Newly remastered for Blu-ray, “A Letter To Three Wives” (1949, Fox, unrated, $20) marks the breakthrough film for writer/director — and Wilkes-Barre native — Joseph Mankiewicz.
Based on a Cosmopolitan article, the cleverly structured film employs a melodramatic hook to entice viewers to check out a surprisingly sophisticated look at suburban marriage.
As three women (Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell) are about to board a ship for a day-long charity event, they receive a letter from a fourth friend (voiced by Celeste Holm) claiming she’s run off with one of their husbands.
Cue a trio of flashbacks that depict the strengths and weaknesses of each of the marriages. The first vignette, starring Crain as a former farm girl who doesn’t think she she’s good enough for her rich spouse (Jeffrey Lynn), is hindered by Crain’s slightly awkward performance.
But the next two segments are top-notch. Sothern is a social-climbing radio writer who longs for her teacher-husband (Kirk Douglas) to be more ambitious. And then there’s Darnell as a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who refuses to bed her prosperous boss (Paul Douglas) until she has a ring on her finger.
As was Mankiewicz’s habit in most of his films, he throws in a reference to Wilkes-Barre. This time, the hometown shout-out occurs during a radio advertisement. There’s other pleasures as well, including a great supporting turn from Thelma Ritter in her first major screen role.
“A Letter To Three Wives” went on to earn Mankiewicz an Oscar for screenplay and directing. He’d pick up the same awards a year later for “All About Eve.” It’s a feat any other filmmaker has yet to repeat.