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Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain, A Letter to Three Wives
Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain, A Letter to Three Wives

Linda Darnell, the gorgeous leading lady of numerous 20th Century Fox productions of the '40s, is Turner Classic Movies' "Summer Under the Stars" player this Saturday, August 27. TCM, which has leased titles from the Fox library, is showing 14 Linda Darnell movies, including no less than 9 TCM premieres. [Linda Darnell Movie Schedule.]

Right now, TCM is showing writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives (1949), winner of Academy Awards for Best Direction and Best Screenplay. This curious comedy-drama about a husband who leaves his wife for another woman – but whose husband? Linda Darnell's, Jeanne Crain's, or Ann Sothern's? – also earned Mankiewicz the very first Directors Guild of America Award and a Writers Guild Award (which Mankiewicz shared with Vera Caspary) for the Best Written American Comedy. The husbands in question are Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, and Jeffrey Lynn.

Next in line is Walter Lang's Star Dust (1940), one of the many give-a-girl-a-Hollywood-break movies of that period. Darnell, supposedly playing a role based on her own experiences in Hollywood, is the young actress wannabe. Fox hunk John Payne is the contract player who attempts to help her out. See if you can spot future Warner Bros. star Joan Leslie in a bit role; coincidentally, Leslie had her own "Hollywood" movie that same year, the short Alice in Movieland, and would play another similar role in the all-star extravaganza Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) at Warners.

I've never watched John Brahm's Hangover Square (1945), but it does sound intriguing: "A composer who can't control his creative temperament turns to murder," as per the TCM synopsis. Laird Cregar, of The Lodger fame, is the "creative" composer. By the time Hangover Square was released, Cregar was already dead. The seriously overweight 31-year-old actor went on a crash died and suffered a fatal heart attack in December 1944.

Mankiewicz's No Way Out (1950) is an interesting, well-intentioned melodrama about ethnic relations, with Richard Widmark as a racist gangster in need of medical care. Who shows up to try to help him out? Sidney Poitier. I'd have liked this one better had the film featured, say, Paul Robeson or Ethel Waters or Hattie McDaniel or Louise Beavers or anyone less self-consciously upstanding than Poitier in the role. Darnell capably plays the role of a jaded woman quite unlike her sweet young things of her early Fox days. No Way Out, in fact, is proof that the more mature Darnell got, the more beautiful and more interesting she became.

Edmund Goulding's Everybody Does It (1949) is a misfire for all concerned. Goulding, who had done superior dramatic work elsewhere (e.g., The Old Maid, The Great Lie) seems at a loss with the light comedy found in Nunnally Johnson's screenplay. Paul Douglas was never exactly a likable performer, and you must really like him to enjoy this tale of a businessman who discovers he has a talent for opera singing. Darnell has a subordinate role as the woman who encourages Douglas to literally give voice to his talent. Celeste Holm, the narrator in A Letter to Three Wives, is Douglas' befuddled opera-singer wannabe wife.

I haven't watched Day-Time Wife, the first pairing of Linda Darnell and Tyrone Power. Warren William co-stars in this tale about a wife who, after discovering that her husband has been cheating on her, starts working for his business rival. Power and Darnell would be reunited that same year in Brigham Year and The Mark of Zorro, and the following year in Blood and Sand.

Linda Darnell died at the age of 41 on April 10, 1965. She had been watching Star Dust when the house she was in caught fire. Darnell died from burns that covered 90 percent of her body.

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Continue Reading: Linda Darnell Movie Schedule: FALLEN ANGEL, HANGOVER SQUARE, DAY-TIME WIFE

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2 Comments to Linda Darnell on TCM: A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, NO WAY OUT

  1. Scott Schada

    I recall clearly the moment at Glenview Illinois's Glenbrook South High School when our English teacher, Mr. Barker told the class that "actress Linda Darnell had died"; probably none of us sophomores knew who she was, including Sue Darnell, who was a girl in the class. We all did know of Carriage Hill, a new upscale townhome subdivision where the tragic fire had occurred. It looks much the same today; with the exception that the trees are much larger. Lately I have been researching her life, and find hers to be the almost a quintessential story of a girl whom Hollywood took in, used, abused, spit out, etc. except that Monetta Darnell did have success and became a capable actress, showing growth perhaps via the cynicysm that in part matured her. I think alcohol was the culprit in her not being strong enough to keep fighting the good fight. I read a comment from some older actor about her at a rehearsal, something about "this beautiful woman unable to remember her lines, because she was enebriated" or words to that effect......it may not be that simple, but if it was, until she succumbed, she gave us a number of really good performances.

  2. Daniel Bubbeo

    I was thrilled that TCM saluted Linda Darnell, who sadly has been forgotten over the years. She was wonderful in Hangover Square and Fallen Angel, but the real gem in her film career is A Letter to Three Wives. That film really demonstrated how Darnell was really capable of developing a character with many layers. She showed wonderful comic timing and was equally good in the dramatic moments of that movie. I don't another director brought as much out of her as Jospeh Mankiewicz did with that movie, which I'd put in my top 10 of all time


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