A Letter to Three Wives Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Joseph Mankiewicz is a master of voiceovers. A Letter to Three Wives is introduced by Addie Ross, a woman the audience hears but never sees. She has written a letter to three friends — Rita (Ann Southern), Deborah (Jeanne Crain) and Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) — informing them that she has left town with one of their husbands. The premise is a bit odd but it works. The bulk of the film unfolds in a series of flashbacks as each woman remembers an important and pivotal moment in her marriage. In each instance, the wife feels threatened by Addie — that she can't compare to the always poised "other woman." Only Crain's story of a young war bride seems slight when compared to the others. Ann Southern's career woman is the most interesting. In a surprising turn for a '40s film, she isn't condemned for her work or being the main breadwinner in her household. Mankiewicz's script is intelligent and thoughtful; the women are flawed and human. Addie Ross (voiced by Celeste Holm) represents perfection in the eyes of these women. We never set eyes on her — only a brief silhouette of her standing on a balcony — because Mankiewicz understood that Addie was a greater menace if she remained in the audience's imagination. The commentaries impart sufficient doses of information but they lack any real spark. Mankiewicz's son Christopher provides anecdotes and family history, as well as a solid analysis of his father's work, while two of Mankiewicz's biographers fill in the details. Unfortunately all of this information doesn't add up to much more than an entry in Halliwell's. The biography segment on Linda Darnell is like reading a biography of a boxer — you just know that it isn't going to end well. All in all, the extras are slight and probably only worth your while if you hate to miss anything. And in the end, everything you need is in the movie because it's hard to beat A Letter to Three Wives. Unless, of course, it's All About Eve. (Fox)