A Letter to Three Wives
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. US. 1949. NR. 103 minutes. Fox. Digital.
Sun., May 21, 2017
“Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s magisterial, buoyant suburban drama, from 1949, concerns three couples and a wild card—the strong-willed, sophisticated woman whom one of the husbands used to love and whom all three of them admire, and who, to launch the story, informs their three wives that she has run away with one of the men. The couples—played by Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas; Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas; and Jeanne Crain and Jeffrey Lynn—range from the comfortably struggling to the filthy rich, and money is central to the action. Mankiewicz presents, in flashbacks, each wife’s tremulous view of domestic discord—the resentful silence of good cheer, the cultural combat of money versus art, and overtly sexual class warfare. (The crises are worthy of Ingmar Bergman’s classics; the film could have been called “Scenes from Three Marriages.”) Mankiewicz’s writing is scintillating and expressive, but his daring direction makes it burst into life. When Crain utters the film’s most anguished line, she gives a defiant, dramatically unmotivated look into the camera, a gesture of existential complicity that became a cornerstone of cinematic modernism. Despite its emotional intensity, the film is comic, effervescently so, and its magical ending lends wit a metaphysical dimension.” (Richard Brody, The New Yorker)