We do cult movies now. What? You don’t reckon this one’s cult? Cult is a pretty broad church, you know. Well perhaps you’re right. We shall see. But it is quite good so read on...
Three friends (Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern) are about to embark on a boat trip with the local children. They’re talking about their fourth friend, Addie Ross (Celeste Holm), who has apparently just skipped town. As they’re about to leave, a messenger arrives with a letter from Addie addressed to all three. She’s only gone and buggered off with one of their husbands. But the twist is that she doesn’t say which one. They’ll have to wait until the evening to find out. Neat, huh? Cult enough for you yet? OK, maybe not. Anyway, we then get three separate flashback vignettes as the women think about their relationships with their husbands and each other while we get to try and work out which husband has done the dirty.
The first thing you have to say about A letter to Three Wives is that it’s a fascinating insight into the lives of middle class Americans just as the ‘50s were about to dawn. One of the friends writes radio plays so there’s a great deal about consumerism and a brilliant rant from a her school-teaching husband (a young Kirk Douglas – now 98 and still with us at the time of writing) about corporate America in which we learn people were well aware of the effects of tobacco even back then. Two of the friends have actually married into the middle class lifestyle; one thrives while the other is burdened by what she (and only she) sees as her inadequacies. The script is witty and much of it has aged surprisingly well with a few laugh out loud moments and a brilliant comic performance from the incomparable Thelma Ritter (Rear Window) as Sadie the bolshie and very working class housekeeper. And while Addie acts as the film’s narrator, brilliantly, she is never seen. We see the husband’s reactions to her when she’s being talked about or, in one scene, where she’s just off camera, but Addie remains an enigma throughout. Maybe this is cult material after all.
But perhaps the film has cult status because it has a notoriously confusing ending? Actually, if we’re honest we have no idea why anyone thinks the ending is confusing. It’s pretty clear. But people really were confused, including General Douglas MacArthur (no, really) who actually wrote to the director asking for an explanation. We have no idea if Mankiewicz replied or not.
So it’s an intriguing story with a pivotal character you never see and an ending that baffled 20th century military-history royalty. And you thought it wasn’t cult? We think it qualifies (just).
Special Features: Audio commentary / Newsreel of Academy Awards ceremony / Trailer / 36-page booklet
INFO: A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949) / DIRECTOR: JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ / SCREENPLAY: JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ, VERA CASPARY / STARRING: JEANNE CRAIN, LINDA DARNELL, ANN SOTHERN, KIRK DOUGLAS, PAUL DOUGLAS, JEFFREY LYNN, THELMA RITTER, FLORENCE BATES, HOBART CAVANAUGH, CELESTE HOLM / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 29TH