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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.
Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) is an obnoxious, spoiled and selfish
playboy. He and his assistant, Mitch (Rock Hudson) fall for the same
woman (Lauren Bacall) but Kyle somehow wins her with his charming
personality. I say 'somehow' because after this, you see very little of
his charm--mostly the actions of a boorish, sulking jerk. He
immediately takes his wife for granted and you feel for the lady. As
for Mitch, he can't stay--as he is carrying a torch for this now
married woman. And then there's Marylee (Dorothy Malone), Kyle's rather
obnoxious sister. She's in love with Mitch but Mitch tells her he's not
interested. When Mitch doesn't reciprocate, she decides to destroy
herself and everyone around her. And then, there's Kyles 'man
problem'*...what's to become of that?
Does this all sound like a bit of fluff--like just another soap opera? Well, yes, but it is a very glossy and pretty soaper--thanks to director Douglas Sirk, who made a name for himself by making what was essentially high-quality trash. Films like "Magnificent Obsession**", "All That Heaven Allows" and "Imitation of Life**" were all about rich, bored and screwed up pretty folks. In many ways, these films are a lot like forerunners of shows like "Dallas" and "Dynasty". In other words, they appeal to a certain niche--and if you like this sort of thing, Sirk was great in creating them. He did, however, make MANY films that did not fit this mold--though today he is most known for the soaps. As for me, I am not a huge fans of soaps. This doesn't mean they are bad--just not the sort of genre that usually appeals to me. Additionally, there wasn't any subtlety about this film (except in what I mention below*)--it was loud, crass and bigger than life (particularly in regard to Malone's character). I also think it plays better if you see it as a comedy and not a drama--especially since Malone's and Stack's characters are so ridiculous and over-done! But, in an odd way, it IS entertaining...I will give it that!
Oddly, despite all this, Sirk and his melodramas have been adored by the French New Wave writers and directors--and perhaps that is why the film has been released as part of the much-heralded Criterion Collection. For me, I just cannot see what they see in this--it's just a soaper...and a rather trashy one at that for its time.
*Because it was the 1950s, the script really didn't know what to do with Kyle. Sirk envisioned the man as a closeted homosexual. However, they couldn't put that in American films at that time due to the Production Code, so they talked about him having some 'problem' that prevented the couple from having kids. Talk about cryptic and silly! The viewers might have thought he was impotent or had poor sperm motility or was chronically constipated or had major Freudian issues or goodness knows what!! Having him being clearly gay would have improved the film tremendously and made sense of some of the plot.
**These were remakes and especially in the case of "Imitation of Life", the original was much better. However, I am a guy who almost never likes remakes.
*** 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.
"Written on the Wind" is a Douglas Sirk's melodrama. Douglas Sirk was
rediscovered by the "Cahiers du Cinema", Fassbinder etc.. that hailed
him as a master director - I think that it is because of the
sophistication of his cinematography - "Written on the Wind" offers
luscious color images and gorgeous decors. But I ask myself: Is this
enough to carry a film? The acting in "Written on the Wind" ranges from
weak to fair (excepting Robert Stack - he is convincing as the weak &
spoiled playboy). Lauren Bacall, normally a powerful presence in the
screen, is miscast in this film. Dorothy Malone as the seductress, the
care-free "femme fatale" is OK, but she lacks the strength for the
role. Rock Hudson is efficient but vapid .
The plot has very interesting ingredients. The main characters are:
A rigid patriarch
his alcoholic son Kyle (Robert Stack) (never loved by the disappointed father)
his frustrated and nymphomaniac daughter Marylee (Dorothy Malone)
Lucy (Lauren Bacall) - a woman of principles, formerly a secretary and now married to Kyle
Mitch (Rock Hudson) - brought up together with Kyle and loved by the patriarch.
Secrets beyond the door, a love triangle, frustration, fistfights, laughter, death etc. - well, when I read the story summary on the back cover of the DVD I thought that I was in for a treat. My mistake! Why? I'll try to explain: "Written on the Wind" takes itself seriously and tries to tell a dramatic story. As I said before the acting, in general, is not good enough - the intensity is lacking. There are many strong scenes in the story, but the actors just do an efficient job. I think that maybe with Italian or Spanish actors those scenes would have been explored fully - they would end (for us) in an explosion of laughter or tears .
What remains to us is the beautiful cinematography of Douglas Sirk. For me this is not enough. If you want to enjoy a good melodrama, see "Aventurera".
In her autobiography,Laureen Bacall reveals that Bogie told her that she should not make such dud movies as this one or something like that.At the time,Douglas Sirk was labeled "weepies for women",actually,he was restored to favor,at least in Europa,after he stopped directing.And when he filmed "written on the wind" ,Sirk had only three movies to make:"tarnished Angels","A time to love and a time to die",his masterpiece,IMHO,and finally" Imitation of life"(1960).Then there was silence. Actually Bacall and Hudson characters do not interest Sirk.They are too straight,too virtuous.Dorothy Malone -who was some kind of substitute for his former German star Zarah Leander-and her brother Robert Stack provide the main interest of the plot.A plot constructed continuously ,most of the movie being a long flashback.The instability of the brother and the sister ,from a family of rich Texan oil owners,is brought to the fore by garish clothes,and rutilant cars that go at top speed in a derricks landscape. Malone's metamorphosis at the end of the movie is stunning :suit and chignon,toying with a small derrick:she's ready for life,the rebel is tamed. Now alone,because she's lost Hudson (but anyway,he was not in love with her).This end is a bit reactionary,but melodrama is par excellence reactionary;three years later,in "imitation of life",Sarah-Jane (Susan Kohner) will be blamed because she does not know her place.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** Released in 1956,and considered quite racy at the time, Douglas Sirk's over the top candy colored melodrama is still a wonderful thing. The plot concerns the goings on in an oil rich dysfunctional Texas family that includes big brother Kyle, who is insecure, weak, wounded & very alcoholic, played by Robert Stack in a very touching & vulneable performance and his sluty sister Marylee played in an extreme manner by Dorothy Malone. Ms. Malone's performance is telegraphed to us via her eyes, which she uses to show us her emotions, which mostly consist of lust (for Rock Hudson) and jealousy (for Lauren Bacall). Malone is the only actress I've ever seen in movies who enters a room eyes first. Now don't get me wrong, her performance to say the least is an absolute hoot, and is one of the supreme camp acting jobs of the 1950's. But it is also terrible, because as likeable and attractive as Malone is,she's not a very good actress, and she's not capable of subtly or shading. Her performace is of one note. She does get to do a wicked Mambo,and in a great montage, as unloving daddy played by the always good Robert Keith falls to his death climbing a staircase, Sirk mixes it up with an almost mad Malone doing a orgasmic dance as she undresses. Stack,(who should have won an Oscar) & Malone, (who won the award, but shouldn't have) are the real stars of the film, the ones who set all the hysteria, both sexual & otherwise in motion, while the "real stars" of the film, Hudson & Bacall fade to grey & brown,which are the colors that they are mainly costumed in. Hudson who was a better actor then given credit for plays the childhood & best friend of Stack's, and the stalked love interest of Malone's who moans & groans over Rock through most of the film. But Hudson wants no part of her,and instead is in love with Bacall who is married to Stack. No one is very happy & no one is happy for very long. The Stack-Bacall marriage falls apart big time after a year, and Stack pretty much drinks himself into oblivion because he thinks he is sterile, and can't give Bacall a baby to prove that he's a man. Sirk who was a very intelligent man, and had a long & fascinating career both in films and theatre in Germany, ended his Hollywood career at Universal in the mid 1950's with a series of intense vividly colored "women's movies" or melodramas. Although they were mainly adapted from medicore or trashy source material,in Sirk's hands they became masterpieces of the genre. Sirk had a wonderful sense of color & design which he brought to play in these films filling his wide screen spaces with characters who played out their emotional lives among weird color combinations & lighting, make believe shadows, and lots of mirroed reflections. In "Written" the characters are always peeking out of windows, listening at doors or sneaking around. So in the end, after much violence, an accidental murder, a miscarriage & more Sirk ends the movie with a final & startling scene of a "reborn" and reformed Malone in a man-tailored suit, sitting at a desk foundling a miniature oilwell.
Director Douglas Sirk scores again with this, the grandaddy of all
dysfunctional family films. This lush, trashy saga is a masterpiece,
beautifully combining all of the elements of Sirk's soapers and
strategically placing them all into one movie. "Written on the Wind" very
obviously influenced the 1980s TV series "Dallas" and "Dynasty", as this is
basically a feature-length version of those later nighttime
Lauren Bacall, wonderfully and subtly, plays Lucy Moore, a New York City secretary who marries oil baron, Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack). Unbeknownst to both of them, Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) is also in love with the quiet, but sexy secretary. They all go back to Kyle's family's mansion in Texas where we meet his white trash slut-of-a-sister, Marylee (Dorothy Malone in an Oscar-winning turn). Yipee! The sparks begin to fly - from the romances to the catfights, this is a campy trip. Not only does Mitch have to fight the feelings he has for his best friend's wife, but Marylee tries to sleep with everybody since she can't have her one true love who is Mitch. Topping it all off, Kyle learns he's impotent, but somehow Lucy ends up pregnant.
This is pure soap and pure melodramatic entertainment. How can you not love it? This film signals one of Universal's most popular films and one of director Sirk's best works. Some of the dialogue is absolutely sizzling and visual metaphors are thrown in every which way - the theme of wind throughout is great. The cast is great, although Bacall is completely underused despite receiving top-billing behind Hudson. Stack's Oscar loss reportedly devastated him. He considered this his finest performance and apparently was none too pleased to lose out. And he did turn out a fabulous performance as the whimpering alcoholic. What a stunning movie! This film proves what I've been thinking for ages - Sirk is the master of classic melodrama. Where's his Oscar?
On the surface, "Written on the Wind" is a lurid, glossy soap opera about the sexual dysfunctions of a Texas oil family. But underneath it all is a deep, social commentary on 1950's life. Director Douglas Sirk scores again with another Univeral sudser. Robert Stack falls in love with Lauren Bacall. The problem is that Stack's best pal, Rock Hudson, loves her too. When Stack finds out he's sterile and Bacall ends up pregnant, the fireworks fly. And, the all-too-good Dorothy Malone won an Oscar for her portrayl of Texas' biggest nympho who is shunned by Hudson. Good epic soap opera.
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