As a 1949 theatrical film, "A Letter to Three Wives" was a four-star movie in most people's books, a movie that won Joseph L. Mankiewicz twin Oscars for his writing and direction, and which featured the super cast of Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain, Paul Douglas, Kirk Douglas and the voice of Celeste Holm.
But that was 36 years ago. So, two generations of movie-goers later, 20th Century Fox Television has redone the show for NBC (9 p.m. Monday). It is yet another example of television's relying heavily on another medium for its raw material, but if copy-cattism doesn't bother you, and you're not burdened with fixed impressions from the original, this version of "Three Wives" makes for an entertaining evening.
Loni Anderson, Michele Lee and Stephanie Zimbalist play three wives who embark on an all-day cruise. As their ship leaves the dock, they receive a letter from Addie Ross, a man-killer all their husbands know, telling them she has run off with one of their spouses. The storyline then builds in flashbacks, leaving wives and viewers alike to wonder for the next two hours which hubby has come under Addie's spell. The potential co-conspirators in question are played by Ben Gazzara, Charles Frank and Michael Gross.
"This show is romantic and pretty to watch," said Lee, who plays the Ann Sothern part, acknowledging that the show is a throwback to the romance movies of the '40s, but with an '80s update.
"The updating almost made it a different piece," said Zimbalist.
For Anderson, the film was part of a wish-fulfillment that nearly came undone. She saw the original piece when she was 14 and always wanted to play the Linda Darnell role. "But when the script arrived, it had my name on another part," she recalled. "I protested that I was wrong for that part and was told there was a mistake. I was down for the part I wanted."