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USA 1956
Directed by
Douglas Sirk
99 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Written On The Wind

The plot and thematic substance of Written On The Wind  is typical enough of a sub-genre of melodrama that was very popular in the late 1950s with films such as George Stevens' Giant, released the same year, another Texas oil story, also with Rock Hudson, of a rich Southern family riven by dynastic dysfunctionality and Richard Brooks' Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958). A shift in pace for director Sirk who had established a solid track record with more female-oriented suburban melodramas such as Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955) it is, unlike those films, garish and all-stops-out histrionic.

The opening credits establish the over-heated dynamics with Robert Stack as Kyle Hadley, a spoilt rich bad boy with a big drinking problem driving his expensive yellow sports car like he couldn't give a damn. He returns to and enters the family mansion, shots ring out, someone staggers out and drops to the driveway,  Cut to the pages of a desk calendar being blown backwards and we are about to discover what that was all about. The ingredients of the templated story, adapted by George Zuckerman from a novel by Robert Wilder, are soon established, Rock Hudson as Kyle's best friend and pillar of rectitude and the Protestant work ethic, Lauren Bacall as his sainted wife, Lucy, and Dorothy Malone as Marylee, his tramp of a sister. The film is essentially a soap-opera-ish demonstration of the thesis that Malone and Stack are sexually frustrated by Hudson’s Oedipal untouchability (a theme unsubtly driven home in the outrageous closing shot of Malone fondling a model oil derrick that appears in a portrait of her father on the wall behind her).

Whilst Hudson is quite good as the object of their libidinal anxieties, Stack in the kind of tortured young man role that Paul Newman could pull off with much greater effect, struggles to do more than be unctuously charming or pathetically drunk. Of the women, Malone is too old (she was thirty-one at the time, playing someone I assume is supposed to be at least ten years younger) although her vampish performance got her, the Academy always having a fondness for stereotypicality, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, whilst Bacall is a pale beauty but little more. Shortcomings notwithstanding, Sirk’s film, the biggest box office success of his career and sixth of eight he made with Hudson will be grist to the mill for fans of such fare.




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