Sunday 13 January 2019

Movie Review: Written On The Wind (1956)

A four-way romantic drama smoldering within an oil tycoon family, Written On The Wind offers up love and lust among the idle rich.

Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) is the hard-drinking playboy and scion of the Texas-based Hadley oil empire, founded by his father Jasper (Brian Keith). Kyle's best friend since childhood is Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a geologist and stand-up guy, and son of salt-of-the-earth farmer Hoak (Harry Shannon). Kyle's sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is the conniving town tart, sleeping with any willing guy while still hoping to attract Mitch's attention.

While on a business trip to New York City Kyle and Mitch meet executive secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall). Both fall in love with her, but Mitch stands aside and allows Kyle to instigate an immediate courtship followed by a quick marriage. Lucy helps Kyle settle down and stop drinking, but within a year he receives unwelcome news, rocking his new-found stability.

A melodramatic and over-clocked drama, Written On The Wind is one of the templates for what would become standard television prime-time fare a couple of decades later: lust, love, jealousy, miscellaneous between-the-sheets shenanigans and the all-round bad behaviour of the rich and famous, all presented in glossy imagery, vivid colours and with photogenic stars.

The book by Robert Wilder receives a script treatment by George Zuckerman, and director Douglas Sirk delivers a grandiose, sappy-music infused film. Sirk is either taking the drama with utmost seriousness or making complete fun of his characters with a straight face, and in a good way the film works in both contexts. Fans of sordid romantic entanglements can enjoy the overflowing emotional showdowns just as much as jaded viewers can laugh at the whole lot of them.

Missing from the lives of the characters is any sense of purpose or working for a living. Mitch gets one scene with a pencil behind his ear to pretend he is a geologist taking his career seriously. Otherwise, the lives on display are devoid of any responsibility other than drinking, partying, fighting and plotting the next romantic conquest.

The cast do what is required. Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall are generally stand-offish, their would-be romance on ice for the duration of the film as Lucy foolishly falls for the deeply flawed Kyle.

Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone get the showier roles. Stack fires blades from his eyes and sweat from every alcohol-clogged pore as the highly-strung and disrespected but stupidly rich son of a tycoon. Malone gives an uninhibited and dynamically aggressive performance, breaking out into wild dancing on a couple of occasions, Sirk intercutting her explosive gyrations in red with a sudden and tragic family death. When it's Written On The Wind, it's always bold and brash.

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