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A Letter to Three Wives

Friday, May 14, 2021, 7:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre

(Joseph L. Mankiewicz, US 1949, 103 min., 35mm)

Mankiewicz’s peak came in the late 1940s and early 1950s as he received Academy Awards in back-to-back years for both writing and directing—a feat that has so far never been matched. The first of these films was A Letter to Three Wives, based on a Cosmopolitan short story by John Klempner that was expanded by the author into the novel A Letter to Five Wives before Fox purchased the rights for adaptation. Prior to boarding a boat for an all-day charity picnic, three married women (Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern) receive a single letter saying that another woman has run away with one of their husbands, but doesn’t tell them which. All three husbands have excuses for why they can’t be at the picnic, so the story depends on flashback to investigate which of the three husbands may have been the one to escape. The branching stories of marital discord reflected Mankiewicz’s own relationships as well as his history of infidelity with actresses on his sets. The lingering feeling of self-doubt carries until the very end of the picture.


 

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