Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On the silver screen

The other day I had the pleasure of discovering Mankiewicz' A Letter to Three Wives. The story was intriguing, the dialogues sharply chiseled, the filming original. It's the story of three women who are leaving for an outing when they receive a letter from their mutual friend, Addie Ross. The letter announces that she is about to leave and never return - with one of their husbands. Addie is a sort of Rebeca we never see but whose voice narrates the story, a powerful seductress as much envied by each of the women as she is admired by each of their husbands. The fact that each couple is living through some difficulties increases the women's feelings of insecurity. Whose husband is it?

We see the house that each woman lives in. Deborah lives with Brad in a big house with a colonnaded porch. Addie tells us that Brad, who gave her her first black eye and her first kiss, bought the house before going off to war.

Deborah on her way to pick up Rita for a picnic with the other wives, while the men...?

Rita Phipps ( Ann Sothern) has been waiting for Deborah in front of her home in a neighborhood shared by those on their way up and those on their way down. "Rita is on her way up and wouldn't have it any other way," says the voice of Addie. She rushes back in to say goodbye to the twins, oblivious of her husband, George (Kirk Douglas).

The beautiful Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) is from a shack on the wrong side of the tracks. It shakes and rattles when the train passes by but Lora Mae stays cool and steady for she knows what she wants...
and gets it.
Lora Mae guesses the identity of the beautiful woman in the portrait. We only see the back of the frame.

Rita Phipps is the working woman of the three. An ambitious soap opera writer for the radio, she invites her over-bearing employer for dinner trying to win her favor. Her attempts to put her best face forward naturally include sprucing up home and husband. They purchase expensive Scotch for the occasion, though "Bourbon is a better drink," because it's in fashion with "those showbiz types." Husband is expected to wear his tuxedo and the housekeeper has a new uniform complete with a saucy cap that she detests - all this is designed to impress. George, a school teacher, is indulgent but fairly put off by his wife's attempt at pretence.
Rita: People in the show business, you know what I mean, those kind of
people always drink scotch.
George: Well, I know what you mean, but I wish you wouldn't say it in radio English. "That kind", not "those kind".
Rita: There are men who say "those kind" who earn $100,000 dollars a year.
George: There are men who say "stick 'em up" who earn more.
I don't expect to do either.

There is tension in the air with such a cocktail of personalities. The guests bicker and the oafish boss and her submissive husband won't touch the Scotch though the others find it very necessary to partake. There is a clatter...

when it comes time to dine. Sadie (Thelma Ritter) unveils the dining area by removing a screen Betty had apparently thought a more elegant way to proceed. Ah ha! The ultimate sign of
Rita's pretense!

The cumbersome folding screen practically comes tumbling through the viewing screen,

a struggle ensues,

the cap goes askew.

As Sadie wrestles to put it aside, she sighs wisely saying,
"I tol' ya the screen was a crummy idea. Soup's on!"
Of course, this was a great screen moment for me ! Clever Mankiewicz.
I leave you to you to find out about the rest of the story.


  1. I loved this.... More please!

  2. I find the oldies so inspiring. This one is really worth seeking out.

  3. I am on the edge of my seat -- literally --- over this post. I must rent this movie.

    Love your blog! How did I miss you? I'm visiting you often.

  4. Thanks Soodie! Do find the film. It's great to know there are still more "classics" left to discover.

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