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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
WRITTEN ON THE WIND, directed by Douglas Sirk and released in 1956, is
like all of Sirk's mid 50's films- pure melodrama. Yet it is
engrossing, richly developed melodrama, and Sirk's trademark lurid
colour expressionism, throbbing, barely repressed emotions, symbolism
and juxtaposition of the classes make this a film to crave.
The film opens brilliantly, with the four central characters and the plot being introduced as the credits are still rolling. Sirk uses a clever flashback structure to take us into his world...
Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone are magnificent as the two Hadley "kids", Kyle and Marylee. He drinks and sleeps around with women. She drinks and sleeps around with men. They both are worth millions, thanks to the Hadley oil business. Hunky, yet poor, Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) is Kyle's lifelong friend, and Marylee's dream lover. Enter into this sordid mess Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), a slim, attractive young woman who falls under Kyle's charms after he picks up a phone and flies her across the countryside one evening. Mitch loves her too, but Kyle wins her. They quickly marry, and Kyle stops drinking. But fate seems to be written on the wind, and it is not long before a conniving Marylee (who will "have Mitch", marriage or no marriage), a secretly smitten Mitch, the confused Lucy and the sad drunk Kyle come to blows....
Malone is just wonderful as Marylee Hadley, thoroughly deserving her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She steals every scene she is in. Stack is almost just as good, amping up the melodrama, while still maintaining subtly and quiet desperation. Hudson and Bacall are a lot more restrained than those two, yet it is in keeping with the characters they play.
So, what's all this melodrama really about it? Well, a lot of things. Stack's powerful portrait of male inadequacy and fear, for one thing. Sirk surrounds Stack with phallic symbols throughout the film- note his tiny little gun, the oil derricks and the ultimate phallic symbol, Kyle's seeming inability to conceive children. Stack seems to be suffering from a massive male superiority complex, made worse by his father's preference for Hudson, his sister's desire for Hudson, and his suspicion that his wife is carrying on with Hudson. With all this wealth Kyle Hadley still ends up at the wrong end of town, buying cheap corn liquor like a "bum".
It's about impossible dreams, and having to let go of them. The river where Kyle, Marylee and Mitch used to play when they were kids is constantly referenced throughout the film, symbolising Kyle and (especially) Marylee's wish for the innocence and simplicity of youth. In an excellent melodramatic scene, perfectly pulled off by Malone, Marylee's stands by the river and imagines herself again as a child, with voice-over of Mitch telling Marylee that she will always be his girl. This is where Sirk strikes a huge emotional chord with the viewer. Who hasn't dreamed about going back to that special place in childhood? Who hasn't, at some point, lived on a treasured memory? Who hasn't wanted something they couldn't have? And Hudson's last line of the film (yes, he gets no dialogue in the last 10 or so minutes, only close-ups) recollects on how "far we've come from the river, Marylee". Amazing.
I'm not sure if this is some kind of masterpiece or just sleazy fluff elevated by the performances and visuals. Whatever the case, I'm sure I loved it. From the wonderfully twisted, lurid, intertwining stories, to the deliciously sinister performances from Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone, to the vivid, gaudy colour with which it's all captured, this is high-class trash and it's great fun. Not to mention the amusingly sly and thinly veiled sexual subtexts which permeate the entire film, always threatening to escape from the image into the dialogue but never doing so. I'd be lying if I said that the film's sheer entertainment value didn't contribute to my love for it, but there's some sort of bizarre artistry behind the unintentional (or was it?) comedy and I really, really dug that. I could really get into this melodrama stuff.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I first saw this in 1976 as part of a film series at my college. It was
the first Douglas Sirk movie I'd seen and I was blown away by his vivid
use of Technicolor. I thought only the movies of The Archers were able
to make such use of color. What would have happened if Douglas Sirk had
been born 30 years earlier and was limited to black and white film.
I think some of the credit should go to cinematographer Russell Metty who also worked on Sirk's other great vivid melodramas such as Magnificent Obsesion, All That Heaven Allows, and Imitation of Life. Metty also did some great work in black and white as seen by his work on Touch of Evil and The Misfits.
Sirk was a master of over the top soap operas and the story here is very good soap opera. Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack overplay the parts of rich brother and sister with Malone picking up the Oscar and Stack deserving one.
Hudson and Bacall play the good members of the Hadley house. They don't have the opportunity to give as broad a performance as Malone and Stack but they perform their parts admirably. At least the academy gave the nominations to right performances.
But with Sirk it's always style over substance and his style was always fun and interesting. If you want to watch one Sirk movie, this is a good movie to see.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Douglas Sirk's `Written on the Wind' is a great movie because of it's fine acting, beautiful cinematography, and compelling story. What makes it even more interesting when viewed today are the clear parallels between `The Godfather' as a story of the rise and fall of the American Dream.
As the head of a rich and powerful family, Jasper Hadley can be viewed as the Mafia don, trying to maintain an empire while protecting his family. His two children, however, are not cooperating and their personal issues continue to threaten the stability and future of the family/business. Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) is an outsider, yet he has earned the trust of the family and is considered to be as loyal as any family member-a true consiglieri. When young Marylee Hadley (Dorothy Malone) is in trouble with a man, her brother Kyle (Robert Stack) along with his best friend Mitch come to rescue her. The scene of Kyle brawling with Marylee's male friend is an early precursor to a scene in `The Godfather' where Sonny Corleone fights with his sister's husband.
This is just one specifically comparable scene between the two films. `Written on the Wind' is filled with such similarities like the feuding siblings, the `times are changing' theme, the tragic pregnancy, even the music signifying the death of the family patriarch. While watching the final image of Marylee Hadley alone in her dad's study, clutching the mini oil tower, one cannot help but think of Michael Corleone at the end of `The Godfather Part II'-alone, abandoned, and afraid, and with all the money and power they could ever want.
This classic Douglas Sirk-directed soaper is colorful, overwrought,
overacted and almost impossible to turn away from once the story starts
rolling. It is the tale of four highly dysfunctional people, each of whom is
tragically ill-suited to the person he is romantically involved with (or is
married to, or would like to be). No one, it seems, is pleased by who he is
supposed to be and what he ought to be doing.
There is a hopelessness at the core of the film, which, because it's so beautifully mounted, isn't the least bit depressing. Sirk approaches the material as if it were Greek tragedy, and manages, through composition and bits of business, to make his characters' erring ways compelling, and at times attractive. Set among the very rich, in the vast expanse of contemporary Texas, the movie has the paradoxical effect of making suffering glamorous and appealing. Or maybe this was the point.
One can't help but wish one were somehow actually involved with these people, living in their spacious homes, driving their sports cars, wearing their clothes. Life's actual suffering, experienced on a much smaller scale by most of us, seems petty by comparison. If only I were big, one can think to one's self, I could get into even more trouble than I'm already in, break even more rules, be wild and free, just like Dorothy Malone. The movie raises the misery ante to the level of the wealth and privelege these people enjoy, and as a result it's simultaneously way over the top and almost Nietzschean in it lack of any sense of or respect for conventional morals. It must have been exhilirating to see this film when it first came out, in 1956, as it has passion and romance and yet no heroes or heroines. It neither endorse nor condemns the mischief its characters get in, and in this respect is a little like its TV contemporary, Dragnet, offering us facts and more facts, mounds of evidence, but no perspective or wisdom or maturity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched Written on The Wind starring Rock Hudson,Lauren Becall,Robert Stack & Dorothy Malone- Robert Stack was terrible- just bloody horrible- he was supposed to be a charming jet-setting millionaire- instead he came off like a jerk from the word go- the plot was stupid and overwrought and the 3 "romantic" leads had no chemistry. Somehow Dorothy Malone won an Oscar for best supporting actress- although her campy tramp character was boring- think the older sister from Splendour in The Grass filled with malice and bitterness and lacking charisma. Director Douglas Sirk has the entire cast overact their way through dialogue that felt forced and the end result was a waste of 99 minutes. Had a cameo by the actor that played the chief on Get Smart
Fairly standard melodrama, with Hudson in love with his rich best friend's
(Stack) wife (Bacall). Well photographed and directed, although the
sometimes silly script has the actors saying and doing things so ridiculous
that a magnificent actor would have a time of it making it believable, let
along Stack or Hudson. Dorothy Malone nabbed an Oscar for doing little more
than play a standard spoiled rich girl bit. The ending (courtroom scene and
all) is hopelessly anticlimactic, and Bacall's character suffers from
believability issues, starting with her startlingly quick reversal from
disgust with Stack to agreeing to suddenly marry him. Still, well enough
executed to hold one's attention.
A lot of people, including the reviewer for "Videohound" seem to think this is some kind of satire of melodramas and they rate it very highly. To me it's a pretty middle of the road picture, and I think they are probably attributing too much to the film. It's basically a potboiler with a sort of a surprise ending. Nothing too great here, really, behind the showy direction.
Think "Dallas" was stunningly original? Mesmerized by the innovative
storytelling that was "Dynasty?" Well, hate to disillusion you, but
both those 80s kitsch touchstones are Stouffers frozen dinners compared
to the trash banquet that is "Written on the Wind." It's odd, actually,
that the central story of this film should have proved so influential
(heir to a dynasty brings home nice girl, their happiness is threatened
by the machinations of a devious sibling . . . sound familiar), since
the soapy plot is the weakest aspect of the film. No character is
believable, no situation is plausible, no performance is even remotely
lifelike, but none of that matters a bit . . . "Written on the Wind" is
a piece of expressionist art, splashed with lurid colors and vibrating
with operatic emotions.
Director Douglas Sirk plunks down four actors into the middle of this lunatic tableaux and watches how they respond. Robert Stack, as the weak-willed, gin-swilling playboy with some massive Oedipal issues (he seems to have grown up in a town surrounded by huge reproductions of his father's phallus), realizes he's in a melodrama and overacts passably (he almost won an Oscar). Dorothy Malone, as Stack's trampy sister who lives to cause trouble, relishes the fact that she's in a melodrama and overacts magnificently, sashaying around the set in sweaters so tight you wonder how she can breathe. She smirks and sambas her way to a supporting actress Oscar. Lauren Bacall, as the woman whom Stack woos and weds, seems a little embarrassed by her surroundings and relies on her famous smoldering reserve to sustain her against Stack and Malone's histrionics. It almost works. Rock Hudson, as always, is an inert lump at the center of a good movie.
It's not just the superior production values, A-list cast and vivid use of color that elevate Sirk's labor of love over future cheesy melodramas, it's the economy of storytelling. We learn that Rock Hudson is going to fall wildly in love with Lauren Bacall during his very first scene, when he walks into an advertising agency and sees her shapely calves under an easel. We know Dorothy Malone is nothing but trouble from the long, red car she drives and the long, red scarves she wears. We realize that Robert Stack feels inadequate as a man since he sleeps with a tiny little gun under his pillow (Bacall handles it very gently) while his domineering father is always grabbing for a six-shooter, while his studdly best friend Rock wanders around with a hunting rifle. There is some throwaway dialogue that refers to these phenomena, perhaps to explain everything to the impossibly dense, but it's secondary. "Written on the Wind" would have worked brilliantly as a silent film.
Arguably Douglas Sirk's best film, "Written On The Wind" is a virtual
hurricane of over-the-top acting, cotton candy-colored cinematography
and blatant sexual energy all whipped into a Category 4 storm. Many
critics dare to compare this 1956 classic to another melodrama from the
same year, the soapy MGM film "Giant". Besides the fact that both star
Rock Hudson and follow the seedy lives of wealthy Texans, "Written On
The Wind" succeeds thanks in large part to Sirk's social critique and
uncanny eye for visual irony. And the screen sizzles as a result of
steamy performances all around. This is the perfect film to watch if
you want it to feel like a hot, steamy summer night.
The Hadley family is one of wealth and beauty, but underneath lie secrets and scandals that threaten to uproot the cracking dynasty. Jasper Hadley(Robert Keith)has his hands full dealing with his slutty daughter, Marylee(Dorothy Malone), and insecure alcoholic son, Kyle(Robert Stack). Marylee only amps up her randy sex-capades the more she realizes her true love, Mitch Wayne(Hudson), doesn't want to be with her. In fact, not only does he not want Marylee, but he is actually in love with Lucy(Lauren Bcall), Kyle's new bride. Got all that? The drama gains momentum when Jasper is confronted about his daughter's promiscuous behavior and Kyle finds out that his own sexual dysfunction will prevent him from having children with Lucy. So what happens when Lucy turns up pregnant? The film comes to a sordid, pounding climax.
The entire cast has an undeniable chemistry - a chemistry which Sirk tried to emulate the next year by reuniting Hudson, Stack and Malone for his gritty drama, "The Tarnished Angels". And Stack is at the top of his game, as he nails the role of a pathetic, weak and insecure man who has everything, but really has nothing. Sirk's use of phallic symbols in the scenes with Marylee are riotous(one of cinema's best moments is when she is caressing the mini oil derrick model)and his mise-en-scene is filled in every nook and cranny with relevant visual stimulation. Even the open title sequence, done much like a classic nighttime soap opera, is sleek, sophisticated and unforgettable. And unlike many films from this period, precious time is not wasted on tedious monologues or wordy segments. The action starts as soon as the movie opens and swiftly continues from scene to scene. "Written On The Wind", a true screen classic, provides a torrent of unabashed glamor and trash, upheld by the smart and saavy direction of the always brilliant Sirk.
For years I used to turn away from Douglas Sirk's overcharged
melodramas when they appeared on TV, dismissing them as "woman's
movies", but I've now learnt to appreciate the art (really "Art" with a
capital "A") of a great cinematographer and story-teller. This is
probably the best of his I've yet seen, elevated by superior acting
behind the leads of Rock Hudson & Lauren Bacall of Dorothy McGuire &
Robert Stack, both of whom garnered deserved Academy recognition.
The plot is basically one that would have served as "Dallas - The Movie" if the TV series of the 80's had been raised to movie status with a plethora of weighty themes and subjects including jealousy, parental love, sibling rivalry, the abuse of wealth, the limits of friendship, and so on down the greasy pole to impotence, alcoholism wife-beating and nymphomania. This particular American tragedy naturally ends in tears with a miscarriage and two deaths, although there's the hope that Bacall and Hudson can build some sort of relationship out of the burning ashes of the consumed oil-rich Hadley family.
To pull all this schlock off takes imagination, skill and conviction and Sirk aided by his heavyweight cast certainly delivers. The camera-work is breathtakingly opulent throughout both in the exterior and interior work. You're immediately captured by the opening shots of Robert Stack's spineless playboy Kyle Hadley drunkenly driving his car in long-shot through the darkening gloom to the family mansion to play out the final dramatic scenes and there are several other shots where the colours superbly seduce the eye, notably at the secret lake where Stack's sex-mad sister in her youth last laid any claim to the affections of her lifetime love Hudson's Mitch Wayne character. Poisoned by his rejection and inflamed by his attraction for Kyle's new straight-as-a-dye wife, she foments the disastrous events which overtake her father (including the famous scene where she dances in her room to ear-blasting music while her father suffers a fatal heart attack downstairs) and her brother (egging him on against Mitch with the brazen insinuation that Mitch and not Kyle has fathered the long wished for child that Lucy belatedly carries.
The acting is mostly fine, Hudson rather good as the torn Mitch, Stack superb as the troubled Kyle (especially good in his many drunken scenes) and McGuire on-fire as the twisted sister. Bacall, though I considered a mis-cast - she looks too old and seems far too worldly for the naive innocent she portrays here and it's hard to imagine two men fighting over her as Stack and Hudson do here.
Of course it's all high-gloss soap but it's so addictive I couldn't take my eyes off it and will long remember some of the imagery that Sirk employs. All that glisters certainly isn't gold as he takes us (there's one great sub-Hitchcockian shot where the camera surreptitiously seems to glide through a window into a party scene at the Hadley mansion) behind the facade of the lifestyles of the fabulously rich to deliver the simple homily that, as the Beatles later put it, money can''t buy you love.
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