UPON FURTHER REVIEW: A Letter to Jeanne Craine by Brad Eastland, Dr. of Ancient Filmology

February 22, 2010
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      Sometimes movies are personal.

      And that’s a good thing.   After all, isn’t that the whole point of motion picture entertainment?—to allow us to escape into another world, a world less bland, predictable, and humdrum than our own?

      You bet’cha.   And it’s great when something personal like a good old movie can take you totally by surprise.  

     jeanne-craine11 It happened to me just the other day.   I experienced a rare treat, at least rare for this reporter—‘got to see a really good really old movie for the very first time.   The reason I say rare is that I tend to watch the old movies I really like many times over.   Doesn’t seem to be much point in seeing a good movie once and then ignoring it for the rest of one’s life.   In fact, if someone asks me what single quality separates a really good movie from an ordinary one, I usually answer “repeat watchability”.   I firmly believe that the ability to be viewed again and again and again and still hit all the movie-buff G-spots is what makes a good movie great.   Some people think I’m cracked for thinking that way.   I generally regard those people as morons.

      Anyway, back to the column.   The dusty old film in question and this week’s recommended selection is called “A letter To Three Wives”, written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz.   The great Joe Mankiewicz.   The reason I say great is that he is—he’s the only man (or woman) to ever win back-to-back Oscars for both writing and directing, an achievement of such staggering proportions that I am certain it will never happen again.   His signature screen classic, “All About Eve”, came out in 1950, for which he deservedly won the Academy Award for best screenplay and best director.      But what nobody knows is that the year before, in 1949, he had already won Oscars—equally deservedly—for writing and directing a little-known little gem called….yep, “A Letter To Three Wives”.   So there’s your brief film history lesson for the week.      

      As for the film itself, it’s terrific.   There’s nothing like a crackling Mankiewicz script.   When it comes to parlor comedy and country-club farce he’s sort of like an American Noel Coward.   The cast is wonderful.   Kirk Douglas is in it, in like only his 3rd or 4th film ever.   Isn’t it great that he’s still alive 61 years later?   There’s another Douglas in the cast, Paul Douglas (no relation), a fine character actor whose most famous role is that of the beleaguered baseball manager in “Angels In The Outfield”, a role reprised recently in the remake by Danny Glover.   Linda Darnell does the best work of her career as one of the wives.   Ann Sothern is equally good as Kirk’s wife.   And Celeste Holm, as both the film’s narrator and the catty bitch who writes the title letter to her three best friends calmly informing them that she is about to leave town for good with one of their husbands in tow, does her usual fine job; even though we never actually see her scheming face.

      But the top-billed star of “A Letter To Three Wives” (and here’s where it gets personal for me) is the scrumptious  Jeanne Crain.   At least scrumptious to me.   Y’see, Jeanne Crain is my favorite actress.   Number One.   Of all time.   Yes, I’m fully aware that few of you have ever heard of her.   But I don’t care.   To me she’s beautiful, sexy, classy, a fine actress, and loaded with personality.   Heck, she just does it for me.   Great fame doesn’t equate to preferred status for this correspondent.   You can have Hepburn, Bette Davis, Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Angelina Jolie.   Give me Jeanne Crain every time….

      And in “A Letter To Three Wives” her husband, played by Jeffrey Lynn, is named “Brad”.   Now that’s just too good to be true.

      The plot is simple.   Celeste Holm’s character writes this mean, catty letter to her three erstwhile best friends, and then the film retreats into a series of flashbacks, as Crain, Sothern, and Darnell all soul-search their minds for clues as to whether or not it is their husband who is the likely candidate to run off with Holm.   I won’t reveal which husband is about to stray, or why, or when (or even if) he goes through with it.   I won’t spoil it for you.   If you like dialogue-driven comedy/drama, I promise that Mankiewicz will keep you entertained every step of the way.   Time for you pony up a couple bucks and pull it up on-line, or head on down to the ‘classics’ section of your local video store and pick up this little jewel.   Listen to the doctor—“A Letter To Three Wives” is a winner.

      Oh, and one more thing: for any of you from Pasadena (like me), the opening camera shot should interest you.   Because the introductory shot of the mythical little L.A. suburb the story takes place in is clearly Pasadena circa 1949, clearly an east-to-west shot of Colorado Boulevard.   The old Methodist Church is clearly visible in the foreground, the Castle Green Hotel looms in the background.   Very cool.   Like I said, this one is personal.




image0015Brad Eastland, our Dr. of Ancient Filmology, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.  (If you want to hear about new-release films, pick up a Times).   Special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels and over 20 short-stories.  Here are some samples of his best work:



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