A Letter to Three Wives is a film that preys on women’s insecurities. We see these vulnerable women everywhere, we may know a few or even be one of them. No matter how successful they are or how great they look, there is always a small fear in the back of their head that their spouse will find someone better. And that thought spawns competition between all other women, especially those single head turners. Here, that main competition and threat is a mysterious woman named Addy.
So here is the setup, three wives are about to get on a boat for a day chaperoning a group of children on a picnic and just before they leave they receive a telegram. It is from Addy, the town beauty and narrator. All the men love her and all the women are threatened by her. The telegram is addressed to all three of the wives and informing them that Addy has run off with one of their husbands, but which one? From here on we see flashbacks as each wife reexamines a point in their marriage that could have pushed their husband to run away with Addy.
Deborah (Jeanne Crain) feels the threat immediately, knowing that Addy was her husband’s childhood sweetheart. She thinks back to a time out dancing where she was afraid a wardrobe malfunction embarrassed her husband, Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) . By the time she had fixed her dress, Brad was on the balcony talking to Addy alone.
Rita (Ann Sothern) recalls a recent incident where she had her boss over for a fancy dinner and forgot all about her husband’s birthday. It isn’t until a gift from Addy arrives for George (Kirk Douglas) that Rita realizes her mistake in planning. All through the evening, George has to politely listen to her boss swoon over the cheap radio programs they work for. George is a school teacher and proud of his work, despite the small income. Though Rita makes about as much money as Geoge does only working in the evenings, he makes it clear that he does not like his wife working for radio, a medium he feels is killing real literature.
Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) thinks back to her courting days with her husband Porter (Paul Douglas). Through the ups and downs of their relationship, it is clear that Lora Mae is a gold digger to some extent. Her family is poor, there is a noticeable age gap between her and Porter and she is using her feminine charms to play him like a violin. Their engagement is more of a truce to cool down the obvious jealousy over Addy.
Though many of these themes are less severe today, they still exist. It is much more common for the wife to make more money, but the possibility of emasculation still exists. And gold digging, we’ve practically turned that into a sport we watch on reality television.
Then there’s the mysterious Addy, the seductive woman we never see in the film, but all insecure women can label with their own fear of who their husband may run off with. She is the socialite throwing fancy parties that he wants to attend. She sends the perfect gifts for the occasions you shamefully forgot all about. And she is his first love, the one you are always afraid you cannot replace. She embodies that one doubt that even the most secure of marriages secretly have. Most of all, she is a threat to every married woman.
Watching A Letter to Three Wives with your wife may be a bad idea, she may just interrogate you on that one mysterious weekend. Seeing it with a pack of married women may prove deadly as well, they are naturally suspicious creatures and are wired to tear all other women down for the sake of keeping their spouse. Though I’m not sure the safest way to watch the film, I personally would love to see a group of men watch this film. They might be the best group to shed real merit on these situations, to see if it holds any truth. I think they would agree that to some extent, these women are just paranoid.
“She won’t stay mad at him for long. She’s too much in love. Pretty soon she’ll be full of self-reproach. Ha ha! Women are so silly.”