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A Letter to Three Wives (1949)


RupertAlistair
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I think *Letter to Three Wives* is a "comedy" the way *All About Eve* is a "comedy". Both films are what you could call "light", not with respect to the talent involved or their quality, but in the sense that neither are serious dramatic pieces, neither has anything really sad or terrible happen - so theyr'e certainly not "dramas".

Both movies (especially *Eve* ) are filled with clever and witty dialogue - which may not make us roar with laughter, but probably amuses us and makes us smile. And of course, that's not surprising, since both films were directed and scripted by Joseph Mankiewicz.

 

So while they may not be comedies in the way a Marx Brothers film is ( and by the way, finance, you should be glad to note the absence of puns in them :| ), they are certainly intended for amusement and "light" entertainment rather than any kind of serious "message", so in that sense both films are definitely comedies.

("That said", both *Letter to Three Wives* and *All About Eve* should be considered as insightful commentaries on human nature.)

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What make this movie so great is its script which won an Oscar. The film, like Mankiewicz's next ALL ABOUT EVE seems to get better with each passing year. Also, like EVE its very well cast. None of the cast was nominated for an Oscar but all three of the ladies (Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell) give fine performances. This was Crain's second film for Mankiewicz. He seems to have been annoyed with her since she was always pregnant between films and cared about family, later having 7 children. Zanuck wanted her to play Eve in ALL ABOUT EVE, but Mankiewicz said no. Sothern's career got a boost from this film and Mankiewicz offered her the role of Karen in IN ABOUT EVE. Unwisely Sothern turned the role down for a two picture deal at MGM which included the pleasant if minor musical NANCY GOES TO RIO. I wonder if Sothern regretted this move later on. Darnell comes off best with her snappy, brittle delivery and worked well opposite Paul Douglas. I believe they made two other films together. Darnell would work again for Mankiewicz in NO WAY OUT and thought Mankiewicz promised her the title role in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA. They were having an affair at about this time. As usual Thelma Ritter, another Mankiewicz favorite is a riot as the maid, along with Connie Gilcrest as Darnell's mom.

 

Edited by: Edgecliff on Jan 22, 2012 2:59 PM

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Aargh, finance, sometimes you are aggravating ! ( Don't worry, Board Moderator, he can take it.)

 

What exactly do you consider "comedy" to be? Remember the recent thread here on "Funniest Scenes", it included many films that had "clever" dialogue, but were not necessarily knee-slappers.

 

I also mentioned, besides the witty dialogue, the abscence of "heavy" or tragic content in these two films. Could we not call them "social comedies", perhaps?

 

How come we always have to label everything, and if the film doesn't fit easily within the confines of that label, we say it's not - whatever, fill in genre here. ( like with the endless discussions about noir.)

 

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You're being too literal about the use of the word "clever". Let's say "witty" instead.

 

In any case, "clever" is commonly associated with a certain kind of intelligence. Someone can be "clever" without being a heavy duty intellectual.

 

Serious dramas may have intelligent dialogue, but not usually "witty"/"clever" dialogue.

 

What's a really serious classic film? What about *From Here to Eternity* ? ( I just picked that at random.) No one would argue that it's a comedy. Most people would concede that it has well-written dialogue. But - with the possible exception of some of the scenes with Frank Sinatra, and maybe the Burt Lancaster drunk, singing with his soldiers scene, - there's little "clever" dialogue.

 

On the other hand, many William Powell movies, especially the *Thin Man* series, are almost nothing but clever dialogue, yet you wouldn't say they were out and out comedies. Still, they're certainly funny, or "light", for lack of a better word. They're not so much "mysteries", despite them being labelled as such. They're more "social comedies", full of sophisticated characters and yes, clever dialogue.

 

( I wish there were an emoticon option of a face sticking its tongue out.)

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It's interesting that this film would come under the "comedy" definition. Mankiewicz could have made it a dour production given the subject matter of a supposedly devoted husband running off with another woman. Instead he went with witty repartee which worked very much to the films advantage.

 

 

Comedy or drama *Letter To Three Wives* remains one of the best "sophisticated" films of the classic era.

 

 

Of course, the burning question for me has always been Paul Douglas confession at the end of the film. Was he doing a good turn or freeing his soul? Yes, I know this subject has made the rounds here on the board numerous times but I had to put it out there again. I will duck from all the cyber tomato's being thrown my way! lol

 

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"Humor" is not the same thing as comedy, and the presence of humor in a film doesn't make it a comedy.

 

Comedy, wit, satire, puns, they're all subsets of the concept of humor, and the terms aren't interchangeable.

 

 

SUNSET BOULEVARD is wickedly funny (as are all of Billy Wilder's films, most written with Charles Brackett or I.A.L. Diamond), but it is not a comedy, unlike SOME LIKE IT HOT, which, most emphatically, is a comedy.

 

 

It's always seemed that the film's intent determines whether it's a comedy or not. If it's funny for the sake of being funny, with gags paying off as they come while simultaneously building toward an ultimate payoff, then it's a comedy; when the humor is there for the explicit purpose of sharpening and adding rueful punctuation to a drama (as in SUNSET BOULEVARD), then it can't be considered anything other than a drama...that's also funny.

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{font:Times New Roman} {font}{font:}{color:black}My take on your question about motive: I think it was a good turn by a man not as tough as he let on. He didn't want Debra to hurt for no reason as he was hurting for what he though was one. He thought that Lora Mae didn't love him and would use this as divorce fodder but admitted to the defection anyway. To his shock, Lora Mae takes his return as proof he loves her-she thought he didn't-and he sees she does him. A three year old marriage really begins and Debra goes home to hers. In her own way the unseen Addie brings three couples closer and saves their marriages.{font}

 

 

{font:Times New Roman} {font}

 

 

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I think this movie's best strength is how well it captures the time of post-war USA. I love these late Forties-early Fifties flicks.

A Letter to Three Wives

All About Eve,

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

People will Talk

Apartment for Peggy

 

I think they're all good. I am glad to hear they kept it to THREE and not the original FIVE !! I don't think the character development would have good at all. I wonder what "types" they deleted from the story?

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*This was Crain's second film for Mankiewicz. He seems to have been annoyed with her since she was always pregnant between films and cared about family, later having 7 children. Zanuck wanted her to play Eve in ALL ABOUT EVE, but Mankiewicz said no.*

 

Actually, this was Crain's first movie with Mankiewicz (she made PEOPLE WILL TALK with him in 1951). And from what I remember reading, while Mankiewicz didn't want her, Zanuck DID cast Jeanne in "Best Performance" (as AAE was then called), AND it was another of her pregnancies that had Anne Baxter take over the role. Ironically, Baxter was first cast in PWT, but got pregnant, whereupon the role was then given to Crain.

 

*Sothern's career got a boost from this film and Mankiewicz offered her the role of Karen in IN ABOUT EVE. Unwisely Sothern turned the role down for a two picture deal at MGM which included the pleasant if minor musical NANCY GOES TO RIO. I wonder if Sothern regretted this move later on.*

 

Interesting that I've always thought that Celeste Holm would have worked very well in Ann Sothern's role in ALTTW, although Sothern is perfect (of course, then another voice would have to be Addie's, maybe Anne Baxter's a la MOTHER WORE TIGHTS).

 

*Darnell comes off best with her snappy, brittle delivery and worked well opposite Paul Douglas. I believe they made two other films together.*

 

Seems their verbal sparring was a runaway success with critics and audiences, and the studio sought to capitalize on this by reteaming them. Also thrown in was Celeste Holm to complete the love triangle angle. First off was the remake of 1939's WIFE, HUSBAND AND FRIEND, EVERYBODY DOES IT (1949), which is quite funny and did well at the boxoffice. Darnell is an opera diva wooing baritone Douglas, to the chagrin of Holm, wife and would-be thrush. The second was THE GUY WHO CAME BACK (1951), which had temptress Darnell again after football has-been Douglas, this time with Joan Bennett in the part of the wife (it had originally been written for Holm, who had asked for release from her Fox contract). Linda went on suspension over her role (she was tired of glamourous decorative parts), but relented when circumstances forced her to take it (starlet Marilyn Monroe tested for the part when it seemed that Darnell wouldn't be doing it).

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*I think they're all good. I am glad to hear they kept it to THREE and not the original FIVE !! I don't think the character development would have good at all. I wonder what "types" they deleted from the story?*

 

The original story had 5 wives. The first treatments for the movie had it down to four; Anne Baxter was cast as the fourth. Offhand I don't remember what her character was about.

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