: Alfred Newman
Cinematography: Arthur C. Miller (Director of Photography)
Image Resolution: 1080p (Black-and-White)
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English: 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French
Running Time: 103 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘A LETTER TO THREE WIVES’ is considered one of the screen's best treatments of marriage, offering inside looks at three suburban couples, each of whom represents a different side of the issue. The Bishops family, consist of Deborah Bishop [Jeanne Crain] and Brad Bishop [Jeffrey Lynn] are the typical post-war marriage of two naive young people who met when both were in uniform. The Phipps family consist of Rita Phipps [Ann Sothern] and George Phipps [Kirk Douglas] are a working couple, and are plagued by career conflicts, particularly the fact that she out-earns him. And the Hollingsway’s family consist of Lora Mae Hollingsway [Linda Darnell] and Porter Hollingsway [Paul Douglas] are an upwardly mobile couple held together by memories of their original sexual chemistry and fear of what a divorce could do to his business.
Each couples story also plays out in its own comic style. The unsophisticated Bishops family marital problems take the form of romantic comedy as Deborah Bishop tries to deal with her insecurities. Writer Rita Phipps [Ann Sothern] and teacher George Phipps [Kirk Douglas] move the film into the realm of high comedy as they cross swords with wit and he struggles to survive a dinner with her boss, the pretentious producer of a group of radio soap operas. Lora Mae Hollingsway [Linda Darnell] and her rough-hewn husband, Porter Hollingsway [Paul Douglas], represent a broader take on the battle of the sexes, though her taming of him during their courtship and the height of their emotions, from lust to anger to jealousy, gives their story an almost Shakespearean character.
Joseph L Mankiewicz’s ‘A Letter to Three Wives,’ dishes out some hard hitting good wisdom and advice. The wisdom is a tripled panelled comedy-romance, where the love is very volatile which can quickly. And the advice, angled mainly towards the ladies, is never to speak harsh words or such, to their true-loving husbands who may leave them and never return.
‘A LETTER TO THREE WIVES’ represents one of the most ingenious uses of the flashback in American film history. Director-writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz links the stories of the three marriages with recurring characters, visual motifs and sounds, with Addie Ross, the unseen small-town temptress, always somewhere behind the action. When this film became his first hit, Joseph L. Mankiewicz became 20th Century-Fox's top director. It also brought him the first of two pairs of Oscars® for Best Directing and Best Screenplay, the second set was for 1950's ‘All About Eve,’ a feat still unmatched. Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas gave their best performances as the battling Hollingsway’s family. The film also marked Kirk Douglas's big screen debut, after a successful Broadway run as junkyard tycoon Harry Brock in “Born Yesterday.”
Indeed, it is just such a prospect and the prospect of hubby taking off, which suddenly confronts the three wives of the title in the Music Hall's new film. Just as they're starting out one morning to take some kids on a river-boat picnic, these three country-club wives in a small town get a letter from a local friend. The friend very graciously informs them that she is eloping with one the husbands. Provokingly, however, she fails to tell them exactly what husband it is. And so, while these three anxious ladies are shanghaied all day with the kids, they have plenty of time to wonder and reflect on their married lives. The one who snagged her helpmate, while he was a sailor, and she has little more thandisturb her than the thought that she lacks sufficient "class." But the one who is a radio-writer and has been letting her mind get rather blunt has the disquieting realisation that she has fallen a bit beneath her spouse. And the third one, the hard-boiled gold-digger who deliberately roped her hard-boiled man and has the frightening knowledge that, while she loves him, they have each let the other down.
Thus, in the reflections of these ladies, Joseph L. Mankiewicz cleverly evolves an interesting cross-sectioned picture of the small-town younger-married set. And as writer as well as director, he has capably brought forth a film which has humour, scepticism, satire and gratifying romance. But the final romantic remembrance, that of the hard-boiled wife who is a taut and explosive piece of satire, as funny and as poignant as it is shrewd. And it is played with coruscating vigour by Linda Darnell in the gold-digger role and by Paul Douglas as the rough-cut big-shot whom she tangles with frank and ancient wiles. Indeed, this one rough-and-tumble between Kirk Douglas and Ms. Linda Darnell is deliciously rugged entertainment, the real salvation of the film. For in it are also included Connie Gilchrist as Ms. Linda Darnell's old ma and Thelma Ritter as a beer guzzling neighbour with remarkable and funny barbed things to say. And the verbal dexterity performances of these two, punctuated with rowdy backhand swipes, give a wonderful shanty-town setting to a vulgar yet pathetic romance.
But of course it wouldn't be fair to tell you whose husband it is that has run off with one of the husbands. But the outcome is thoroughly satisfactory and so is the film and a real tour-de-force brilliant film, which is a well-made psychological comedy of morals with witty dialogue and is one of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's best film, especially as each threatened wife reviews her marriage, we get, at best, a sharp, frequently hilarious look at suburbia, and, at worst, a slick series of bright remarks. Joseph L. Mankiewicz coaxed good performances out of Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell, and the others certainly didn't need coaxing and Paul Douglas is pretty close to magnificent, and Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Florence Bates, Thelma Ritter, and Connie Gilchrist are first-rate.
‘A LETTER TO THREE WIVES’ plays as the ingenious social satire of its time, and had Joseph L. Mankiewicz managing to insert his artistic sentiments and opinions primarily in the second flashback, particularly in George’s delicious diatribe that effectively deflates Mrs. Manleigh’s commercially crass pomposity. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s own opinion of radio stories dumbing down the masses, with an affliction frequently associated with movie culture of the day as referenced by those toiling in the “legitimate theatre” and would later be ascribed to the television age as well. Mankiewicz’s astute observations have since proven all too prolific in hindsight; especially of high cultural precepts both Joseph L. Mankiewicz and his fictionalized alter ego in the film, George Phipps, share.
‘A LETTER TO THREE WIVES’ endures as a great literary adaptation brought to the silver screen. Arguably, Mankiewicz’s revisions have improved upon John Klempner’s novel. In point of fact, the book and the movie are so different that one could easily consider each as a stand-alone entity rather than two halves derived from the same equation. Either way, the film deserves to be revisited by modern contemporary audiences today. It has Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s hallmark of great writing to be recommend and it has some very fine performances throughout the film. It also was the first film for which Mankiewicz to take back home the coveted Academy Awards® for Best Screenplay and Best Director, for the unusual film featherweight romantic comedy and deservedly so.
A LETTER TO THREE WIVES MUSIC TRACK LIST
WEIN, WEIB, UND GESANG, Op. 333 (Wine, Women and Song) (uncredited) (Music by Johann Strauss) [Waltz danced by Deborah and Brad at the country club]
AGAIN (uncredited) (Music by Lionel Newman) [Played when Deborah and Rita emerge from the ladies' lounge at the country club]
CRAZY EDDIE (uncredited) (Music by Charles Henderson) (Lyrics by Joseph L. Mankiewicz) [Advert played on the radio]
Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major, Op. 83 (uncredited) (Music by Johannes Brahms) [Played at the Phipps dinner party]
MY BLUE HEAVEN (uncredited) (Music by Walter Donaldson) [Played at the restaurant]
CHI MI FRENA IN TAL MOMENTO? (aka "Sextet" From "Lucia di Lammermoor") (uncredited) (Music by Gaetano Donizetti) [Played on the phonograph at Porter's house]
HONEY (I'm in Love With You) (uncredited) (Music by Richard A. Whiting) (Lyrics by Seymour Simons and Haven Gillespie)
Blu-ray Image Quality – The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully reproduced in conjunction with this totally stunning 1080p image presentation. Sharpness is superb throughout the film, apart from glamour close-ups particularly of Jeanne Crain, and there is great detail to be seen in the facial features, the detail of the women’s hair and especially seeing the weave on the men's suits. The grey scale is wonderfully realised with its crisp whites and inky blacks and the image is free from any age-related artefacts and virtually dust and scratch free.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio sound mix is more controlled and a bit tighter than the slightly louder 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track which is also provided. The dialogue has been well recorded and is always completely discernible, a good thing for a film in which what is said is so vitally important. Alfred Newman’s music film score has a reasonable amount of audio fidelity, and the audio track itself overall is free from any hiss or other age-related problems. The stereo track does offer a lovely spread for the Alfred Newman's film music score, but otherwise it does not offer much of a difference with the mono audio mix. As usual, it is your choice in what audio track you prefer to select to view this film.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary with Christopher Mankiewicz, Kenneth Geist and Cheryl Lower: With this particular audio commentary, it is totally brilliant and is so full of interesting and intelligent anecdotes, and the said three people in the recording studio, I call them “The Dynamic Trio” as they inform us of some fantastic inside information about all aspects of this brilliant film and also what went on behind-the-scenes. We find out that this is the first quintessential Joseph L. Mankiewicz film as well, and especially in the film genre of high comedy and the Director works best in his view to do with the social satire arena. ‘A LETER TO THREE WIVES’ we are informed, is one of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s finest and funniest film so far, because from the first view of the different small town streets and houses of the three married couples, and it is also a humorous light study of the social class conflict among the bickering married couples of different class and wealth, all of whom idolise and envy the social goddess Addie Ross. We also get informed that the indoor scenes in the film were predominantly made in the studio, but Joseph L. Mankiewicz persuaded Daryl F. Zanuck to let him go East for the exterior shots and part of the film where the three women are at the local boat trip at the start of the film, was actually shot in the area of the Hudson River in New York, a couple of hours North of Manhattan area and the day of the shooting of this particular scene it rained solid for 9 days and was a hair pulling experience for the Studio Executives. At the time of shooting this film in 1948, the Production Code had a long list of rules and regulations on what would not be permitted to be included in the film and Cheryl Lower reads out a letter from the Production Code to Joseph L. Mankiewicz informing him they cannot have the word “laxative,” or cannot have the word “toilet” in your film and to me it sounds totally humorous and ridiculous in the 21st Century and a down right prehistoric Victorian attitude that Hollywood had in that period of the 20th Century, especially if any Hollywood Studio went against the Production Code and tried to show the film, they would get a very heavy financial fine and would also not be allowed the film to be shown in any cinemas, so sadly everyone had to play by the Production Code dictate system. So Joseph L. Mankiewicz adapted the film from two sources, the original was from a Cosmopolitan Magazine short story “A Letter to Five Wives” and then adapted for the screen by Vera Casper and then turned into “A Letter to Four Wives” and Joseph L. Mankiewicz found it far too long and tried to cut it down to a manageable screenplay length, but finally had to go to Darryl F. Zanuck and informing him of this serious problem, and Darryl F. Zanuck told him it was very simple, by taking out one of the wives from the screenplay. At around Chapter 10 we finally get to see the fabulous actress Thelma Ritter, which we find out this is a her first major film role in a Motion Picture, whereas before Thelma Ritter was basically only in cameo roles in films like ‘Miracle On 34th Street’ and ‘Call Northside 777,’ and eventually we get to see Thelma Ritter has to be put in a ridiculous waitress outfit to impress Ann Sothern pompous crass ignorant two Radio Advertising Executives and you get that fabulous scene where Kirk Douglas lambasts the Radio Executives who are involved with radio soap operas, that is insulting to their radio audiences who listens to the pathetic sanitised vacuous simple minded scripts, especially including radio adverts of the period like today, where if you drink the right beer, you’ll get the girl, etc, etc, etc. The three audio commentators talk about the Texas beauty Linda Darnell, who was signed by a 20th Century Fox scout at the age of 15 years of age, and under her contract with Fox, Ms. Linda Darnell had been making films since 1939, 10 years before this particular film, and in the third part of the film we see the character of Ms. Linda Darnell lives on the wrong side of the track and see how she eventually gets her man so that she no longer lives in poverty and is looked upon as a “Gold-digger,” but deep down she is really in love with her man Paul Douglas. We also find out that Joseph L. Mankiewicz liked the character of Kirk Douglas, also loved words and also had read all the classics at school and was a very learned man. And so clever Mankiewicz is with his screenplay with this film, it keeps you guessing right up the final cliff-hanger in the Country Club, who is exposed as the husband who has run off with Addie, the socialite gold-digger vamp, and we are all fooled, and that is why Joseph L. Mankiewicz is a master at producing brilliant screenplays and was totally deserved the Academy Award® OSCAR especially for this film. By the way when we get to the final part of this film when the wine glass is tipped over and breaks and the Noel Coward type quip by Addie, when she says “Hey Ho!” is a throwback to the ghostly scene in the 1932 Warner Bros. classic ‘One Way Passage’ starring Kay Francis and William Powell, and of course we come to the reality for the life of the three wives and where Addie has lost out when the glass is tipped over and is broken. So to sum up, this is a totally brilliant and professional audio commentary presentation and Christopher Mankiewicz, Kenneth Geist and Cheryl Lower certainly know their facts and also enlighten us on how this brilliant film deserved all of its awards and nominations it received and it will be a great loss if you give this audio commentary a miss, as it will totally enthral you all the way to the very end of the 103 minutes of the films length. Happy viewing!
Special Feature: Linda Darnell: Hollywood’s Fallen Angel  [480i] [1.37:1] [44:03] This truly wonderful TV Special, was first shown on BIOGRAPHY® on the American A&E Network and is Narrated by Peter Graves. We are informed that Linda Darnell was a Teenage Starlet who took a nation by storm and with this special feature. Up until now I had not known about this brilliant and talented actress and because of having her in this Joseph L. Mankiewicz film, I am now have more appreciation with this beautiful actress. Her life story is quite extraordinary, especially being brought up by her very eccentric and volatile Mother, especially with all the excessive menagerie of animals and especially a cockerel who was allowed to eat at the dinner table. Linda Darnell also had very volatile marriages that sadly always ended in failure, but Ms. Darnell did have a brief affair with Joseph L. Mankiewicz, but sadly it was not to last. Another sad reflection of Ms. Darnell life was not able to have any children, because of medical complications and eventually adopted a beautiful daughter. Despite a brilliant acting career on the silver screen and stage performances, that was equally prolific and really enjoyed performing to a live audience, but sadly because of deep bouts of depressions, especially with her career being a very volatile rollercoaster ride, and failed marriages, but at one point of her career looked like it was on the up. But sadly her career ended tragically, as Ms. Linda Darnell was staying with friends at their apartment, which tragically caught fire and the actress suffered from really bad third degree burns and also suffered from severe excruciating pain and after a 9 hour battle, sadly passed away and Hollywood lost a beautiful starlet and also a very talented actress and this special feature is really beautiful produced and is well worth a view and gets a 5 star rating from me. Contributions include: Ronald Davis [Biographer]; Undeen Darnell Hunter [Sister]; Lola Marley [Daughter]; James Robert Parish [Film Historian]; Dorris Bowdon Johnson [Actress]; Roddy McDowall [Actor]; Alice Faye [Actress]; Richard Widmark [Actor] and A.C. Lyles [Producer].
Special Feature: Fox Movietone News: 22nd Annual Academy Awards® OSCARS, Presented For Achievement in Motion Pictures  [480i] [1.37:1] [1:15] This Black-and-White newsreel, gives us a view of the who’s who of the top Hollywood Royalty; but the only person you get see awarded for the film ‘A LETTER TO THREE WIVES’ is Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Narrated by Joe King.
Theatrical Trailer  [480i] [1.37:1] [2:43] This is the Original Theatrical Trailer. Despite it being a good print, sadly the audio sound is totally atrocious; whatever was 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment thinking of having this being allowed to be viewed, it should have been deleted.
Finally, this is a brilliant and great Hollywood film classic which features sparkling writing and brilliant performances, ‘A LETTER TO THREE WIVES’ is a welcome addition to the growing number of 20th Century Fox Blu-rays of the studio’s best films. ‘A LETTER TO THREE WIVES’ is the very definition of an under-appreciated classic Hollywood film, which is really unfortunate, because it’s a totally excellent and unique intelligent well thought out film. It was very well written and has a good twist at the end. The acting was totally brilliant and it’s just a film that I would gladly watch again and again. I just cannot figure out why this film isn’t talked about so much more, as it is totally brilliant and classic Hollywood film genre. Maybe it was eclipsed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s next film ‘All About Eve.’ But whatever the reason, if you ever have the chance to see it, it is well worth viewing this awesome intelligent film. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso