A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

There are multiple facets that contribute to a strong relationship – affection, respect, a sense of mutual adventure, and most of all, trust. How can a couple, group of friends, siblings, or parents and children create stronger roots in their relationship if reliability has not been built or has been fractured? The latter can lead to an emptiness in one’s life, further leading to estrangement. This excellent film, directed and written by Joseph Mankiewicz, navigates the suspicion and fear that grows within three broken relationships when threatened by a mutual and cultured friend named Addie Ross to whom all the husbands admire.

Rita, Debbie, and Lora Mae are three gal pals of upper middle class who volunteer to chaperone a group of children on a boat trip one Saturday afternoon. Prior to boarding the vessel, they receive a letter from Addie who states that she has left town with one of their husbands, not stating whom. The rest of the film is told in flashback whereby each woman recounts past interactions with their husbands that revolved around some type of “Addie vs. me” ideology. The women each ponder what could have created divisiveness in their marriages – did they have feelings for Addie prior to my involvement in their lives? Did I drive them away? Am I not good enough? Following the boat trip, the truth is discovered and the relationships are altered by that truth.

The “Letter to Three Wives” undoubtedly amplified fear regarding the lack of trust in each relationship. However, there the spectrum of “the troubled relationship” was unique to each couple. As I was watching the film, I was also thinking about women’s rights and freedoms, and how much they have evolved and changed since 1949. I feel that each woman was repressed along a scale regarding their self-expression, and that the letter may have also intensified their resentment towards their husbands’ ability to live and think more freely than themselves. Addie Ross represents a female who is not in an authoritarian relationship, and seems to live a more liberal life to which they may aspire to live. I wonder whether women of 1949 would have thought about the female characters’ views in this regard, or would they have been rooting for the more traditional marriage to always shine through above all? This film left me with many questions regarding the topics of traditional roles in relationships, but also more fundamental questions regarding trust, hope, and loss. How do we regain trust lost? What does it mean to end a relationship? What do we hope for in a relationship? Overall, it is quite alarming that a short letter can stimulate the exploration of these fundamental truths, but that is what allows us to importantly discover our dreams, values, and drives.


I do not own the above image.



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