One of Hollywood's best directors, Joseph Mankiewicz, who gave us "All About Eve," had a previous winner with "A Letter to Three Wives," starring Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Jeffrey Lynn, Thelma Ritter, and Connie Gilchrist.
The never-seen Addie Ross (voice of Celeste Holm) has run off with the husband of one of her friends - whose? Three women look back over their marriages, each realizing she could be the one who will not come home to anyone that evening.
Linda Darnell was involved with Mankiewicz during the filming of "A Letter to Three Wives" in what would be a devastating relationship for her. Her story is the most fun and interesting of the film. Lolamae works in one of Porter Hollingsway's department stores, and she manages to nab the boss by playing her cards just right. He assumes throughout their marriage that she's with him because of his money. The funniest parts of the film take place in the home Lolamae shares with her mother (Connie Gilchrist) and sister. They live next to the train tracks and when a train goes by, the house rattles and shakes. Each time this happens, everyone just waits patiently for the train to go by as they rattle right along with it and then takes up where they left off as if nothing happened. When Lolamae and Hollingsway announce their engagement, Gilchrist cries out, "Bingo!" and faints! Thelma Ritter plays Gilchrist's best friend. The two provide some of the best moments in the film - Ritter is also the maid in the home of Ann Sothern and Kirk Douglas. Lolamae and Paul are the most fully drawn couple, and the one the audience is most invested in.
As with "All About Eve," the female characters are the focal point. Sothern is married to Kirk Douglas - he's a schoolteacher and she writes for radio, so it's intellect vs. the dumbing down of America fight; Jeanne Crain plays a woman who married upper class Jeffrey Lynn after leaving the service, and she originally feels out of her element among his tight-knit group of country club members. All of these women have to contend with the much admired (by males) Addie Ross, who remembers their men's birthdays, dresses beautifully, sends wonderful gifts, and has loads of class.
When it was pointed out to Mankiewicz that Jeanne Crain had played a character named Deborah in two films for him, he replied, "I don't like the name Deborah, and I don't like Jeanne Crain." Hers is the weakest storyline, but she is beautiful and gives a good performance. Lynn as her husband has very little to do. Sothern and Douglas make a spirited couple - he's at the height of his good looks, and Sothern makes the most of her witty dialogue.
But in the end, the focus is on Darnell and Paul Douglas. Darnell is stunningly beautiful and, because of this, isn't often thought of as a great actress. She brings a dry humor, sexiness, and vulnerability to the role of a woman who on the surface appears clever and a little too street smart for her own good. Douglas is a wonder, a complete natural - he plays his role as if Porter could just as easily be a hardware salesman as a filthy rich department store owner. He's both endearing and sympathetic, with his dumb, lovable face and his immaculately tailored suits. While they don't look like a perfect couple, their chemistry and what's underneath their bantering dialogue makes them one.
Now, which husband ran off with Addie? See if you can figure it out during this highly entertaining and well-acted film.