Linda Darnell Movies: Oscar-Winning 'A Letter to Three Wives' & Race Relations in 'No Way Out'

Linda Darnell
Linda Darnell

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, '11. TCM, which has leased titles from the Fox library, is showing 14 Linda Darnell movies, including no less than 9 TCM premieres. (See Linda Darnell Movie Schedule further below.)

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.

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

Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:

6:00 AM ZERO HOUR! (1957) When a flight crew falls ill only man who can land the plane is afraid of flying. Dir.: Hall Bartlett. Cast: Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Sterling Hayden. Black and white. 81 min. Letterbox Format.

7:30 AM SWEET AND LOW DOWN (1944) Dir: Archie Mayo. Cast: Benny Goodman, Linda Darnell, Jack Oakie. Black and white. 76 min.

9:00 AM RISE AND SHINE (1941) The college president head cheerleader and a gambling gangster try to keep a flunking football star in the game. Dir.: Allan Dwan. Cast: Jack Oakie, George Murphy, Linda Darnell. Black and white. 88 min.

10:45 AM BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940) Two young Mormons struggle to survive their people's journey to a new home in the West. Dir.: Henry Hathaway. Cast: Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Dean Jagger. Black and white. 113 min.

12:45 PM TWO FLAGS WEST (1950) A bitter Union commander is forced to accept Confederate prisoners to help fight an Indian war. Dir.: Robert Wise. Cast: Joseph Cotten, Linda Darnell, Jeff Chandler, Cornel Wilde. Black and white. 92 min.

2:30 PM SECOND CHANCE (1953) A crooked boxer falls for a gangster's moll on the run in Mexico. Dir.: Rudy Mate. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Linda Darnell, Jack Palance. Color. 82 min.

4:00 PM BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE (1952) A kidnapped beauty gets caught between feuding pirates. Dir.: Raoul Walsh. Cast: Robert Newton, Linda Darnell, William Bendix. Color. 99 min.

6:00 PM FALLEN ANGEL (1945) A man is accused of killing a waitress he had tried to seduce with his wife's money. Dir.: Otto Preminger. Cast: Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell. Black and white. 97 min.

8:00 PM A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1948) A small-town seductress notifies her three best friends that she has run off with one of their husbands. Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Cast: Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Paul Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Jeffrey Lynn. Black and white. 103 min. Letterbox Format.

10:00 PM STAR DUST (1940) When the studios reject her because she's too young, a young actress sets out to build a career on her own. Dir.: Walter Lang. Cast: Linda Darnell, John Payne, Roland Young. Black and white. 86 min.

11:30 PM HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) A composer who can't control his creative temperament turns to murder. Dir.: John Brahm. Cast: Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, George Sanders. Black and white. 78 min.

1:00 AM NO WAY OUT (1950) A racist gangster forces a black doctor to tend to his injuries. Dir.: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Cast: Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Stephen McNally, Sidney Poitier. Black and white. 107 min.

3:00 AM EVERYBODY DOES IT (1949) While fostering his wife's opera career, a businessman discovers he's the one with talent. Dir.: Edmund Goulding. Cast: Paul Douglas, Linda Darnell, Celeste Holm. Black and white. 98 min.

4:45 AM DAY-TIME WIFE (1939) After catching her husband with his secretary, a young wife goes to work for his business rival. Dir.: Gregory Ratoff. Cast: Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Warren William. Black and white. 72 min.


TCM website.

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2 Comments to Linda Darnell Movies: Oscar-Winning 'A Letter to Three Wives' & Race Relations in '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