Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

A favourite '40s scene: A Letter to 3 Wives

I have written here before about A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (see Darnell, Mankiewicz labels), maybe my favourite Joseph L. Mankiewicz film, even more so than ALL ABOUT EVE, and an enduring 1940s classic (which Mank wrote and made in 1949, a year before EVE - winning Oscars both years for directing and writing, his 1950 NO WAY OUT is also a terrific discovery). 
A LETTER TO THREE WIVES is of course the story of the three society ladies, cut off from the telephone for the day as they are away on that boat on a school trip, each wondering which of their husbands has run off with town vamp Addie Ross, who has kindly sent them a letter just as they were leaving ... 
cue flashbacks on each marrage, done in Mank's best style as we savour all that dialogue and witty situations, and of course its that 1940s dreamworld personified, where they are all comfortably off with large, roomy houses, those big estate cars and domestic help for when entertaining - cue Thelma Ritter as Sadie in the maid's outfit.

So we have new girl Jeanne Crain back from the forces, and coping with small town society and the local country club - this is the least interesting story, but the main one is a doozy, as Lora Mae (Lnda Darnell) from the wrong side of town (dig the family house next to the rail-line where everything rattles when trains go by) sets her sights at local rich guy 
Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas) and marvel at how she reels him in, with that ladder in her stockings and holding out until that New Year's Eve when he gives in, and calls and asks her to marry him. Her mother Connie Gilchrist indeed cries "Bingo"! But she and Porter end up resenting each other, until Addie Ross comes along and chooses a husband ..

Thelma's Sadie
The scene I want to focus on is when the other wife, smart radio writer Ann Sothern, who earns more than her teacher husband Kirk Douglas, has a dinner party to which she invites her radio boss Mrs Manleigh (Florence Bates - as deliciously nasty as her Mrs Van Hopper in REBECCA), an ignorant, bossy snob, with her docile husband. Sadie - a friend of Lora Mae's mother - is hired to help, cue much amusement as Sadie announces dinner is ready, and Mrs Manleigh picks up on Lora Mae's chat with the hired help ..... Mankiewicz's script hones in on the power of radio - it would be television in a few years - and how people listen to it. Sadie has the radio on all the time, so Mrs Manleigh thinks she is being "saturated" and "penetrated" by the advertisements. Lora Mae dryly retorts that she has seen Sadie saturated quite a lot .... (Thelma Ritter scores here, as she does next year as Birdie in Mank's ALL ABOUT EVE.)

Then everything has to stop for Mrs Manleigh's radio show, which goes on and on, after she breaking the classical record which Addie had sent to Kirk, who finally sees red and lets Mrs Manleigh have it. Ann too has had enough and refuses to do Mrs Manleigh's edits until Monday.  She too worries on that day out, if is it her husband who has run off with mantrap Addie Ross. 
We never see Addie, but she is voiced by Celeste Holm.

Events are resolved as they all gather again at the country club, and Porter reveals that it was him who ran off with Addie, but changed his mind. Lora Mae can now divorce him and take him to the cleaners. "You big gorilla" she says as they now know they love each other ..... Bliss, sheer bliss .... Its a treat one can watch any time.  There was a later tv remake, but who would bother with that.

1 comment:

  1. Martin Bradley24 June 2015 at 18:19

    Who would bother with that indeed!! The original is utterly wonderful and you have summed it up to perfection (though I don't think you should have given away the ending in case some of your readers haven't seen it). Another beautifully written piece.