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Film / A Letter to Three Wives

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"It's a man's world. Yeah! See something you want, go after it and get it! That's nature. It's why we're made strong and women weak. Strong conquer and provide for the weak. That's what a man's for! Teach our kids that, there'd be more men!"
Porter Hollingsway

A 1949 drama film adapted from the novel Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner.

Three women — Lora Mae (Linda Darnell), Rita (Ann Sothern), and Deborah (Jeanne Crain) — receive a letter from a mutual friend stating that she's run off with one of their husbands. The thing that she's not telling is whose husband it is; she's letting them guess for themselves.

Won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay (both for Joseph L. Mankiewicz), and was nominated for Best Picture. Kirk Douglas, relatively early in his film career, has a supporting role as Rita's husband, while Thelma Ritter appears as their maid.

This film has examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: This was based on the novel Letter to Five Wives. Two wives were taken out, one at the start, the other after the first draft, in order to help tighten the film.
  • The Atoner: 'A man can change his mind, can he?'
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Lora Mae and Porter at the end.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: After listening to two hours of radio programming, Mrs. Manleigh asks George which show he liked the most. George, who thinks radio as a medium is terrible, tries to make excuses not to answer for Rita's sake; Rita, missing the subtext in George's demurral, says she is sure Mrs. Manleigh would find his opinion invaluable, causing him to shock all present with a rant about the vacuity and insincerity of the programmes and especially the advertising.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Addie Ross. Whether they were ever in love with her or not, all three husbands think Addie is simply wonderful. She knows this. Which is why she didn't say which husband she ran off with, knowing it will torment all three wives equally.
  • Foreshadowing: A subtle one, at the start, the three wives' initial reaction to the letter before it's open.
    Lora Mae: Open it up. note 
    Deborah: No, wait...Knowing it's Addie, I mean, why let her spoil our day? note 
    Rita: Not my day. Addie Ross never saw the day she could spoil my day. note 
  • Grammar Correction Gag: After Rita cuts off George's tirade against radio advertising, Mrs. Manleigh tells her not to let his attitude upset her, saying "Don't you feel badly." This just riles George even further:
    George: "Bad"! Not "badly"! You "feel badly" this way! [raises his hands and mimes running his fingers over something]
  • Happily Married: Wondering just how "happily married" the three wives are is the whole point of the movie.
    • Deborah desperately hopes that she and Brad are this. They are.
    • What Rita and George are most of the time. Except they did have that nasty fight just the night before... They get better.
    • What Lora Mae and Porter are most definitely not. Until the end.
  • Henpecked Husband: None of the three main husbands, but the ironically named Mr. Manleigh.
  • How We Got Here: The three wives reminisce on their lives as they try to figure out whose husband was the one.
  • Moral Guardians: The Manleighs.
  • The Perry Mason Method: An out of court variant. Deborah accuses her husband, Brad, of being the errant man, prompting the real culprit, Porter, Lora Mae's husband, to confess.
  • Pretty in Mink: Deborah has a sable coat, and Lora has a white mink wrap.
  • Servile Snarker: Sadie to Rita. It helps she's played by Deadpan Snarker extraordinaire Thelma Ritter:
    Sadie: (commenting on how fancy a dinner Rita's planning) All this fancy schmancy because two people from the city are gonna eat here.
    Rita: Mrs. Manleigh is a very important person. She has charge of a great many radio programs, including the one I write.
    Sadie: You know what I like about your program? Even when I'm running the vacuum I can understand it.
    Rita: Thank you so much.
  • Stylistic Suck: The radio commercials and soap operas (two apiece) are all hilariously awful.
  • Take That!: An In-Universe example where George goes off about how what he thinks is wrong with advertising.
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted; the film has us sympathize with both the men and the women.
  • Viewers Are Morons: George goes on a rant about how advertising treats customers like this.
    George: The purpose of radio writing, as far as I can see, is to prove to the masses that a deodorant can bring happiness, a mouthwash guarantee success, and a laxative attract romance!
    Mrs. Manleigh: [outraged] Well!...
    Porter: Take it easy, George!
    Lora Mae: [loving every minute of this] Let him alone! He'll run longer than Linda Gray!
    George: "Don't think," says the radio, "and we'll pay you for it!" "Can't spell 'cat'? Too bad! But a yacht and a million dollars to the gentleman for being in our audience tonight!" "Worry," says the radio, "will your best friends not tell you? Will you lose your teeth? Will your cigarettes give you cancer? Will your body function after you're 35? If you don't use our product, you'll lose your body, your husband, your job, and die! Use our product and we'll make you rich, we'll make you famous!"
  • The Voice: Celeste Holm as Addie Ross, the author of the titular letter.