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A Letter to Three Wives: Fox Studio Classics

Almost six decades before Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, and the rest of the "Desperate Housewives" gang stormed the network airwaves, another group of country-club types was suffering in the suburbs in Joseph Mankiewicz's Oscar-winning A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Fans of the former will notice some interesting similarities between the ABC-TV hit and the Fox classic: Both are set in "perfect" neighborhoods in "perfect" towns and feature voice-overs by mysterious, all-knowing narrators who were once part of the core group of women but have, for one reason or another, departed. In A Letter to Three Wives, that narrator is Addie Ross (voiced by Celeste Holm), a paragon of female perfection (in men's eyes, anyway…) who drops a bomb on her three best friends when she writes them a letter saying she's left town — and taken one of their husbands with her. The bulk of the movie consists of the trio's flashbacks as each wonders whether it's her spouse who's gone with Addie. Insecure Deborah (Jeanne Crain) recalls her first night in town with husband (and former Addie flame) Brad (Jeffrey Lynn), when events, and her own nervousness, conspired to make her country club debut fall rather flat. Then successful radio script writer Rita (Ann Sothern) remembers a disastrous dinner party that left her intellectual husband George (Kirk Douglas) wondering what happened to the spunky girl he married. Finally, self-made glamour-puss Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) thinks back on how she used her wiles to escape the wrong side of the tracks and land on her feet in husband Porter's (Paul Douglas) mansion, only to be left wondering if he really cares for her. Watching each woman's memories unfold, it's possible to believe that each marriage could be flawed enough to fail the Addie test, which gives the film's final act a nice undercurrent of suspense. Unfortunately, the actual ending falls a little flat, but the rest of the movie is entertaining enough to make up for it. All of the lead performances are solid; Sothern and Kirk Douglas are particular standouts as a pair of wise-cracking childhood sweethearts who find their foundation rattled when she starts out-earning him. Oscar trivia fans will know that Mankiewicz's Best Director win (he also snagged a trophy for Best Screenplay) marked one of the handful of times that the director award and the Best Picture Oscar have gone to different films (All the King's Men won the top honor). Movietone newsreel footage from the 1950 Academy Awards is one of the extras on Fox's "Studio Classics" DVD, which also includes an audio commentary, the Linda Darnell episode from A&E's "Biography," a restoration comparison, and the trailer. The movie itself is presented in a sharp black-and-white full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) with English mono and stereo tracks (English and Spanish subtitles are also available). Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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