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The cast is great in this movie, which should appeal to anyone in the mood for some 1950-style drama. Malone steals the movie and won an Oscar for her efforts, but I think Robert Stack was just as good and should have won also. They make the movie what it is, especially since Hudson & Bacall are so dull. Some of the dialogue spoken between Stack & Malone is priceless - "You're a filthy liar"; "I'm filth. Period." The great Douglas Sirk directs with a sure hand.
Another classic study of the effects of wealth on a southern family is
masterfully depicted in Written on the Wind.
Kyle Hadley has it all. Wealth, a plane, you name it. Kyle's best friend, Mitch, has always gotten him out of difficulty. Mitch finished college, Kyle got thrown out. Mitch is not from a wealthy home. Kyle's family, with Hadley Oil, controls most of everything in the town.
While in N.Y., Kyle meets the girl of his dreams, nicely played by Lauren Bacall. After a whirlwind romance, he marries her and brings her home. There she meets her father-in-law who warns her how difficult Kyle can be. Kyle sleeps with a gun under his pillow. The Bacall character meets Kyle's sister, Mary Lee, a tramp if ever there were, played to the fullest by Dorothy Malone, who was voted best supporting actress.
Rock Hudson plays Mitch, the faithful friend.
A year of wedded bliss for Kyle and his bride ends when Kyle is told by the doctor that he can't have children. It is when his wife reveals to him that she is indeed pregnant, Kyle, thinking that the child is Mitch's, goes on a drunken frenzy and is accidentally shot dead in a memorable scene.
Mary Lee, who has always loved Mitch, tries but is unsuccessful in blaming Mitch for Kyle's death. In a memorable courtroom scene, Malone pulled out all the stops in finally admitting that Kyle's death was an unfortunate accident. Her Oscar was well deserved.
Surprisingly, Robert Stack, brilliant as Kyle Hadley, was nominated for best supporting actor and lost in an upset victory by Anthony Quinn, as Paul Gauguin, in Lust for Life.
Douglas Sirk was the master of soap opera films of the 1950s. Written on the Wind is no exception. ***1/2.
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.
Would the Lauren Bacall character actually marry the Robert Stack character--on day one of their acquaintance? Of course not. Would the Rock Hudson character--year after year--put up with "best friend" Robert Stack's behavior? Is anyone that saintly? Of course not. Given the fact that certain females are "tramps," could any female be as trampy as the Dorothy Malone character? Of course not. Is anything about this movie believable or even interesting? Not much. In fact it's ugly from beginning to end and I'm sure the whole cast was embarrassed by having to play characters who couldn't possibly have existed. Lauren Bacall must have walked off the set every day, poured herself a stiff drink and said "I can't believe I'm doing this!" And if this was Robert Stack's "finest performance," that's unfortunate because he probably had some talent. The same year this was released, Rock Hudson did a beautiful acting job in Giant; in this one he just looks puzzled. What an ugly movie. I don't need to see this one again.
The title is taken from the Roman poet Catullus:-
"A woman's sayings to her ardent lover Should be written on the wind and in running water".
Its significance here is that "written on the wind" denotes something impermanent and fleeting, and some of the characters in this story are certainly unable to commit to permanent relationships. It has been called a thinly disguised account of the real-life scandal involving the tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds and his wife, the singer and actress Libby Holman, but in view of the Production Code and the laws of libel- Holman was still alive in 1956- the disguise actually had to be fairly substantial. The Holman character, Lucy Moore, is not a showbiz figure, and no reference is made to her having many lovers of both sexes, as her bisexual real-life counterpart did.
Jasper Hadley, a Texas oil baron, has a difficult relationship with his children. His son Kyle is a selfish, alcoholic playboy who has little interest in the business. The man whom he would like to see succeed him is Mitch Wayne, the son of an old friend now working as a geologist for his company. This scenario- a successful patriarch saddled with a useless, irresponsible son and having a decided preference for an unofficial adopted son- was a common one in films from the fifties; two others which use it are the Mann/Stewart Western "The Man from Laramie" and the Burt Lancaster vehicle "Vengeance Valley".
Jasper hopes that Mitch will marry his daughter Marylee, but Mitch shows no interest. He knows that Marylee is in love with him but realises she is as spoilt, irresponsible and hard-drinking as her brother. Unable to win the man she loves, Marylee drifts through a series of self- destructive relationships with unsuitable men.
The relationship between Kyle and Mitch is a difficult one. The two were childhood friends, and they still occasionally refer to one another as such, but it is clear that they actually dislike one another. Kyle resents his father's all too obvious preference for Mitch; Mitch sees all too clearly what sort of man his boyhood friend has become. The director Douglas Sirk said that he intended to imply a homosexual attraction on Kyle's part towards Mitch, although in the fifties this could not be made explicit. (Mitch is played by Rock Hudson, who was of course gay in real life).
Things become even more difficult after Kyle's marriage to Lucy. His drinking and abusive behaviour soon cause problems in the marriage, exacerbated by jealousy of Mitch. Moreover, this jealousy is not completely unfounded. Mitch has long been in love with Lucy and, as relations with Kyle worsen, it is suggested that she returns his affection, although there is no sexual relationship between them.
Of the four leads, the weakest is probably Lauren Bacall, whose style of acting wasn't really suited to melodrama, and who never makes Lucy charismatic enough to explain why two men should have fallen obsessively in love with her. Hudson is better as Mitch, making good use of his talent for portraying quiet, steady men of decency and integrity. (His stage name "Rock" may have been assumed as a reference to this side of his persona). Robert Stack is certainly good as the drunken playboy Kyle; whether he was good enough to have won the "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar ahead of Anthony Quinn in "Lust for Life", as he believed he should have done, is another matter. Dorothy Malone did indeed win "Best Supporting Actress", and deserved it. She makes Marylee spiteful and unsympathetic enough to make us realise just why Mitch has no interest in her, despite her good looks, but not so repellent that the final scene, in which Marylee redeems herself with one unselfish gesture, becomes unbelievable.
There are similarities between this film and "Giant", another family drama set in the world of the Texas oil industry, which also came out in 1956 and also starred Hudson. (These two films seem to have been the inspiration for the TV series "Dallas"). Melodramatic dramas like this were a staple of Sirk's output, but he took them seriously enough to try and turn them into art. His work is characterised by his accomplished use of colour; here his backgrounds are generally muted and dominated by greys and browns, but there is generally a prominent, brightly-coloured object in the foreground, normally red, yellow or green. (Blues and purples are little used). With some directors such prominent colours might have had a symbolic significance, but here Sirk's purpose in using them seems to be to provide a sense of artistic unity holding the film together.
Roger Ebert wrote of the film that "William Inge and Tennessee Williams were taken with great seriousness during the decade, but Sirk kids their Freudian hysteria." I am not sure that I go along with Ebert's theory that "Written on the Wind" is a disguised comedy, a subtly hidden spoof of fifties melodrama. I am not particularly familiar with Inge, but the main reason Williams was taken seriously was that he was a serious writer, the author of plays which inspired films as good as "A Streetcar Named Desire" or "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", and I can see no indication that Sirk was trying to mock or parody films of this type, even if some of them may seem faintly ludicrous to more cynical twenty-first century eyes. In fact, this film, and some of Sirk's others, fall firmly within the same tradition. An undistinguished script means that it is not in the same class as the two films I mention above, but Sirk does enough to show that "melodrama" is not always a synonym for "inadvertent comedy" or "soap opera" and that it was possible to work creatively within the confines of the genre. 7/10
This is only my second encounter with this maker after my first
introduction the other day. I admit I can't peg him.
The filming is seamlessly polished in the form, spacious. It vibrates with a modern air in the way it frames and moves. It's replete with so very attractive images and spaces: the young oil magnate trying to swoon the love interest in Miami airport, Bacall in the Miami suite, the blonde bombshell sister in her fire-engine red convertible, the road lined with oil derricks, the mansion floor strewn with leaves blown in through an open door.
It's the kind of Hollywood reverie that you think would hint at something covert about sex and dreaming, elusive; the kind of movie Niagara is. Seeing such competent molding applied on such generic stuff makes you think it's going to be perhaps intended akin to how Welles built on his own potboilers, as a springboard for introspection, the mystery of shedding narrative on the walls and floor. And yet it remains safe, trivial, about the glossy surface.
Part of the reason why I sought out this maker is because now and then his name appears in discussions about Lynch having influenced this or that. Part of it of course is that I'm always attracted to seductive manipulation. So there must have been a very brief window in time when these were potent. I can see how Lynch must have seen here an appealing wallpaper for Blue Velvet; but more than that how the seamless image could conceal and tease with everything this man made obvious.
A key example is this: strong-minded Bacall against our expectation falls for the cocky playboy instead of the quiet Hudson character, she has seen in private a softer side to nurture, a normal human being eager for love. It's such a strong setup, having us see past the fixed movie image into more fluid self. We know of course his darker side of drinking and loathing will resurface, the question is how, when, what mysterious pull in the soul draws a darker nature. (This is what Lynch has been burying deeper and deeper in his works, blurring cause and making the urge something inscrutable in the fabric).
There's a marvelous scene that foreshadows things, this is where she finds a gun under his pillow one night. This fundamental ambiguity would have been the cornerstone in noir of the time and prior: what secrets lie behind having to sleep with a gun, did she make a mistake in linking her life with him, and did she merely find the gun or some mysterious pull conjure it there? Can it be her urge to be rid of him and keep his fortune?
Here when that darker self appears they based it on the most ludicrous exaggeration: a doctor telling him he may not be able to have kids and he becomes a raving loony. How silly.
Super-slick soap, with an all-star cast cavorting in luxurious
settings. Looks like dad Hadley's (Keith) a regular guy, even with
oodles of money. But get a load of his two kids. Kyle (Stack) views
life's parade through an alcoholic haze, while daughter Marylee
(Malone), shall we say, looks to hook up with anything in pants.
Clearly, money hasn't done either any good. But the main problem
appears to lie in childhood and growing up with the poor, but super-
competent Mitch (Hudson), who now has a good job with Dad and his oil
company. As a result, Kyle feels inferior despite his money, while
Marylee fills her time with Mitch-substitutes since the original spurns
her and her money. So the lap of luxury really only makes things worse
for this second generation of wealth.
This was cutting-edge stuff for the '50's with its hints of nymphomania, homosexuality, and infertility, especially with the gorgeous settings that includes the cast principals. Couple that with the top-ten title song, and the movie was a huge hit. It's also well performed with the possible exception of Malone, Oscar or not. Too me, she's a bit over-the-top, while her character as written is pretty much a predictable one-note. And whose idea, I wonder, was the sexy solo dance that appears to end in orgasmic delight at the same time Dad takes a fatal tumble. I've never been sure what to think of that parallel.
Anyway, this is '50's movie-making at its slickest and most daring, with a decidedly dim view of the decade's dreams of luxurious living, earned or otherwise.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From director Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life), this film featured in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was one I was certainly looking forward to, I didn't read what the plot would involve, I was interested because of the two leads in the cast and the genre appealed to me. Basically Texas oil baron Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith) has two adult children, self-destructive nymphomaniac Marylee (Oscar and Golden Globe winning Dorothy Malone) and insecure playboy Kyle (Oscar nominated Robert Stack), both of whom are alcoholics, and they cannot sustain personal lives due to being spoilt with inherited wealth and crippling demons. It is after Kyle gets married in New York City to executive secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall) that more problems ensue, as she influences most of his decisions, and after being unsuccessful fathering a child he starts drinking again. Marylee's long-time infatuation Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), geologist for the oil company, is Kyle's childhood friend is one to be turned against, and after the death of Jasper his son's anger and depression really hit rock bottom. Mitch, despite her being married to his best friend, is secretly in love with his wife Lucy, he only reveals this to Kyle himself when it is revealed that he has a low sperm count, but she is pregnant, and he wrongly assumes that she slept with Mitch. During the assault Lucy fell down the stairs, and this causes her miscarriage, so Mitch tells her that once she is feeling better they will get out of town and travel somewhere, and Kyle meanwhile, in his drunken state, has got his hands on a gun and plans to shoot Mitch. Kyle ends up accidentally shooting himself when he and Marylee struggle for the weapon, and in revenge she wants to get Mitch stitched up for the death, and in a court case she does at first tell them that he was responsible. It is only in the second trial that she tearfully tells the truth, and in the end Marylee is left to mourn for her dead brother as Mitch and Lucy as they leave and run the company alone. Also starring Grant Williams as Biff Miley, Robert J. Wilke as Dan Willis, Edward C. Platt as Dr. Paul Cochrane and Harry Shannon as Hoak Wayne. Hudson as usual is good looking and pretty cool, Bacall is most of the time composed but concerned, and Malone does give an award worthy performance as the spoilt and troubled woman full of anger and arousal, Sirk as usual brings all the emotions to a much bigger level to create an all up and down emotional experience, it is a most watchable melodrama. It was nominated the Oscar for Best Song for the title song. Good!
Lives up to everything you'd expect in a Sirk movie and the
super-saturated colours, stirring musical score and immaculate
costumes are all present. On the basis of these factors alone this film
is very watchable. Everything looks so real you want to live there even
though your brain also knows that it's all a fantasy that bears only a
passing resemblance to how the world really looks.
On the down side, for me, was the utter lack of interest I had in most of the characters and their spoilt rich lives. I never felt emotionally involved as there was no point of identification for me. (I felt the same about Dallas when it came along on TV many years later - who cares?) This contrasted strongly for me with All That Heaven Allows which did engage me. The only identification for me was when the bartender tells a man that Marylee Hadley is out of his class - I remember my grandma saying the same to me when I once dated a doctor's daughter! All the interesting people in this film lived on the other side of the tracks but they were only treated as stereotypes and ciphers.
My score is entirely for the style of the film. A worthwhile watch but emotionally uninvolving.
Douglas Sirk's melodrama, Written On The Wind (1956), tells the story
of Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a geologist for the Texan-owned Hadley
Oil Company. The film follows Mitch's experience as not just a
geologist to the company but also as a close family friend to the
Hadley's. Mitch falls in love with Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), the wife
of his childhood friend Kyle Hadley (Richard Stack). Moreover, Kyle's
sister, Marylee (Dorothy Malone), remains in love with Mitch since
childhood. Her nymphomaniac tendencies are a mechanism to appease the
pain of her constant rejection from Mitch, and this is symbolic of the
film as a whole.
As a result, they are entangled in a web of love, passion and desire. Fierce jealousy ensues between the characters, which ultimately leads them onto a path of destruction in their lives.
Dorothy Malone's Academy Award for her performance as Marylee is a testament to the quality of acting in the film. Whilst at times, over-the-top, Written On The Wind is a well-crafted melodrama.
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