Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fox anthology movies

20th Century-Fox made some interesting movies in the 1940s and 1950s which are little more than a series of short stories, all tied together by a common thread. I've already mentioned Tales of Manhattan; another one is airing on the Fox Movie Channel at 2:00 PM ET on May 1: A Letter to Three Wives.

In A Letter to Three Wives, the scene is set with the three title wives at a picnic in a typical small American city. The three receive a special delivery letter from a fourth woman, Addie Ross. In this letter, she tells them that she's going to be running off with one of their husbands -- but doesn't tell them which one is about to lose her husband! Naturally, all three women have reason to worry that Addie is going to run off with her man (otherwise, we wouldn't have much of a movie). Most of the rest of the movie is devoted to three episodes, in which it's explained why each woman has been having trouble with her marriage.

In the first (and probably weakest segment), Jeanne Crain plays a woman who fell in love with a wealthier man (Jeffrey Lynn), and worries that she won't be good enough for his high-class friends. The second segment has underrated Ann Sothern as an ambitious writer for a radio program, married to a schoolteacher played by Kirk Douglas, back in the days when he was still only on the cusp of being a big star (A Letter to Three Wives came out a few months before Champion, the film generally credited with making Douglas the star he became). And finally, we have lovely Linda Darnell, married to slightly oafish Paul Douglas, a very good Fox stalwart who doesn't get the recognition he deserves today. They don't love each other all that much any more, but theirs is a marriage of convenience like many others: he still needs her beauty, and she needs his money. As I said before, each segment gives the viewer perfectly good reason that this is the woman who is going to be Addie's victim. Indeed, we don't actually find out Addie's beloved until the very end of the movie (and no, I'm not going to give it away).

In addition to the three couples, there's also Paul Douglas' fellow Fox contract player Thelma Ritter and, as Addie, Celeste Holm. Interestingly, we only see Addie from behind; we never see her face (although we do hear her voice). The direction was handled by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who won the Oscar for it. A Letter to Three Wives is quite good, although when push comes to shove I personally prefer a few segments from some of Fox's other anthologies, notably the Charles Laughton and Edward G. Robinson scenes in the aforementioned Tales of Manhattan, and another movie on the schedule for next week.... Still, don't let that take anything away from A Letter to Three Wives. If you miss tomorrow's showing on FMC, don't worry: it's available on DVD.

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