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A Letter to Three Wives
Posted by: BruceinIthaca 02:35 pm EST 01/24/22

I watched this 1949 classic on TCM last night for the umpteenth time (my husband had never seen it) and was once again enchanted and amused by its wit and heart, as well as by the superb writing and direction (and surprised that none of the actors received Oscar nominations--though it might have been that none seemed to be a lead per se, but too prominent for supporting categories). While I think there is a fine sense of continuity (with Thelma Ritter being a canny thread in two of the main stories), I was also struck that it could be a fun musical--maybe of the old three act kind (like "The Apple Tree") with different styles of music for each: Rodgers and Hammerstein for the Jeanne Crain episode (not just because of "State Fair," but the wistful young woman in love), something more Cole Porter or Irving Berlin for Ann Sothern, and maybe Gershwin or vaudeville for Linda Darnell. It got me wondering--has anyone ever tried to musicalize it? I realize some of the attitudes about the sexes are relics of their time (one reason the 1985 TV remake was such a mistake--also, Loni Anderson, Michelle Lee, and Stephanie Zimbalist, all good performers in their own ways, are not Mesdames Crain, Sothern, and Darnell), but they could be played for period, or there could be ways of commenting on the sexism. Actually, the Sothern and Darnell stories are pretty forward-thinking for their time--even though Sothern retreats into the obedient wife role (but still is going to continue writing the radio copy) and Darnell gets the marriage on her own terms. The conclusion with Darnell and Douglas is in many ways the most moving--like something out of "Ballroom."

I think it could still be a marvelous musical, and because of the dialogue and relative few numbers of settings (M always wrote more like a playwright than a cinematically visual artist--not a criticism, I enjoy his movies more than those of any other golden age director--I also think "Ghost and Mrs. Muir" would be a great stage musical--especially using Bernard Herrmann's score, which was drawn from for the recent "Red Shoes" ballet of Matthew Bourne, to mixed effect.
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