WRITTEN ON THE WIND
Movie Review by Curt Solash
Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Lauren Bacall, Dorothy Malone.
Director: Douglas Sirk.
- Best supporting Oscar - Dorothy Malone
- Best supporting actor nominee - Robert Stack
- Best music and original song nominee - Victor Young and Sammy Cahn
- Best supporting actress Golden Globes nominee - Dorothy Malone.
The director called it "garbage". One of its main stars echoed his opinion. It is lurid, sleazy, sensationalistic, salacious, full of dysfunction, alcoholism, sexual inadequacy, suggestion of unfaithfulness, nymphomania, and murder - very heady stuff for 1956. But it's NOT garbage! It is fabulously entertaining with top-notch production values, direction, award winning acting, gorgeous color, a hit theme song, and you won't blink. One of my favorites - Written On the Wind.
It was a tremendous box-office hit, proving that the masses went to see this "garbage" in droves. And, why not? Universal was in a bad way after the war and the honchos bet big that with the right vehicles, and just slightly over the hill female stars, audiences particularly "women" would come by the truckload.
And nobody knew how to direct such movies like Douglas Sirk. Another of the many emigres from Germany in the industry (like Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, etc.), he knew very much how to make "women's melodramas" (Others include Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, and Imitation of Life), full of lots of juicy elements - tears, pain, love, self-recrimination, sacrifice - soap operas supreme, all of them. They saved Universal-International from bankruptcy.
This one is about the Hadley clan, a very rich family (oil) who own the town of
Son Kyle (Robert Stack) and his friend and stooge since childhood, a geologist working for the company, Mitch (Rock Hudson, so gorgeous that it's ridiculous - another thing that Universal had going for it was its stable of young male hopefuls being groomed for stardom - Hudson, Jeff Chandler, John Saxon, Tony Curtis and others. This didn't hurt the female attendance numbers either.) go to the advertising agency in New York working for the family's account on a business trip.
They meet Lucy (Lauren Bacall), an account executive, Kyle falls madly in love with her, attempts to dazzle her with his gifts and money, but she's a "nice girl" and says no-go. Kyle wants another chance, gets it she can't resist, he brings her back to Texas to meet Dad, Mitch secretly loves her, etc., etc., etc.
It doesn't take a PhD to know that the situation is going to deteriorate quickly for all concerned. Lucy discovers that Kyle keeps a gun under his pillow, drinks to excess, and is really a scared little boy who uses his money and Mitch to clean up his messes.
She and we also meet Marylee, Kyle's sister (Dorothy Malone), even more disturbed that Kyle, a vicious nymphomaniac who's really always been in love with Mitch who regards her more as a sister. She sleeps around and picks up men with utter abandon to try and make up for what she wants but can't have or buy.
It gets worse. After marrying Lucy, a doctor tells Kyle that there's a "weakness" in his virility and that they probably will never have children. He hits the bottle even harder and attempts to bury his shame despite Lucy's attempts to get him to talk about it.
However, Lucy does get pregnant and Mitch admits he loves her and decided to go to Iran (this IS 1956!) to forget her for good. Marylee decides to cause major trouble and convinces Kyle that the baby is Mitch’s. Kyle beats Lucy, she miscarries, and Mitch tells Kyle that it was his (Kyle's) baby and that he'd better leave the house or Mitch will kill him (he is overheard saying this). Kyle attempts to shoot Mitch but Marylee grabs the gun and accidentally kills her brother.
A trial ensues. It looks bad for Mitch, especially since Marylee attempts to blackmail him into marriage since a wife can't testify against her husband (he wants no part of it or her). During the trial, however, she relents and tells the truth, leaving Mitch free to leave Texas forever with Lucy.
It all sounds very dated and hackneyed, but, man, what a movie! Director Sirk liked to tackle social issues very obliquely (to discourage interference from censors) and here he's commenting on the decay and decadence of the very rich and he makes his point most clearly.
Also of note is the fact that the novel that it is adapted from is loosely based on a famous scandal of the 1920's in which Libby Holman, a well-known singer and actress (her unconventional life is a story in itself), was put on trial for supposedly murdering her husband, tobacco scion Zachary Reynolds, with her lover. She was acquitted, blaming it on antisemitism. The Reynolds family apparently paid $25,000 to try and somehow keep it quiet.
Her exhibitionistic rumba with Hudson at a party is quite a scene, but nothing compared to this one: After being brought home by the police for soliciting, she does a solo dance in her room to a recording of the song "Temptation", atavistic and almost tribal in its earthiness. During all this, father Robert Keith is marching upstairs to have it out with her and drops dead of a heart attack. It's a stand-out moment in a truly unforgettable performance in a superb mid-century pot-boiler that you'll absolutely relish.
All “garbage" should be as much fun as this!
copyright 2019 CURT SOLASH
CURT LOVES OLDIES: Curt Solash dishes on the best and worst movies of all time
Curt Solash is a retired educator, an antique advertising collector and a lifelong cinemaphile from New York City who now lives in sunny Florida with his life partner.
Watch the trailer for " WRITTEN ON THE WIND "