A romantic-comedy sleeper, MGM’s A Letter for Evie is a charming wartime reworking of the basic Cyrano de Bergerac plot. (Interestingly, 1945 also produced a dramatic update of Cyrano, the Joseph Cotten-Jennifer Jones “woman’s picture” Love Letters.) The most refreshing element of Evie is its casting, moving two worthy supporting players up to lead status. Marsha Hunt, who is still with us at 91, was one of the more enchanting and intelligent of MGM’s contract players in the 40s, notably in The Human Comedy (1943) and several of the major Greer Garson vehicles. Here she is a radiant leading lady, warm and delightful. Though her career was sidelined by the 50s blacklist, TCM makes it possible for film lovers to discover Hunt during her heyday at MGM, plus brawling with Susan Hayward in the powder room in the non-MGM Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947).
The other charmer here is Hume Cronyn, coming off his excellent Oscar-nominated performance in the WWII drama The Seventh Cross (1944), one of the forty films discussed at length in my book Screen Savers. Cronyn was in his brief tenure at Metro and, like Hunt, he is immensely appealing. Evie‘s hunk is John Carroll, at the end of his brief period of almost-fame as one of MGM’s Clark Gable stand-ins while Gable was off at war. No one could mistake Carroll for Gable, despite the dark hair and the mustache, and he drifted away once Gable returned.
Evie‘s director, Jules Dassin, another short-term resident on the MGM campus, did a nice job, though the film is marred by a few comic sequences that go on much too long and aren’t ever very funny. But the overall film is a neat little comedy and a sweet romance. Dassin hit his stride in film noir, with a string of notable works, such as Brute Force (1947), again with Cronyn, The Naked City (1948), and then his two best, Thieves’ Highway (1949) and Night and the City (1950). He, like Hunt, was a victim of the blacklist, but he found great success abroad with the admired caper Rififi (1955) and then a series of pictures with wife Melina Mercouri, including Never on Sunday (1960) and Topkapi (1964), two famous pictures that can’t compare with his best work.