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A Letter to Three Wives(1949)

As with many Golden Age Hollywood films, the script for this adaptation of John Klempner’s A Letter to Five Wives went through several writers before reaching the screen, with each adding something special. Mel­ville Baker and Dorothy Bennett cut the wives to four, and decided to have the film narrated by an unseen Addie Ross, the small-town temptress who sends a letter to the eponymous wives announcing that she’s run off with one of their husbands. Then, writer Vera Caspary decided they’d get the letter while taking off on a boat trip, to explain why none of them simply called home to check on their wandering spouses. Finally, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who also directed, cut the fourth wife and added his customary sparkling wit to what would become one of the screen’s most observant and literate treatments of modern mar­riage. Working with the perfect cast— including Paul Douglas in his film debut, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Thelma Ritter and the voice of Celeste Holm— Mankiewicz created an almost total delight. When the film became a hit and won him Oscars for writing and directing, it made him Twentieth Centu­ry-Fox’s top director. (d. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 103m, Digital)

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