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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Douglas Sirk directs this over-acted drama about the unhappy affluent. Kyle Hadley(Robert Stack)and Mitch Wayne(Rock Hudson) are boyhood friends with different looks on life. Kyle is the womanizing son of an oil tycoon; Mitch works for the Hadley Oil Company. Both fall in love with the same woman, Lucy Moore; but it is Kyle that has the means to wow her off her feet and marry her. Sister Marylee(Dorothy Malone)seems to be the town's nymphomaniac and carrying a torch for Mitch, who always seems to be the one to clean up the Hadley's messes. Ambitious with pretension; a little over the top, but the stars make it a movie to see. I was most impressed with Malone. Rounding out the cast: Robert Keith, Edward Platt, John Lurch and Robert J. Wilke.
Mitch Wayne comes from a working family, but his childhood friendship
with the children of oil magnate Hadley sees him continuing within the
family and the family business as an adult. Kyle is his best friend,
but is a spoilt playboy as a result of his money and privilege. When
the two meet Lucy, they both fall for her but, as usual, it is Kyle
that gets her attention and quickly marries her. Lucy joins the family
home to find a spiteful and spoilt daughter, Marylee, who dislikes her
but longs for the childish affection she still holds for Mitch. Against
a background of money and privilege, tensions and emotions build
between the friends and family.
Normally when I call something melodramatic it is a criticism but for those looking for melodrama that is well delivered then often Douglas Sirk is as good a place to look as any. This film is a fine example but I'll be the first to admit that the plot summary on paper does make it sound like the soapiest load of daytime TV filler ever! However the delivery is everything and the film succeeds in making the story and characters engaging. It is hard to describe well, but the story doesn't really happen in reality but rather in a sort of melodrama world of high emotions and I didn't expect it to draw me in. Part of the reason it did was down to Sirk's writing and direction. He creates this convincing world where everyone fits in and it all seems real.
Of course of the biggest factors is the cast, for it is starry and impressive. I've never been that taken by Hudson but he is a sturdy and manly lead actor here, even if he has the less showy material to work with. Bacall is strong and controls a great deal of the emotional core of the film. The main melodramatic flair comes from two other good performances. It was hard for me to get past the Stack I know from Airplane but he is very good here and descends well across the film. Likewise Malone plays her character well. As with many Sirk films, the cinematography, the look, of the film is important and this one expertly captures the feel of the fifties but doesn't look dated in a bad way it still feels quite fresh and lively.
Overall this is a melodrama and if the very thought of that puts you off then you'd best avoid it. However it is a fine story that engages well even as it exists above reality. The cast are impressive with their material and are a big part of making it convincing and engaging.
I had the pleasure of seeing this lurid chunk of celluloid camp on
television last night. It's a candy-bright trash-o-rama about a secretary
(Lauren Bacall) who marries into a filthy rich oil family only to find a
more general kind of filth under the gloss of privilege and public
Oddly enough, both Bacall (usually the epitome of strength and gravity) and Rock Hudson are given fairly bland roles, always remaining above the hideously dysfunctional quagmire that surrounds them. They're too "good" to be very interesting. The characters at the opposite end of the spectrum are what keep our attention. Once soaked in alcohol, a pre-Unsolved Mysteries Robert Stack is immensely entertaining as tormented, pistol-waving Kyle, upset over his inability to conceive the children needed to complete the little American Nightmare in rich-people hell.
However, this decidedly cracked soap is dominated by Dorothy Malone as Marylee, the boozed-up, fast-driving slut with the temperament of your average cobra. Malone won a well-deserved Oscar for her astonishing, one-of-a-kind performance--all bulging eyes and twitching lips, like a drag queen in heat, spewing acid at the other members of the cast. From her wild mambo of death (!) to fondling a model oil derrick (!!!), she is a hilarious delight. Aren't the bad girls always more interesting? Other reviews talk about her being "reformed" at the end. I, personally, did not see that. Yeah, she's upset...but with someone like Marylee, how long is that gonna last?
Later parodied by John Waters's Polyester, Written on the Wind is a seamy, steamy don't-miss. In gorgeously saturated Technicolor.
After playing a nymphomaniac in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, Dorothy Malone
finally said good-bye to her sweet sister/wife roles and demonstrated
an ability to play mantraps with the best of them. She and Gloria
Grahame played the same sort of tramps--and for her efforts here in a
very manipulative role, Malone won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
The film she's in is not quite up to Oscar standards, but it is a strong enough melodrama under Douglas Sirk's capable hands. There's an almost noirish look to the explosive opening scene and it sets the tone for the rest of the sudsy fireworks in a story that has ROCK HUDSON, LAUREN BACALL, ROBERT STACK and DOROTHY MALONE as its headliners.
Domestic squabbles among the inhabitants of a wealthy family with an oil background are the primary focus of the drama, with the accent on the strong supporting players, Stack and Malone. Both of them seize the opportunity with both hands and Stack, too, should have been awarded for his sterling job as the weak, alcoholic brother driven to desperation by his own wild motives.
The nominal stars have less impressive work to do, but do it with their usual skill and conviction--Hudson and Bacall. They play their more sympathetic roles with quiet authority and understanding.
The use of color is particularly striking (as it usually is in a Sirk film) and yet it doesn't preclude me from thinking of the film as a Technicolor film noir in the vein of LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN.
Well worth watching with some interesting performances from the entire cast.
When I was studying English Literature as an undergraduate, I read a
play called The Octoroon by one Dion Boucicault (spelling?), an
Irishman (no kidding) with a panache for melodrama. Well, The Octoroon
was, perhaps, the most reviling and offensive piece of literature I had
ever read (until I picked up Tropic of Cancer anyway). Nevertheless, I
absolutely loved the lurid story and the classic closing tableau of a
silhouetted American Indian frozen, hatchet-bearing arm raised above
the cowering "bad-guy." It was brilliant trash, really, eliciting from
me the reaction opposite my professor's expectations. I believe he said
something about needing to be able to recognize worthless literature as
well as wonderful. Well, I thought the Octoroon, in its own way, was
wonderful, even if I thought it was racist, sexist, ist ist ist ad
infinitum. I read another Boucicault play while in Ireland (apparently,
he's considered one of their greatest dramatists over there) and,
though not quite as good, it was still rather wonderful melodrama.
Boucicault's plays, to be told, are melodrama perfected and, if you
like your stories over the top and busting at the seams, they're very
Now, that brings us to Douglas Sirk: perfecter of the American melodrama in the 1950s. Unlike Boucicault, I would never doubt Sirk's talent, as his films reveal him as a true, visionary artist who was able to transform soap operatic stories into sublime motion pictures.
His best, I believe, is Written on the Wind. Not to diminish the quality of All that Heaven Allows or Magnificent Obsession, but the story, mise en scene, and technicolor cinematography all come together so perfectly in Written that it's hard to argue against this film's placement at the top of Sirk's oeuvre.
Written tells the tell of a thoroughly dysfunctional family of rich oil barons. Impotent sons, un-loving fathers, and nymphomaniac daughters all make an appearance. People die, go mad with un-requited love, wind up in court, smash cars, lie, drink heavily, fight, and on and on. The characters in this film do just about everything.
As immensely entertaining as this story is, the reason people remember it (besides Robert Stack's wonderful performance as a raging drunk) is Sirk's masterful direction. The scenes make perfect use of the wide-screen format with painterly mise en scene. The colors are vibrant and lush. The cinematography - of both interiors and the flat landscape outdoors - is beautiful. Written on the Wind is simply gorgeous to look at. You could watch it without sound and still find it entertaining.
Furthermore, though it definitely contains typically 50s sensibilities, it is a timeless story of unrequited love and jealousy that anyone can find, at the very least, entertaining if not brilliant.
Watch this film; you will not be bored.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I think of something trashy and good, I'm thinking of something so bad
it's good. Or maybe something that's trying really hard to please and is
working, even if it is kind of crappy, maybe something like The Mummy
Returns, which truly did please me. I don't think melodrama is in its
trashy. This past weekend, I saw for the first time in my life Gone with
Wind, and, as God is my witness, I'm never watching that clumsy piece of
filmmaking again. It is a florid melodrama, and so is Written on the Wind.
But Written on the Wind handles itself so amazingly well. I almost wanted
clap when "The End" appeared on the screen. It is my personal Gone with the
Wind, about 10 times better than that supposed masterpiece.
As for the writing, the story and the dialogue, it was all good. Maybe not the best in the world, but still quite good. I did care about the characters, a good (and necessary) sign for a drama. The only weak spot is the courtroom scene, which is particularly bad even for this most cliched type of scene. But it also incorporates a lot of Freudian touches into the script, so there is always more going on beneath the surface. Especially watch Marylee and the scenes involving her. Pay close attention to her final scene in the film, where she has sole control of the Hadley oil industry. Look at what she is holding in her hand, for instance (and make sure to notice the painting of her father behind her in this same scene).
The acting was quite high quality, for the most part. Rock Hudson was good as the tough guy who has to try to keep the lid on his emotions. Robert Stack was excellent as a pathetic rich boy (he also played drunk well, which is very hard to do), and Dorothy Malone is a standout as the nympho sister who works as a catalyst for the harrowing climax. The only weak point in this cast is Lauren Bacall, who, while not bad, does not exhibit much depth in the role of the newcomer into the oil dynasty.
The real point of light in the whole proceedings is Douglas Sirk. He is why I picked this film up. I had heard his name countless times in my readings, and had always been interested. I mean, go through any user comments on this site to any of his films. People will say how cheesy or soap-opera-like his films are, but they all still love his films (I don't recall a single negative comment in all of those that I read, and I read most of them). Any director who can do that, heck, any director who can be singled out as an auteur in the American studio system, deserves recognition. And Written on the Wind has an amazing style when compared to other Hollywood features of the same period. The way he moves his camera is quite a feat at times. Watch the way the camera rolls from Stack's yellow car to the upstairs bedroom window in the prologue/climactic scene, or how the camera follows the bartender through the beaded door, allowing the beads to graze the lense (most Hollywood films in the studio system would have done a lot to have avoided this, but it adds a particular feeling to what is happening in that scene), or, my favorite scene, watch both the camera placement (actually, here, the decision NOT to move the camera) and the editing of the sequence involving the father's death. Possibly the most noticeable technique that differentiates this film from other Hollywood films of the same era is the startling use of color. The production design is more reminiscent of an MGM musical than a melodrama. The way color is used is very painterly, of the more modern art variety like Lichtenstein and Warhol. I don't know exactly what Sirk did all that for, but it makes these color films much more impressive than the often boring realistic style used in most films of the same period. In fact, I generally prefer black and white to color at this period, because so many cinematographers were unskilled in the way of color yet. Watching Written on the Wind is something akin to a light acid trip, and I'm sure Sirk regained popularity in the late 60s because of it.
All in all, Written on the Wind is quite spectacular. I can't wait to see more Sirk films. I just rented Imitation of Life and Magnificent Obsession, so hopefully they live up to the high standard Written on the Wind has already set. 9/10.
The story of a heavily dysfunctional wealthy family is loads of fun. Dumb but fun dialogue, breathtaking settings, gorgeous outfits and racy (for its time) situations. What's not to like. Also Malone was perfection as a nymphomaniac...easy to see why she won an Oscar. Try to see a good print...the color is beautiful.
Does any one know what the 2 sports cars were? I think Robert Stack's might have been a Masseratti.Rock Hudson's character told his father he was taking a job in Iraq ,isn't that timely? I have had Dorthy Malone in my spank bank most of my life ,maybe this was the film that impressed me.Loren Bacall sure did have some chops in this film and probably out-acted Malone but Malones's part made a more sensational impact so she got the Oscar for best supporting role.Was Loren's part considered a leading role?Old man Hadley character was was probably a pretty common picture of tycoons of his era in that he was a regular guy who made it big in an emerging industry but in building a whole town he had forgotten his children to have his wife bring them up.In time,being widowed he realized that they were all he really had and they were spoiled rotten,looking for attention,so rather than try to relate to his children he blew his head off.An ancient morality tale.But seriously,what were those sports cars?
On 24 October 1955, the hard-work geologist of the Hadley Oil Company
Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) meets the executive secretary Lucy Moore
(Lauren Bacall) in the office of her boss Bill Ryan in New York and
invites her to go to a conference with the alcoholic playboy and son of
a tycoon Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack). On the way of the meeting, he
confesses that they had traveled from Houston to New York to satisfy
the wish of the reckless Kyle, who is his best friend since their
childhood, of eating a sandwich from club 21 and the meeting was just a
pretext to Kyle's father Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith). Mitch and Kyle
immediately fall in love for Lucy, and Kyle unsuccessfully uses his
money to impress Lucy; then he opens his heart and proposes Lucy. They
get married and travel to Acapulco and the insecure Kyle stops
drinking. Meanwhile, Kyle's sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is an easy
woman and has a non- corresponded crush on Mitch that sees her as a
sister. One year later, Kyle discovers that he has a problem and might
be sterile and starts drinking again. The jealous Marylee poisons Kyle
telling that his wife and Mitch are having a love affair. When Lucy
finds that she is pregnant, Kyle believes that the baby belongs to
Mitch and his mistrust leads to a tragedy.
"Written on the Wind" is an overrated melodramatic soap opera, with artificial characters and situations. There are at least two great movies with characters with drinking problem: "The Lost Weekend" (1945) with stunning performance of Ray Milland and "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962) with awesome performance of Jack Lemmon. Robert Stack has a reasonable performance and his character's motives for drinking are shallow and clichés. In the end, the forgettable "Written on the Wind" is entertaining only and never a feature to be nominated to the Oscar. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Palavras ao Vento" ("Words in the Wind")
Fabulous film! Rented the DVD recently and was floored by this stunning
piece of work. Douglas Sirk was a filmmaking genius and he gets
performances out of Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone (Oscar winner), Robert Stack
(Oscar nominated), and Lauren Bacall that words cannot describe. Paul
Verhoeven brilliantly payed homage to this film by having Dorothy Malone
play Sharon Stone's murdering inspirational guru in his Basic Instinct.
What a great joke!
By turns the film is hilarious, riveting, campy, biting, trashy, compelling, and eye rolling! It's definately the grandaddy of every tawdry big-and-little screen soap opera but none have had the dazzling style like you'll see here: the camera work is smooth and polished, the use of color is breathtaking, the opening montage set to the title song is beyond memorable, the one dimensional characters are unforgettable, and the final image will have you scratching your head as to how the censors back then let it make the final cut!
While most older, highly regarded films can sometimes be a boring chore to sit through, Written on the Wind contains so much and goes by so fast that it's actually a shame when it ends. Thank you to Mr. Sirk for crafting -and Todd Haynes for drawing attention to- what has now become one of my favorite films of all time! SEE THIS MOVIE!!!
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