As a director, Mankiewicz’s style—now unharnessed from the bolder visual style of genre expectations—may be plainer, as though demanding closer attention to the performances and dialogue. But the blocking is thoughtful, and small felicities lap around the edges. The realization of Linda Darnell’s family home inLetter, for instance, is precisely laid out and wonderfully a-jumble (the gag about the walls shaking when the train passes is classic).
Mankiewicz’s writing is scintillating and expressive, but his daring direction makes it burst into life. When Crain utters the film’s most anguished line, she gives a defiant, dramatically unmotivated look into the camera, a gesture of existential complicity that became a cornerstone of cinematic modernism. Despite its emotional intensity, the film is comic, effervescently so, and its magical ending lends wit a metaphysical dimension.
His first hit as a director after several undistinguished outings, this crisp and witty comedy of manners about suburban matrimony reveals the beginnings of Joseph Mankiewicz's distinctive style. Smartly self-aware, with its teasing voicover and plaited story of rueful marital memories, it formally prefigures All About Eve and the graveside flashbacks of The Barefoot Contessa.