One Saturday morning, Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell), and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern), get together to take a bunch of children on a boat trip and a picnic. Only problem is, there was supposed to be a fourth woman with them, Addie Ross (played by a never-seen, only heard, Celeste Holm). Just before Deborah, Lora, and Rita leave on the boat, a messenger delivers a letter from Addie in which she says that she has run off with one of their husbands, but doesn’t say which one. As the day progresses, each woman thinks back to an incident that could have made their husband want to leave them and how Addie Ross plays into each scenario.
Deborah remembers the first night she went to the local country club and met her husband Brad’s (Jeffrey Lynn) friends. They live in the small town where Brad grew up and Deborah is worried about being accepted in the tight-knight community. Her hair is a mess, her dress is out-of-date, and she has a few too many martinis. Before going to the country club, Rita tries to reassure Deborah and helps her alter her unfashionable dress. Unfortunately, while dancing at the country club, Deborah has a bit of a wardrobe malfunction in front of everybody. She’s convinced she couldn’t possibly stand up next to the eternally smooth Addie.
Next, Rita recalls a disastrous dinner party. Rita is a radio writer and is married to George Phipps (Kirk Douglas), a teacher who has difficulty accepting that his wife is the primary breadwinner. She arranges a dinner party for her bosses, during which she planned to offer George a job. Rita wants George to be dressed to the nines and ready to impress. George doesn’t understand why she’s so bent on impressing her boss and doesn’t cooperate. Then a delivery comes for George, a record from Addie, and Rita realizes she completely forgot George’s birthday. Once Rita’s bosses arrive, they are more interested in spending hours listening to radio programs than they are in dinner. Before leaving, Rita’s boss asks George for his opinion on the radio programs and he is quite brutally honest. After the bosses leave, Rita and George get into a fight over Rita’s career ambitions.
Lora doesn’t recall one single incident, rather she realizes the entire basis for their marriage is enough to make her husband, Porter (Paul Douglas), want to leave. Porter owns a chain of department stores and met Lora when she was working for him. At the time, Lora was living in a house by the railroad tracks with her mother and sister and was determined to marry up. Porter had already been married and divorced and wasn’t looking to get married again. But Lora refuses to have any kind of relationship with him unless he’s willing to give her what she wants. Although Porter could very easily have Addie, he agrees to marry Lora.
A Letter to Three Wives is the very definition of an under-appreciated classic. Although it was a Best Picture Oscar nominee and earned Joseph L. Mankiewicz Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay, I really don’t hear much about this one. That’s really unfortunate because it’s an excellent and unique movie. I don’t recall ever seeing this plot ever being ripped off and used in another movie. It was very well written and has a good twist at the end. The acting was great and it’s just a movie that I’d gladly watch again and again. I just can’t figure out why this movie isn’t talked about more. Maybe it was eclipsed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s next movie, All About Eve. But whatever the reason, if you ever have the chance to see it, I would highly recommend it.