Talkie of the Week: Three Husbands
USA 1951, 77 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Irving Reis, Written by Vera Caspary. Cast: Eve Arden, Ruth Warrick, Vanessa Brown, Howard Da Silva, Shepperd Strudwick, Robert Karnes, Emlyn Williams, Billie Burke, Louise Erickson, Jonathan Hale, Jane Darwell
Plot summary: When Maxwell Bard, a desired playboy, dies, he leaves a letter to each of his three married friends, teasing them about the affairs he supposedly had with their wives.
Review: In 1949, A Letter to Three Wives was released by 20th Century Fox, starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Jeffrey Lynn, Paul Douglas and Kirk Douglas. The movie was loosely based on John Klempner’s novel A Letter to Five Wives and adapted by Vera Caspary and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Director (Mankiewicz) and Best Screenplay, and was also nominated for Best Motion Picture. In 1951, Vera Caspary turned the tables of the plot and wrote the screenplay for a comedy version of the story called Three Husbands.
The film stars Emlyn Williams as Max Bard, a recently deceased playboy who was on very good terms with three of his best friends’ wives. Informing the husbands about the nature of these friendships in individual letters, he causes a stir in the married lives of all three of them until Max’ will exposes the reasons behind his postmortem honesty. In a surprising twist, the wives come out on top and stand tall without condemning their husbands, their attitude smoothing the impact of female victory without destroying its message: wives are happier when they are allowed to retain their independence.
Three Husbands is a comedy, pure and simple. It lives from its hilarious cast, the catchy dialogue and delightful outcome. It is a story about marriage, rumors and trust. It is also a good seventy-seven minutes of entertainment with a dash of innocent laughs. Eve Arden is my personal cherry on top in this film. Her qualities as a comedienne are so refined and work beautifully with Howard Da Silva and Emlyn Williams, it’s worth watching this movie for their scenes alone. But you should really give the entire film a chance. If you like classic comedies and a decent cast, I’m positive you won’t be disappointed.