For The Ladies – A Letter to Three Wives
Which husband ends up absconding with Addie? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out. But each wife must make her peace with Addie’s presence in her marriage before she has even a chance for happiness. And what does Addie want? We’ll never know. She narrates the film, but we never see her or learn of her motivations. The men adore her, but none of the women can see her clearly, because they are too busy reacting to how their husbands feel about her.
This kind of poisoned relationship is only one of the three types of female friendships in this film. Addie’s friendship with the three wives is purely of a social nature. She is a major player in their circle, but the wives have to put up with her because they cannot freeze her out—with good reason. She is also their rival and it is much better to have her close where they can watch her instead of wondering what she is up to. Even the three wives aren’t really friends. They are more like allies with friendly feelings. They’ll help protect each other from Addie and the outside world, but their truly warm feelings are reserved just for their families. The only real female friendship in the film is between Lora Mae’s mother Ruby and her best friend Sadie (who also happens to be Rita’s housekeeper). An uncredited Thelma Ritter plays Sadie—this being only her third film—and she is wonderful. Sadie and Ruby find true support in each other, and their scenes are both funny and touching. Of all the women in the film, it is only their friendship that is based on love. Perhaps they are too old to compete with each other anymore and can let their guard down.
Another really interesting thing about this movie is how fluid the class placements are. Deborah worries so much about being a farm girl who will never fit in that she never quite realizes that very few of the people in her new social circle started out where they ended up. Their circle belongs to the town’s elite, but you’d hardly realize that by looking at their backgrounds. George is a schoolteacher, Deborah is a farm girl, Porter is a self-made man, and Lora Mae has climbed her way into their marriage. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is at the unsuccessful dinner party Rita gives for her boss, Mrs. Manleigh. Sadie is serving dinner for the evening, and instead of ignoring her, Lora Mae acknowledges her as her mother’s best friend and stops to chat with her, and no one except for Mrs. Manleigh thinks anything of it. Even Rita’s and Sadie’s employer-employee relationship is informal and comedic in tone.
Why is this? It may have something to do with this story taking place not too long after World War II. Not only are class distinctions hazy, but all of the women in this film have worked or are currently employed. This film takes place before the 1950s backlash against women in the workforce, and none of the women seem to face any stigma for working outside of the home. Deborah was in the Navy, Rita is a writer, Lora Mae worked at one of Porter’s department stores, and Sadie and Ruby are employed into late middle age. (Addie Ross is the only woman I am unsure about, and I’m sure she does something classy.) The richer women aren’t working anymore, but every woman in this film deals with work at one time or another. The war changed society by pushing women out of the home and forcing both military and nonmilitary personnel to be more egalitarian. This film resides in the small pocket of time afterwards where the barriers have yet to be built back up.
This is a really great film. Nothing I have said so far has communicated how funny it is, and most of this humor takes place in the dialogue. It deserved its Oscar for best screenplay; the interplay between Lora Mae and Porter is very funny and Thelma Ritter is a joy. All of the performances are spot on, and the direction is sure-handed. It is not as good as All About Eve, but really, how many things are? It is a very fun watch, and if you haven’t seen A Letter to Three Wives yet, you probably should. It’s not a weepie, so no hankies needed; I’d get plenty of popcorn instead.