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"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.
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.
Douglas Sirk was regarded as the grandmaster of melodramas. He
remained, throughout, both revered and reviled.
And 'Written On The Wind', regarded as his crowning achievement, shows you why. Exaggerated, larger than life, emotionally overcast, it is about as close to opera as cinema could possibly be. What works, despite it all, are the performances, which, despite being a bit over-the-top in keeping withthe general aura of the entire film itself, are satisfying on the whole ... with a special word for Dorothy Malone, as the nymphomaniac Marylee Hadley who, at the end of it all, is the only one who retains your sympathy.
And that, unfortunately, is where the film falls apart. The whole affair is so in-your-face that you hardly have occasion to empathise with any of the characters. Though the attempts by the others, Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall and especially Robert Stack, are sincere in themselves, they fail to thrill essentially because the film itself overshadows them all. There is nothing subtle or soft here, everything is either black or white, as a result of which the viewer has little to think about, little to absorb ... you just sit through the entire experience, but take back little with you after it is all over.
It's all right for one viewing, and is about as representative of Douglas Sirk's repertoire as you can get. But that's about all it is.
Well, it IS another way of spending an hour and forty minutes.
That Douglas Sirk must have really loved watching soap operas. His
movies always feature stories an average soap opera features in one
whole season and would be jealous off. But yet his movies still often
work out as great ones to watch, as does this one as well.
This movie can definitely be called melodramatic and overdone, since basically a whole lot is happening in it. Characters are all interconnected with each other, with all of the drama and emotions that go with it and there is really a lot of drama going on in this movie. Definitely too much to call this movie a really convincing one but yet I really can't say that the movie is bad or ever becomes an annoying one with all of its drama piling up on each other.
The movie is simply far too well made for that. Just imaging a soap opera episode being directed by Steven Spielberg. That episode would rock as well, as does this movie also, that got directed by genre expert Douglas Sirk. He gives the movie lots of class and gets great performances out of his actors.
Dorothy Malone even won an Oscar for her role, as a real femme fatale. Nevertheless I always keep seeing her as the old lesbian lover of Sharon Stone in "Basic Instinct", which also happened to be her last movie role by the way. She's still alive but simply enjoying her pension now, I would assume.
Rock Hudson and Douglas Sirk must had really loved working with each other, seeing that this is the 7th movie they did together and after this movie made even 2 more. It's no complaint of course, Rock Hudson was a great actor for these sort of roles and actually the worst movies they did together were their non-melodramatic ones.
I would actually assume that the story for this movie on paper looked extremely bland and average but Douglas Sirk simply managed to really spiced things up with his directing skills and made the movie a perfectly watchable one.
Can't say I was always too happy about its pacing. At times the story really makes some sudden leaps in time but this is something that often is the case with a movie that is filled with so much drama. The alternative would had been that this would movie would had been a 3 and an half hour long one, while the 100 minutes that it's now being short, ensures that this movie at all times remains an easy and always light watch, despite of all its heavy drama that is happening within its story.
One big soap opera, that just got done irresistibly well.
Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), an alcoholic, fun-loving oil empire heir,
is introduced to a down-to-earth secretary named Lucy (Lauren Bacall)
and impulsively marries her. Initially the marriage seems to help him
maintain control of his life, but his inner anxiety and emotional
problems won't leave him alone and keep casting dark shadows over his
life with Lucy. Things are not helped by Kyle's equally wild,
promiscuous sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone) and her unrequited love to
Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a long-time trusted friend of Kyle.
Director Sirk's shamelessly melodramatic style is evident right from the very first scene where the drunken and highly upset Kyle arrives to his home on a windy autumn night. Most of the story is then presented as a flashback until returning to the same situation again at the end. A lot has taken place in the lives of the characters, emphasized by highly sentimental music, brightly glowing colours and dramatic plot twists involving hidden guns, fist fights, drinking binges and delirium tremens. Many of the individual scenes look great and work perfectly in the film's context: particularly Marylee's childhood memories at the autumny river, the aftermath of her arrest after being busted in a motel with yet another man and the aforementioned opening scene are all enjoyable visual cinema. Sirk's dynamic camera work and direction keep the potentially banal-sounding story fascinating all the way through.
The larger-than-life story is brought to life by the actors who succeed in their roles well. Especially Robert Stack's lively eyes capture Kyle Hadley's impulsive thoughts formidably and the solemn and humble Rock Hudson provides a perfect pairing for him. Bacall and Malone give no reasons to complain either, and especially Malone's performance as the scheming Marylee is fascinating to watch.
Even though the exaggerated style won't appeal to everyone, I enjoyed the beautifully colourful visuals and the unrestrained performances from the main cast. The music, as silly as it might sound in some more small-scale film, works excellently here too. A classic melodrama, Written on the Wind is warmly recommended to any fan of dramatic romance cinema of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An overblown melodrama typical of its period (mid-1950s) and appropriate matinée food. Rock Hudson, the hulk everyone always falls in love with, plays his usual stereotype role, but whereas in Giant, made the same year, when his material and co-stars (Taylor & Dean) were above average, in this movie he is just not good enough to raise the calibre beyond a mushy tale of how difficult it is to be both rich and happy. The self-destructive brother and sister (Robert Stack, reeling his way through the film in a drunken stupor, and Dorothy Malone, playing a vampish poor little rich girl totally over the top) end up the losers and Hudson gets Bacall - who is rather wooden in this part which does not have enough character or wit to get her going. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the good end happily and the bad unhappily, that is the meaning of fiction. However, I was interested to read that the film is based on a true story which vindicated the plot. Like other films of the period, homosexuality is disguised in heterosexual terms. Maybe the film could be remade: Stack's character would ring truer if he was hiding homosexual feelings for Mitch by marrying. Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven greatly improved on All That Heaven Allows , also directed by Sirk. Perhaps Haynes could remake Written on the Wind and give us a truly memorable film.
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