Karen of shadowsandsatin is hosting a celebratory blogathon in honour of the 100th birthday of Mr. Kirk Douglas, and we've all been invited. To join the party, click HERE.
I always think of A Letter to Three Wives as an elegant movie. Certainly, it is not elegant in the idea that we are peering into the lives of these three couples, but in its elegant in its execution. Joseph Mankiewicz won Oscars for directing and for best screenplay. Vera Caspry (Laura) adapted from a story by John Klempner and shared in a Writers Guild of America win with Mankiewicz. As both writer and director Mankiewicz crafted the story of three marriages at a crisis point and the woman behind them all into a seamless vision. Poignant and humourous flashbacks smoothly reveal the regrets and love at stake.
Most elegant of all is the coolly ironic voice of Celeste Holm introducing us to her town and her friends. She is Addie Ross and Addie Ross has a connection to each of the men in our story. To rich and handsome Brad Bishop (Jeffrey Lynn) she shared her first black eye and her first kiss. To department store magnate Porter Hollingway (Paul Douglas) she is the embodiment of class and everything to which he aspires. To George Phipps (Kirk Douglas) she is an old pal, someone who understands and remembers. To the wives, Debra Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell) and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern), Addie Ross is, to be polite, a thorn in their collective sides. Addie is a reminder of all the things that they are not. Addie's connection to the three men is so deep and the animosity that has built up with their wives so pervasive that when Addie writes a farewell letter to her friends letting them know that she has left town with one of their husbands, they believe her.
Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas
In celebration of Kirk Douglas' centenary we will now turn our attention to George Phipps. George and Rita, according to their friend Brad, were engaged at the age of five by an exchange of beetles. George, like Addie, is a commentator on the state of affairs. He has strong opinions and is not averse to making those opinions known, in his own wry manner. George is considered something of an oddball and he likes it that way. George is a schoolteacher, a man of limited earning potential, but one completely happy in his chosen career. He loves his wife Rita for her independence and supports her career as a writer for a radio program. Rita's work outside the home has certainly made life more comfortable for the couple who are also the parents of twins. Nonetheless, in one of the most popular scenes from the movie, George lets his uncomplimentary opinion of radio and popular conteporary culture be known to the producers of Rita's show. Florence Bates and Hobart Cavanagh are not impressed.
"The purpose of radio writing, as far as I can see, is to prove to the masses that a deodorant can bring happiness, a mouthwash guarantee success and a laxative attract romance." And that's just the start of his rant!
George, in a most modern attitude, works hard to not resent Rita's superior role in the family finances. He overlooks her forgetting his birthday or being too distracted to take an interest in good news he tries to impart. What bothers George, along with Rita's foolish jealousy of Addie, is her subverting her true character in order to please her producers.
George Phipps is a find. George Phipps is a keeper. George Phipps is the Kirk Douglas that I fell in love with as a teenager. My other Kirk experiences at the time were multiple viewings of The Vikings and Detective Story. The violent Einar and the obsessive Detective McLeod were performances that impressed me, but the characters did not make my heart smile.
The devil-may-care attitude found in other Douglas characterizations such as Ned Land in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Dempsey Ray in Man Without a Star , along with his Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie also get a high crush rating, but none of them have pushed George Phipps off his throne. I realize there is a healthy dose of Mankiewicz in those feelings, but I can't imagine a better performance than the one given by Kirk Douglas to bring all the facets of George Phipps to life in A Letter to Three Wives.