[Film Review] Written on the Wind (1956)

Written on the wind poster

Title: Written on the Wind
Year: 1956
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama
Director: Douglas Sirk
Writer: George Zuckerman
based on the novel by Robert Wilder
Music: Frank Skinner
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Rock Hudson
Lauren Bacall
Robert Stack
Dorothy Malone
Robert Keith
Edward Platt
Grant Williams
Robert J. Wilke
John Larch
Maisie Norman
William Schallert
Rating: 8.0/10

Made in the high point of Douglas Sirk’s career, WRITTEN ON THE WIND now is deemed as a quintessential melodrama which fully embodies Sirk’s artistic flair, he is not ashamed to induce the most obvious feelings in the most flashy way, from a character’s normal protection colour (which is often identified by his sublime colour scheme), under a straightforward storyline and minimalist core cast.

The story majorly concerns a quartet of characters ensnared in their own desire and conscience, perplexity and indecision, frustration and cowardice, self-love and jealousy: Kyle (Stack) and Marylee Hadley (Malone) are the children of a Texas oil baron, grow up together with their childhood friend Mitch Wayne (Hudson), whom Marylee has developed an unrequited infatuation with. One day, a beautiful secretary Lucy Moore (Bacall) inadvertently charms Kyle to give up his playboy lifestyle and propose a marriage, but Mitch also helplessly falls for Lucy, which the latter is also palpably aware of, spiked with alcoholism, sterility rumours and wanton behaviours, will anything good come out of the imbroglio?

The intensified opening has already given up the upshot, a gunshot, a man rushes out and falls into ground. Then the agile flipping of a calendar sends viewers back to the beginning when Lucy enters the lives of these two men. She is not a dumb gold-digger with no integrity, otherwise she could not make an impact on Kyle in their first encounter, she is intrigued by the jet-set excitement but is wise enough to leave after Kyle’s repulsive showing-off, yet, she couldn’t be too smart, otherwise she would not make the mistake of marrying the wrong man, Ms. Bacall actually manages to pull off Lucy’s meek mediocrity (a fresh endeavour from her other more self-revealing works), the facile perfection in a woman, a wife, which ultimately makes Lucy a less captivating character.

Lucy and Mitch are made for each other, because they are the same type, the emblem of mediocrity which one can perceive as perfection, he is sensible, morally conscious and can take an upper hand in a bar brawl, in his mind, he knows what he wants, and what he doesn’t want, but in action, he is swayed by vacillation and not unlike Lucy, he is not wise enough, he cannot start a clean slate with Marylee just because for the old time’s sake, and inconveniently causes the chasm between siblings. But, in default, he must be the hero, who can face a loaded pistol when needed, a true friend sacrifices his own feelings for friendship, only the timing is not helping, which Hudson’s square-shouldered portrayal cannot be more accurate.

Kyle and Marylee are the black sheep (not just in their family), so their roles are naturally far meatier than the two leads, both Stack and Malone are Oscar-nominated with the latter nabs a win from a competitive contest. Kyle, whose major mistake is taking the doctor’s advice too seriously, which serves as the nail in his low self-esteem coffin, inflicted collectively by his father’s high-hopes, Marylee’s volatile hostility, Mitch’s nonpareil superiority and himself, of course. His doom is approaching to the point of no return, Stack launches himself into the role without conservation, damaged good can always win our sympathy, especially he could have everything, but yeah, let a doctor’s opinion become your undoing. A ruined affluent second-generation is the eternal byproduct from a capitalism society and a ceaseless source for schadenfreude.

Finally, Ms. Malone’s much hyped Oscar-conquering showcase, Marylee is a spoiled trump, and Ms. Malone hams it up to the hilt, a southern-belle who is unapologetically reckless whenever she cannot get what she wants, she has one soft spot, which only hardens her resolve to become vindictive and venomous. Only until her semi-relented last-minute change-of-mind in the finale, has she been brought back from pure evil to a woman might still have a second chance in wake of the tragedy, it is never a clever idea to stick with someone who is so blatantly in love with someone else, she learns it the hard way, and without descending into ridicule, Malone holds the scenes marvellously, you have no idea what she would do, she is the incarnation of ruination and salvation instantaneously, viewers are like Mitch, simply at the mercy of her mercurial turn-of-phrase.

Truly, it is a soap opera (adding the pregnancy into the fray is a bit of a stretch), but being played out hypnotically, wallows in refinement, glamour and civilities, which majestically sets to contrast and foreground the fragility of brimful sentiments, it might not be your cup of tea, but is definitely a school of cinema which bequeaths us by Sirk and others, and gleefully, its influence has been on the rising, a re-vamp of this one could not be more opportune right now, since the homosexuality (which is in the original script) embargo could be revoked today, I will be extremely thrilled to see that happen in one of those days.

Written on the Wind 1956


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