Bill Austin (Van Johnson) was once a struggling writer, but he recently struck gold when one of his books became a best-seller.
Bill and his wife, Bertie (Janet Leigh), decide to make the most of their new-found wealth and move to the suburbs for a simpler life of leisure, complete with fancy new gadgets, a maid and snoopy neighbors (Ray Walston and Shelly Winters). Bill will work on adapting his novel into a Broadway play, and Bertie can quit her job at a dental office to focus on her role as a mother.
But in the immortal words of Biggie and friends, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” Marital bliss does not come along with that newfound wealth for Bill and Bertie. Bill’s “sexy agent” (as Bertie calls his literary agent, portrayed by Martha Hyer) tempts him with her glamour and charm, while Bertie’s eye is caught by the handsome actor who may star in the play based on her husband’s novel.
Wives and Lovers (1963) was directed by John Rich and written by Edward Anhalt, based on a play by Jay Presson Allen.
John Rich is best known for his work on television, including many episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl and Gomer Pyle. Rich struggles to break out of that television mold here, and his directorial style for this film is incredibly reminiscent of his television work. As a fan of classic television, this style didn’t bother me, but it certainly doesn’t make the film stand out.
The performances of the entire cast are believable. The characters are written in such a way that they strive to seem very “true to life,” so the actors don’t have much room for creativity or elaboration, but even in her “normal wife of a wealthy husband” role Janet Leigh is particularly successful.
As for the story, it leaves some to be desired. The premise has great potential for both drama and comedy, but the film never reaches high levels of either of those things. Bill and Bertie argue, but their arguments don’t have high tension. The film has a comedic element to it, but not consistently and never of laugh-out-loud funny type.
Wives and Lovers is a decent watch, but it never becomes a great one. Because it doesn’t meet its potential, it does seem to drag on. The cast is generally likable and the premise is decent, but I can’t see myself watching this one again because it moves so slowly and lacks any “oomph.” There are a few punchy scenes the final quarter, but they aren’t enough to save the film. The score: 2/5