Written on the Wind
A Douglas Sirk tour de force, 'Written on the Wind' explores the director's typical fascination with interfamilial relationships in a hold-on-to-your-cocktail- hat production oozing with Technicolor angst
Reviewed by Stephen MacMillan Moser, Fri., March 18, 2005
Written On The Wind
Criterion, $29.95A Douglas Sirk tour de force, Written on the Wind explores the director's typical fascination with interfamilial relationships in a hold-on-to-your-cocktail-hat production oozing with Technicolor angst. The gates of the Hadley mansion in Hadley, Texas, do little to keep the tortured Hadley family's secrets inside, since oil scion Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) is a nasty drunk with a bad temper, and sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is, in today's parlance, a ho. As his best friend Mitch, the rock-solid Rock Hudson tries hard to keep ol' Kyle in line, but it's like trying to corral a dozen helium balloons. When Kyle marries Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), the themes of lust and greed take center stage. Using the charmingly dated device of pages on a calendar flying by, we are taken back, and the lurid story unfolds: Marylee wants Mitch, but Mitch wants Kyle's wife. Kyle behaves badly and beats up Lucy because he thinks she is pregnant with Mitch's baby. A struggle ensues. and Kyle dies from a gunshot. The death is ruled an accident, and Mitch drives off into the sunset with Lucy, while Marylee, now the owner of Hadley Oil, strokes and caresses a phallic-looking model of an oil derrick. The men in Sirk's movies are somewhat one-dimensional, but he savors the female characters, lavishing them with loving attention. As Marylee, Malone steals the show with her overacting. When her brother accuses her of being a "filthy liar," she spits back, "I'm filthy period." With the all-important "Gowns by ..." credit going to Bill Thomas, she is girded to the gills in over-the-top 1950s couture and works the stage like a woman possessed. Her tawdry mambo in a flame-colored peignoir as her father is dying outside her door is torrid and (now) unintentionally hilarious. Malone won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role amazingly, the only Oscar a Douglas Sirk movie ever received. Lauren Bacall is at her best here, too, with her voice like salted velvet; she is the queen of the "come hither" look, but always remains cool and elegant.
Extras include the Melodrama Archive, which breaks Sirk's career down into three categories: his years in Germany, his move to America, and the years at Universal Studios, which produced Written on the Wind, as well as Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, and the immortal Imitation of Life. Also included are liner notes by noted film theorist Laura Mulvey, as well as the trailers for the feature and All That Heaven Allows, which are fascinating for the fact that they place the viewer and the film in the context of the period in which the film was made.