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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's the 1950's in the town of Hadley, Texas, and the town's namesake
and resident oil baron Jasper Hadley (Keith) has about all he can
handle with his business and two adult children, Kyle (Stack) and
Marylee (Malone). Kyle has just met Lucy Moore, (Bacall) an advertising
executive's secretary who was introduced to him by his best friend
Mitch Wayne (Hudson) after they had only just met themselves. Kyle
sweeps Lucy off of her feet and after a one-day courtship end up
eloping, much to Mitch's chagrin since he's in love with Lucy himself.
Meanwhile, Marylee, who is the resident town tramp, is becoming
increasingly aggressive in her pursuit of Mitch, who wants nothing to
do with her. When Marylee plants the idea in Kyle's head that Lucy and
Mitch are having an affair (at the time, untrue) in a sick attempt to
break up the couple in order for her to have Mitch there for herself,
Kyle goes on a bender. Lucy, meanwhile, discovers from the doctor that
she is pregnant, the father definitely being Kyle. That night, after
Kyle returns home drunk, she tells him the news and he hits her,
knocking her to the ground, assuming that it is Mitch's, and leaves the
house after Mitch throws him out, threatening to kill him if he
returns. He of course does return, and tries to shoot Mitch, but
Marylee sneaks up behind him and grabs the gun, causing Kyle to shoot
himself instead, not before finding out that he indeed was the father
of Lucy's baby, which was of course, miscarried.
"Written on the Wind" was one heck of a movie. Directed by the great Douglas Sirk, it is high melodrama and camp at its best. (Worst, depending on how much you like this kind of film.) Lauren Bacall, who has been quiet and dignified in every film I've seen her in, carries that demeanor through to this film, but it seems grossly out of place. Dorothy Malone, an actress I have heard of but haven't seen in a film that I can recall, is so tanned she is orange, and has a bad brassy blonde dye job, and practically spits out her lines, she is so evil and childish. Rock Hudson stays pretty true to character, playing the big lug who is generally a good guy, and Robert Stack, who I honestly only remember seeing in Unsolved Mysteries, is a riot as a drunken playboy. The story is nothing better than your average nighttime soap opera fare, and as stated earlier, the ending is sewn up a little too nicely and easily to be believed.
What the film does have, however, is style to spare. In classic Douglas Sirk fashion, the vibrancy of the colors in the film is astounding, and the lush scenery and costumes are beautiful. One scene in particular that actually left me kind of breathless was a pivotal scene in the film where the father, Jasper, dies. Marylee has just picked up another guy, a gas station attendant this time, and was brought home by the cops. After marching upstairs defiantly, she puts on a Latin-style "cha-cha" type album with screaming trumpets and turns it up very loudly, while dancing around in her bedroom with this flowing dark pink nightgown on. We see the father walking up the stairs resolutely, but weakly, to confront her about it, but when he reaches the top of the stairs he collapses and falls down the entire staircase. Meanwhile, we still hear the music shrieking, and the shots of the father are intercut with his daughter dancing furiously and kicking her legs around in this pink gown. It is a stunning scene that lasts for only about 20 seconds, but was enough to make me sit up and take full notice. The melodrama factor in "Written on the Wind" is about as high as I've seen short of a Joan Crawford/Bette Davis film, and it is pretty delicious. Much like the great "deer scene" at the end of "Magnificent Obsession", "Written on the Wind" has its own overly done final scene. Marylee, left alone in the family house now that Kyle and her father are both deceased, watches Mitch and Lucy leave from her father's office window. She turns around and is wearing a prim suit (first time we've seen something like that on her) and as she sits at her father's desk, she clutches a model of an oil tower, mirroring the portrait of her father behind the desk. It is an absolute riot, pure and simple.
"Written on the Wind" begins with the film's near conclusion, and the wind blows the pages of a day calendar back to show what happened in the preceding year leading up to the events. Unfortunately, the characters in the film were so shallowly presented, with little background, that I didn't feel a whole lot for them. However, that is not to say that the film is not well done or enjoyable. If anything, Douglas Sirk shows that he can take bland fare and turn it into a film that is both well-presented and easy to watch. It isn't remotely boring, nor is it believable, but it is great escapist cinema. Watching this film is like watching a good episode of Dynasty, or in recent programming, Desperate Housewives. I actually had a pretty low opinion of it on a surface level, but after reconstructing it in my mind I could not deny that the film was exactly what it set out to be, and that I had actually really enjoyed it for its extravagance. If you don't have an appetite or appreciation for this kind of drama, don't bother with the film; you'll hate it. If you do like and appreciate this type of film and subsequently, the work of Douglas Sirk, don't miss this one because it is actually a lot of fun. 6/10 --Shelly
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Written on the Wind" was an enormously successful Universal picture.
It could only be done by Douglas Sirk, a man who saw the possibilities
in the material he was given. Based on a popular novel by Robert Wilder
and an adaptation by George Zuckerman, it had all the elements that
make an excellent melodrama: nymphomania, a large oil fortune,
alcoholism, incest and a mild touch of homosexuality. Mr. Sirk laid the
path for what would follow later on in the soap operas genre, mainly,
"Dallas" and "Dynasty", just to mention two.
The fact is this movie was shot entirely inside a studio. Most of the decor is phony. Like a lot of those 1950s pictures, "Written on the Wind" was shot entirely in a studio lot. Just look at the scenes that are supposed to take place in Manhattan, or Miami, or even the lake are, one can see how the scenery is a painted backdrop. Mr. Sirk couldn't care less about realism as long as he could tell the story his own way.
We recently caught a screening, part of a revival of Mr. Sirk's work, where people were laughing at some of the most dramatic moments, especially during the scenes where Rock Hudson, who plays the good Mitch Wayne, appears. There is also something graphic in the way that both Robert Keith, who plays the patriarch Jasper Hadley, and later on his own daughter, the evil Marylee, caress the oil derrick that adorns the elder man's desk, a sort of phallic object d'art.
Douglas Sirk probably wanted his cast to give over the top performances, which makes sense in the way Dorothy Malone portrays the nymphomaniac Marylee, and to a certain degree, Robert Stack, who overacts as Kyle, the tormented heir of the story. That would probably be the easy explanation of what comes across the screen. The only one that seems normal is Lauren Bacall, who wasn't asked to make her Lucy Moore character appear to be anything but a grounded person caught hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Together with his other Hollywood movies, "Written on the Wind" shows the genius of a talented director who gave the public just what they wanted to see: stories bigger than life that could only be seen on the big screen
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this film for the first time not too long on TCM's "Essentials" series. The eye of the beholder cliché was never more apropos. This beholder saw little of value in this one. I was puzzled by the infinite attraction that Lucy (Lauren Bacall) possessed. Granted, Ms. Bacall was a beautiful woman, but in this film her character comes off more mousy than attractive. I would think men like Mitch Wayne and Kyle Hadley would more likely ignore Lucy than fall into an instant infatuation with her. In Bacall's defense, this film was made at the time of Humphrey Bogart's last illness and the weight of his deteriorating health may have affected her performance. Of course part of this mousiness on the part of Lucy was to contrast her to slutty Marylee, played to the hilt and beyond by Dorothy Malone. The scene where she engages in a wildly sensual dance while her father wearily climbs the stairs to a fatal heart attack is far and away the best scene in the film. Malone's performance outshines the rest, although Jasper Hadley's weariness at the disappointing behavior of his two children is brilliantly portrayed by Robert Keith. Generally, though, I would have to say that I'm just not much of a fan of melodrama. The cartoonish behavior of the characters just makes for a story too implausible for my tastes.
To me this just comes off as a soap opera. I guess any depiction of
profligate people can be considered "social commentary." But in the
final analysis, I simply don't care how you characterize this film.
None of the characters are very likable or engaging. I felt no
chemistry between Hudson and Bacall. If there is a love story here, it
is lost in the malaise. And despite the twist ending provided by a
complete and immediate (and therefore, incomprehensible) reversal by
Dorothy Maguire on the witness stand, the story is insufficient to hold
my interest. No matter how much Freudian symbolism and psychology are
throw in, this story is sleazy, melodramatic and trite.
Rock Hudson is nobly wooden. This is Lauren Bacall's least engaging role and one of her poorest performances. Dorothy Maguire and Robert Stack deliver more inspired performances, but her character is vile, and his is pathetic. Robert Keith, as the loving, out-of-touch father of two miscreant adult children, is the most sympathetic character. Most interesting of all, however, is the severe-looking Robert Wilke in a small role as the bar owner. He is best remembered as a nasty henchman in countless Westerns, but here he is an honest, likable fellow.
I take my social commentary with an interesting, engaging story and a few likable characters, thank you.
Another in the they don't make em like that category. This story of a family with some real skeletons in its closet still qualifies as good clean, sometimes over-the-top fun. Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone are at their peak as the troubled Hadley siblings, and they really took the roles and ran with them. Malone won an Oscar and Stack was nominated in the supporting categories, both honors being eminently well-deserved. They counterbalance the somewhat bland leads. Neither Bacall nor Hudson could ever be called bad actors, but they've both had better parts and played them far more convincingly than they do here. It's kind of hard for me to accept Rock Hudson playing such a red-blooded heterosexual as he does here, but that's more of a personal bias than anything else. But that doesn't take away from the movie's overall entertainment value, which is considerable and this movie is extremely watchable. If you're up some night and this movie comes on I'd say watch it. It's well worth it.
was excited to finally obtain a copy of this movie, which isn't always
easy to do. The DVD is too expensive to buy sight-unseen, so I grabbed
a used VHS when I saw it on sale. For one, my brother had said "You
HAVE to see Dorothy Malone in this film. She's unbelievable." Then, a
bunch of classic film board posters had praised this film, so my
interest was there.
Well, one viewing was enough. I am just not a fan of soap operas, and this is so "soapy" you could fill a tub big enough to wash (you fill in the blank.)
I have no problem with the four main actors of this film - Robert Stack, Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone - having enjoyed all of them in other movies/TV shows. However, the characters they played in this movie were unappealing. The only "normal" guy, ironically, turned out to be the one Rock Hudson played. Bacall's dialog, at least early on, was unrealistic; Malone's looks turned me off (I was spoiled, having seen her look fantastic in other things; here she was just cheap-looking , which was what they wanted); and Stack, well, he was just plain super-annoying. That's what soap fans want, anyway: annoying, loser-type people. Me, I prefer some nice, normal characters.
So, if you like whining drunks, squabbling siblings, stupid romances, etc., this is your cup of tea. However, one thing in here that was to interest was the color palate: it's pretty wild. I'm sure this looked a lot better on DVD than on the tape I watched.
To be fair, the film is okay and the story is just fine for what it is: a '50s melodrama. It's a good movie for those who like this genre. I'm just not a fan of these overwrought stories, but I'll still rate the movie decently for what it presents: good acting, a somewhat-involving story and interesting cinematography with a wild color scheme.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of those overproduced hothouse Douglas Sirk 1950s melodramas Todd Haynes paid homage to in his 2002 "Far From Heaven." The decor and costumes are far more dramatic than the actors, although these particular actors never really stood a chance, as they are mostly horribly miscast (unlike "Far From Heaven.") Rock Hudson plays a dedicated geologist(??) who pines for prim secretary Lauren Bacall(????) in a style indistinguishable from constipation. Bacall is the victim of a whirlwind courtship courtesy of Hudson's friend, oil magnate Robert Stack--she marries him and learns too late that he's a deeply troubled alcoholic (Stack, who should have been playing Hudson's role, goes through numerous vocal and facial contortions meant to demonstrate drunken paranoid jealousy, to little effect.) Stack's sister, Dorothy Malone, has longed for Hudson since childhood; seen by him as a "sister" (it was the 1950s) she seeks refuge in anonymous sexual encounters with barroom trash. (In the previous decade, this would have been Bacall's role). Bacall has no talent for noble suffering; she seems paralyzed. (The great underused actress Ruth Roman was much better at this sort of thing.) Malone is a very peculiar actress; she has severe features (her eyebrows are reminiscent of Joan Crawford) and her elaborate blonde hairdo appears to be made of bronzed Slinkies pasted to her head. Yet she's the only one who really gets into the artificial spirit of this thing--she lets the clothes do the acting for her. I may never forget the shots of her driving a hot-pink convertible while wearing an identically hot-pink pantsuit set off by light pink gloves and scarf--anticipating "Legally Blonde" by fifty years. (Did she buy the car because it matched her outfit?) In the genuinely campy (much-discussed) highlight of the film, the police have just brought her home from yet another motel liaison (Why? She's hardly underage) and her heartbroken father is steeling himself to confront her about it. She goes to her room, strips down to her black (death, evil) slip, tosses on a sheer red (passion) chiffon robe, slaps on a jazz (sin) record, and dances orgiastically around the room. This is intercut with shots of her father mounting the stairs, clutching his heart, and tumbling to his death. Finally, in a totally superfluous eleven-o'clock courtroom scene (which helped win Malone an Oscar), she gets to have a tearful meltdown on the stand while wearing all-black; she concludes the scene by letting her head fall forward, revealing a flat hat that looks like a burnt poached egg. Apart from these highlights (and occasional dialog exchanges like "You're a filthy liar!" "I'm filthy--period!") this is rather tame camp; it never gets as wretchedly excessive as it wants to be.
Of all of Douglas Sirk's sly and subversive melodramas, Written on the
Wind may very well be the one that takes itself the most seriously.
This is not to say that Sirk's wicked undertones are not present as
they are; rather by this time (1956), he had perfected his ability to
balance the false and lavish exterior with the sad, repugnant interior
of the characters and the lives they inhabit.
What is unique to this film is how intense and emotional the story becomes rather than simple-minded fodder for soap fans. This is due in part to the very strong performances, particularly Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone as Kyle and Marylee Hadley, the filthy-rich but morally empty children of an oil tycoon who traipse about looking for thrills and challenges. Kyle finds one in straight-laced secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), whom he eventually marries. Marylee has been attracted to Kyle's best friend Mitch Wayne (the incomparable Rock Hudson) all her life but cannot get past his wall of incredulity. In short, none of these characters are truly happy or satisfied with their situations, even after attempts to correct them. This may be Sirk's most devastating critique of all: everyone, despite their varied backgrounds, remain unfulfilled and unwilling to settle for anything but what they feel is ultimate satisfaction.
If nothing else, this film is gorgeous to look at. Russell Metty, Sirk's longtime cinematographer, photographs Hollywood sets better than anyone. Perhaps its the color palate or Sirk's mise en scene; whatever it is it is used brilliantly to reflect the characters (and 1950s America's) vapid soullessness. This, combined with over the top acting and scenarios, would seem to present itself as sheer stupidity and disregarded melodrama. Of course, this being Douglas Sirk, one must attempt to look closer for the signs of that most modern of ideas: that people are strange and life is the most ironic of situations.
Lauren Bacall was living through husband Humprey Bogarts illness &
death when she did this film. Rock Hudson was near the top of his
1950's stardom. Dorothy Malone is in excellent form, and wins an Oscar
for support. Robert Stack is nominated & falls just short for his role.
The story is a little soapy from another time but just as worthwhile as most dramas. Amazing how well drunks can drive in this film & also how quickly Stack sobers up in a couple of the films early sequences.
You can see why the cast is so good & actually production wise this film is very good. You can tell Bacall is distracted during this film as while her acting is fine, she looks emotionally drained in some sequences.
The sexual references in this film are so mild, that many of today's young viewers would not realize what they are. Film does a good job telling a story & actually leaves a sequel to be made at the end though none ever was made- though Written Beyond THe Wind would be a good title.
This gloriously turgid melodrama represents Douglas Sirk at his most
high strung. It eschews the soft wistfulness of "All That Heaven
Allows" and the weepy sentimentality of "Imitation of Life" and instead
goes for feverish angst and overheated tension. And of course, it's all
captured in vibrant Technicolor.
The cornball story has something to do with a friendship between Rock Hudson and Robert Stack that becomes a rivalry when Hudson snags the affections of Lauren Bacall, but who's really paying attention to the story? Dorothy Malone won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her splendidly over-the-top performance as Stack's sister, who takes the family business into her own hands when no one else will. A highlight of the film comes when this high-spirited wild child breaks into a frantic dance in her bedroom, unable to bear the restraints placed upon her by middle-class propriety. As so frequently happens in Sirk movies, the scene is both unintentionally hilarious in its absurdity and yet strangely moving in its effectiveness.
Sirk came closer than anyone else to turning pure camp into high art, satisfying the philistines and the high brows at the same time within the same films. His was a unique talent and I don't know that there's ever been another film maker quite like him since.
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