The latest film to enter the Masters of Cinema catalogue is A Letter to Three Wives. It’s an Oscar-winning melodrama from the late ’40s from director Joseph L. Mankiewicz a director known for classic Hollywood films like All Above Eve and The Barefoot Contessa. The film is based Letter to Five Wives by John Klempner but the film lost 2 wives during the book to screen adaptation process.
The story is told mostly through flashback which is more common at the time of film noir or noir tinged films like Citizen Kane. The three wives received a letter from Addie Ross who is never seen on-screen but narrates the film. Addie writes in the letter she has run off with one of their husbands and the rest of the film is snapshots of each woman’s marriage which at times are strained. All the men had their affinity for Addie so the mystery is very open till the big reveal at the end.
The film is made with an air of class, it’s shot by Arthur C. Miller best known for his collaborations with John Ford. The script is expertly written by Mankiewicz who won an Oscar for the writing and directing of the film. It has an intensity characteristic of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas of the ’50s but also with a subtle touch of humour to lighten up the proceedings. The cast is a great mixture of ’40 and ’50s actors like Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, the always wonderful Thelma Ritter and an early role from Kirk Douglas before he would become a star in the same year for Champion.
A Letter to Three Wives isn’t the greatest film of all-time but it has that effortless feel of the best melodramas of this period have. The cast is solid , it’s got an intriguing narrative hook and the cinematography has a rich and luscious look. The disc is full of specials including a commentary, some radio adaptations and footage of Mankiewicz winning one of his Oscars.