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Roger Ebert gives Douglas Sirk's "Written on the Wind" laudatory props
for being subversive, ironic, a commentary on 50s materialism, ahead of
its time, the forerunner to TV soaps like "Dynasty" and "Dallas," and
god knows what else.
But watch it.
I love Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" (truly brilliant, and brilliantly executed, for its genre) and "Imitation of Life" (the ULTIMATE in the lush romantic melodrama genre and a tearjerker that EARNS its tears, thanks largely to the performances of Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner).
By comparison, "Written on the Wind" is an insult on virtually every level. Not least, the sad revelation of the utter lack of talent in two of its leads.
One snickers uneasily, at first, then recoils at the shoddiness of what's on screen.
Humphrey Bogart, when he saw WOTW screened, had the wisdom to tell his then-wife, Lauren Bacall, not to make any more crap like this. She didn't.
Bacall is the ONLY actor (aside from supporting ones like Robert Keith, Grant Williams, Robert Wilke, Edward Platte, etc.) able to elicit genuine emotion or audience empathy from this carny sideshow hurly-burly script.
Rock Hudson doesn't have to do anything but be a stoic hunk and stunt-fighter. Watch him in Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" if you want to see what Hudson was really capable of in roles like this. Still better, watch his evolution into a first-rate light comedian in his Doris Day pictures or his final incarnation as the same in TV's "McMillan and Wife."
Beyond Bacall and Hudson, and the excellent supporting players, WOTW is shocking. Not for Sirk's always superlative visuals and camera direction, but for his Community Theater cast. Why were they EVER considered talents, much less stars?
Robert Stack could do ONE thing. His role on "The Untouchables" exploited that fully. What he COULDN'T do was nuance, or a drunk scene. So clenched and anal-retentive was he as an "actor" that he couldn't even laugh or giggle convincingly.
WATCH him! Stack's drunk scenes here are painful to watch. They're supposed to display layers of his character's background and depth and pain and sympathetic hurt.
Instead, they're just a shallow amateurish actor's attempt, given a lousy script, to infuse dramatic depths beyond his talents.
Lauren Bacall's lines are no better, but look at what she does with them. Namely, she UNDERPLAYS them, to relatively great effect. Same with Hudson.
Not Stack. In person, he was "nice." Conservative. Didn't rock boats. Had a long career in wooden roles. But he simply couldn't rise, convincingly, the the occasion when cast as tortured bastards like Kyle Hadley.
Dorothy Malone? Saddest of all. You really have to watch WOTW to appreciate her. She won an Oscar for this performance.
Bless her heart! ANOTHER one who never should have been a "star," nor an "actress." A nice gal who got to Hollywood and got bleached and coached into "sexy" and finally wised up and left it and went home.
Malone's is an amazing performance here because, in EVERY scene, no matter where in the plot's emotional arc it falls, she plays it EXACTLY the same.
"Sultry." In quotation marks.
Apparently, for Malone, "sultry" meant raising her chin defiantly, lowering her eyelids, looking down her nose at her co-stars or the camera, pouting, parting her lips, then lowering her chin, looking up from under her eyelids at her co-stars or the camera, pouting some more, parting her lips some more, writhing in place for no discernible reason, and sounding "breathy." Up . . . down. A face on a slo-mo fork-lift.
WATCH her! Looks terrific till she has to speak or move. Over-emotes with the same heave-ho histrionics to a sound-stage tree in a voice-over scene! Priceless!
Malone can't even dance seductively, as required at the party sequence, or after her motel shack-up with the star of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (Grant Williams), upstairs in her bedroom with her mock-striptease inter-cut with her father's heart attack on the stairs while a "hot" arrangement of "Temptation" blares from her record player.
That sequence is so totally contrived, badly executed (largely by Malone's quick-cut lack of ability to embody or sustain her character's wanton lust in-the-moment) and hysterically obvious that today's audiences burst into spontaneous applause and laughter at its sheer inept audacity. "TEMPTATION!"
The camera has to cut away from brief shots of Malone in her pink peignoir swirling across the lens because Malone simply isn't capable of being genuinely "sexy" on screen, though she labors mightily.
Ostensibly her "best" performance was in "Man of a Thousand Faces." Even there Malone was an amateur among professionals, but her role was more sympathetic and better written.
In "WOTW," in her big courtroom scene with her glycerin tears, she's still doing the slo-mo fork-lift facial up-and-down sultry shtick we've seen since reel one.
Then Hudson and Bacall drive off into the sunset, or something, accompanied by the Four Aces -- the FOUR ACES! -- singing the unforgettable title song.
A song long since forgotten unless you watch this film again. Which you should. Simply to marvel at how mediocre actors (but no doubt wonderful people) like Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone were ever ranked as box-office, much less Oscar winners, in the 50s.
Slinky Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is in love with nonchalant Mitch (Rock
Hudson); Mitch is in love with virtuous Lucy (Lauren Bacall); Lucy is
in love with jealous Kyle (Robert Stack); and Kyle is in love with the
bottle. And they're all rolling in Texas oil money. Despite their
wealth, however, none of these people are really happy. But, hey, what
would a sudsy soap opera be without romantic entanglements, despair,
tears, verbal conflict, and tons of melodrama? All we need here is
Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing and Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie.
Although Robert Stack is miscast as a lady's man, he gives the only credible performance of the bunch, a feeble reason for watching this high-strung and overwrought spite-fest. Otherwise, the characters in "Written On The Wind" are neither interesting nor realistic.
And most of the major cast members are miscast. Rock Hudson not only gives a wooden performance, he's laughable as a wheeler-dealer Texas oil man. Dorothy Malone tries to steal the show, but her performance is all atwitter and way over-the-top. And why Lauren Bacall was selected to play a sweet, innocent outsider is a mystery suitable for an Agatha Christie novel.
Further, the film's plot gives away part of the ending, before the story even begins. And while oil is the source of the Hadley family wealth, the characters never engage in any actual oil business.
Color cinematography is competent, and one of the least offensive elements of the film. But the background music is manipulative and as overwrought as the characters.
"Written On The Wind" is another 1950s Douglas Sirk directed melodrama, and arguably one of the worst, owing to a campy plot, overwrought characters, very bad casting, and some rather poor acting.
One thing about Hollywood, someone has a success and it's always rushed
to be copied. And another thing is that players give some of their best
performances away from their home studio.
Rock Hudson got such accolades for his performance in the Texas based film Giant that Universal executives must have thought, let's quick get him into another modern Texas setting.
Similarly Robert Stack got great reviews for The High and the Mighty as the pilot who was cracking under the strain of flying a damaged aircraft that it was natural to give him another crack up role.
Both of these ends were achieved in Written on the Wind. Before Hudson was the big ranch owner, now he's the son of a hunting companion of Robert Stack's father who took Hudson under his wing. In other words the James Dean part without the James Dean racism from Giant.
Lauren Bacall is the executive secretary of an advertising agency that Stack's Hadley Oil Company uses. Hudson likes her, but she's dazzled by Stack's millions and when he woos a girl he's got the means to really pursue a campaign. She marries Stack.
And last but not least in the mix we have Dorothy Malone who's Stack's amoral sister who has a yen for Rock, but Rock ain't about to get tangled up with this wild child.
Dorothy Malone spent over 10 years in a whole bunch of colorless film heroine roles before landing this gem. She got a Best Supporting Actress Award for her part as Marilee Hadley and it was well deserved.
If you like splashy technicolor Fifties soap opera than this is the film for you.
The absolute summum of the oeuvre of that crafty Dane Douglas Sirk (born
Detlef Sierck), Written on the Wind compels our prurient attention in every
gaudy frame. From its justly famous opening sequence, with the leaves
blowing into the baronial foyer of a Texas mansion and the wind riffling the
pages of the calendar into a flashback, the movie compresses into its 99
minutes all the familial intrigue that was to fuel such later, little-screen
knockoffs as Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest over their years-long
The combination of wealth and dysfunction is a theme Americans, in our dollar-based society, find irresistible. Brother and sister Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone are the spoiled, troubled heirs to the Hadly oil fortune; boyhood chum Rock Hudson and new bride Lauren Bacall are the sane outsiders who try to keep the lid on the roiling cauldron. (It's been rumored that the story was based on Libby Holmann's marriage into Reynolds tobacco money.) As always, the misfits get all the scenery to chew -- and the best lines to spit out (Malone, in her Oscar-nabbing performance as the boozing nymphomaniac with a jones for Hudson, gets to detonate a whole fireworks display of them). Hudson, while good, can't compete with all this over-the-top emoting; Bacall starts out strong but grows recessive, a mere plot convenience. No matter; with a succession of set-pieces shot in extravagant hues, Sirk gives an object lesson in how to turn out overwrought melodrama set in the lush consumer paradise of late-50s America. Nobody ever did it better.
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.
more than a good film, it is a splendid puzzle. not only for cast or themes. but for the science to not be a melodrama like many others. a film who seduce different genre of public. and a high level of performance. sure, it is not out of recipes of genre. but it seems be different and that is the good part. in same measure, it use in wise manner the images,music and symbols and recreate the atmosphere of a lovely classic story. but the cast makes the difference. this fact is so clear. and not for acting itself but for the choice of director for one or other. so, the duty of each is to be himself. and the show is running.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Written on the Wind is on par with Douglas Sirk's other cinematic
experiments and is aided considerably by a most skilled cast.
Particularly, the entire film hinges on Dorothy Malone's performance. She is the one who sells us the bill of goods at the end. And if she happened to be unconvincing, then we would feel that the entire 99 minutes was lost. But she does save the film at the end. And it is not surprising that for her efforts, she did receive the Oscar for a best supporting performance. Her scenes in the courtroom make it clear to us that not only is her brother Kyle (Robert Stack in an Oscar-nominated performance) a sad waste of a life, but they all are living a nothing existence-- except those who manage to get away (which is what Lauren Bacall and Rock Hudson must do in the last shots). Malone's character will never get away, having been forced to take over the family business at the end. It's a very sobering conclusion.
In the meanwhile, Sirk fills the earlier portions of the film with inspired mise-en-scene which continues to build the tension and suggest the inevitable outcome for these characters. At every turn, the director is offering motifs and manipulating them carefully, often without our noticing. The scene where Stack throws the drink into the mirror is not only played for dramatic effect but is rich with symbolism. Another important moment occurs when the father (Robert Keith) is experiencing a heart attack on the stairs. Sirk does not allow the camera to linger on the old man during this display like most directors might be tempted to do. Instead he inserts quick cuts to other members of the household, experiencing their own mini-attacks of anguish at the same time.
As a result, Sirk provides quite a searing tale about the so-called lives of the spoiled rich in a desolate oil town. He brings us into the world of its interconnected destinies and the smoldering passions of its inhabitants. He holds us hostage and doesn't let us go.
Presently, a shooting occurs at the Texas mansion owned by the oil-rich
Hadley family. In a flashback, we witness what led up to the apparent
Over a year ago, handsome Hadley geologist Rock Hudson (as
Mitch Wayne) meets attractive secretary Lauren Bacall (as Lucy Moore)
in New York. He is interested in her, but she is taken by Mr. Hudson's
childhood chum, the "Prince Charming" of the Hadley oil empire, Robert
Stack (as Kyle Hadley). An alcoholic playboy, Mr. Stack settles down
when he meets Ms. Bacall. But family problems and old demons eventually
One problem is sexually-charged sister Dorothy Malone (as Marylee Hadley). She suffering from unrequited love for Hudson, who only has eyes for Bacall. She doesn't get the man she wants, but Ms. Malone has a active sex life as the town tramp. She moves from bar to bedroom with ease and will even take the guy who pumps her gas to a motel. Service station attendant Grant Williams gets the invite. Hadley patriarch Robert Keith (as Jasper Hadley) is furious. Stack and Malone, the doomed and tormented brother-sister duo, steal the show. They are an indictment of industrialized wealth...
"Written on the Wind" won Malone the "Film Daily" and "Academy Award" honor as "Best Supporting Actress" of the year. Stack was nominated by both groups, but it turned out to be Anthony's year (Perkins for the former in "Friendly Persuasion" and Quinn for the latter in "Lust for Life"). Neither director Douglas Sirk nor cinematographer Russell Metty received noms, although both are award-worthy. Moving his players artfully in and around the Hadley mansion, Mr. Sirk is in peak form. And, you can't be bored in a courtroom scene when Malone's hat repeatedly slices the movie screen.
********* Written on the Wind (12/12/56) Douglas Sirk ~ Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone
Alcoholic playboy Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) marries the woman (Lauren
Bacall) secretly loved by his poor but hard-working best friend (Rock
Hudson), who in turn is pursued by Kyle's nymphomaniac sister (Dorothy
I love that the Criterion disc says it is presented in "lurid Technocolor". Not sure that is a compliment, but the film's palette is definitely brighter and more overwhelming than most films. And not in a bad way.
I find it sad that director Douglas Sirk is largely forgotten and it took a German director, Rainer Fassbinder, to bring him back. There really needs to be a re-examining of his boundary-pushing films.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Probably the most hyperactive great movie ever made. Lauren Bacall marries into a wealthy oil family and soon regrets it. Her husband (Robert Stack) is a drunken bully and her sister-in-law (Dorothy Malone) is a nymphomaniac. She's mistreated by both of them. Things go from unpleasant to ridiculous when Stack's best buddy Rock Hudson starts to show some affection for Bacall. Douglas Sirk's resume is littered with high gloss soap operas, most of them absurd, but this one takes the prize. It's fever-pitched, very well acted (particuarly by Stack & Malone) and never dull. Robert Keith is the family patriarch and Grant Williams plays somebody named Biff. Produced by none other than Albert Zugsmith, the undisputed king of lurid 50s epics!
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