Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Written on the Wind

Based on the novel by Robert Wilder, Written on the Wind is the story of a woman who marries into an oil family as she would fall for her husband’s best friend. Directed by Douglas Sirk and screenplay by George Zuckerman, the film is an exploration of a woman who becomes part of a very dysfunctional and decadent family as she tries to make sense of the family she‘s married to while dealing with her feelings for husband‘s best friend. Starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone. Written on the Wind is a sensational yet wild film from Douglas Sirk.

Based on a real life incident involving the tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds and torch singer Libby Holman, the film is an exploration into the chaotic world of a Texan oil family whose adult children are spoiled and troubled as they besmirch the reputation of the family as an heir’s wife and his best friend are caught in the middle. Much of which play into an heir trying to find happiness in his life as he meets an executive secretary in New York City as he woos her into marrying him. Though it seems to be a major change and a step into maturity for Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) as he would introduce his new wife Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall) to his father Jasper (Robert Keith). Trouble would brew due to the presence of Kyle’s younger sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone) who has gained a reputation for being a nymphomaniac as she also wants longtime childhood friend Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) who secretly has feelings for Lucy.

George Zuckerman’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the desires of what Kyle and Marylee Hadley want in their very lavish but often empty lives. The script also explores Lucy and Mitch being in the middle of this chaotic world where Lucy was reluctant to be wooed by Kyle yet finds him fascinating as he was very honest about his alcoholism and such. While Mitch would watch Kyle be with Lucy as he would suck it up and accept it, he becomes overwhelmed by Kyle and Marylee as he wants to leave the entire world of the Hadleys though he still has some loyalty to Japser. While he knows about Kyle’s alcoholism and does pity him, Lucy has no clue on how severe it is as she and Kyle try to start a family only for things to not go as quickly as Kyle wanted. Adding to Kyle’s already fragile state is Marylee whose desire to want Mitch would have her be manipulative to Kyle over the idea that Mitch and Lucy are having an affair which isn’t true. It would add to the heightened sense of drama that would play out as it would be very sensational but also lurid considering the kind of behavior that Marylee has.

Douglas Sirk’s direction is very stylish as well as being a bit over-the-top of times since it does play into his sensibilities on melodrama. While he keeps much of it restrained and somber early on though the film begins with Kyle driving very fast to his home as a gunshot is then heard. It then flashes back to something less dramatic when Kyle meets Lucy for the first time where he’s about to have lunch with Mitch as it starts off as this very straightforward romance with some very lovely compositions in its use of medium shots and close-ups along with a few low angle shots. The film becomes more stylized in its compositions once the film is set in Texas where Sirk adds something that is very dark once Marylee comes into the picture as she is this firecracker that likes to push buttons. While she may have some air of innocence over what she wants to have with Mitch, there is that layer of darkness about her that does drive the film. Especially where it would have this soaring and sensational idea of drama where it is very strange at times but also offbeat considering how over-the-top it can be. Overall, Sirk crafts a very mesmerizing yet visceral film about two people caught up in the world of a very dysfunctional family.

Cinematographer Russell Metty does phenomenal work with the film‘s very rich and colorful Technicolor-based cinematography with its stylish approach to lighting for some of its nighttime interior scenes as well as the way some of the locations in Texas plus the old river that Kyle, Mitch, and Marylee used to play at. Editor Russell J. Schoengarth does excellent work with the editing as it‘s straightforward in terms of its cutting strategies while playing to the film‘s unique rhythm for its melodramatic moments. Art directors Alexander Golitzen and Robert Clatworthy, with set decorators Russell A. Gausman and Julia Heron, do fantastic work with the design of Hadley mansion as well as the bar that Kyle likes to go as well as the posh hotel suites in Miami where Kyle hoped to woo Lucy at.

Costume designer Bill Thomas does amazing work with the design of the gowns that Marylee and Lucy wears as the former is very lavish and provocative while the latter is more classy as it both plays to their personalities. The sound work of Leslie I. Carey and Robert Pritchard is terrific for the way the Hadleys‘ cars sound when they‘re speeding to the atmosphere of the parties they old. The film’s music by Frank Skinner is brilliant for its soaring and lush orchestral-based music as it plays to the melodrama while there‘s some jazz-based themes that play into the world of Marylee while music supervisor Joseph Gershenson brings in some jazz-based pieces into the music soundtrack plus a ballad written by Victor Young and Sammy Cahn that opens the film.

The film’s superb cast includes some notable small roles from Robert J. Wilkes as the bartender at the bar that Kyle likes to drink at, Harry Shannon as Mitch’s father, John Larch as one of Marylee’s lovers, Roy Glenn and Maidie Norman as the house servants of the Hadley home, and Edward Platt as the longtime family doctor who examines Lucy as he becomes concerned if Kyle is the real problem. Robert Keith is excellent as Marylee and Kyle’s father Jasper as an oil man who treats Mitch like a son as he watches the behavior of his children with great despair as he questions about his failings as a father. Dorothy Malone is amazing as the very lurid and slimy Marylee Hadley as this nymphomaniac who likes to cause trouble while wanting to pursue Mitch in every way she can.

Robert Stack is brilliant as the troubled Kyle Hadley as a playboy who wants to have the good things in life when he meets Lucy only to succumb to his own insecurities and alcoholism as he loses sight of everything as well as his friendship to Mitch. Lauren Bacall is incredible as Lucy Moore as this woman who is wooed by Kyle as she is baffled yet charmed by his personality only to deal with his alcoholism and insecurities as she wonders if she made the right decision as she starts to have feelings for Mitch. Finally, there’s Rock Hudson in a glorious performance as Mitch Wayne as this simple yet kind man who devotes his loyalty to Jasper Hadley while trying to deal with Kyle’s alcoholism as well as his own feelings for Lucy as it’s a role that has Hudson be tough but also be grounded as someone who had seen a lot and knows what is important as it’s one of Hudson’s finest performances.

Written on the Wind is a spectacular film from Douglas Sirk that is highlighted by the performances of Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone. Along with the beautiful cinematography of Russell Metty and Frank Skinner’s lush score, it’s a film that is quite touching but also very intense in terms of its melodrama while not being afraid of being dark and be critical about rich American families. In the end, Written on the Wind is a remarkable film from Douglas Sirk.

Douglas Sirk Films: (t Was een April) - (The Court Concert) - (To New Shores) - (La Habanera) - (Boefje) - (Hitler’s Madman) - (Summer Storm) - (A Scandal in Paris) - (Lured) - (Sleep My Love) - Shockproof - (Thunder on the Hill) - (No Room for the Groom) - (Has Anybody Seen My Gal?) - (Meet Me at the Fair) - (Take Me to Town) - (All I Desire) - (Taza, Son of Cochise) - Magnificent Obsession (1954 film) - (Sign of the Pagan) - (Captain Lightfoot) - All That Heaven Allows - There's Always Tomorrow (1956 film) - (Never Say Goodbye) - (Battle Hymn) - (Interlude) - (The Tarnished Angels) - (A Time to Love and A Time to Die) - Imitation of Life

© thevoid99 2014


Anonymous said...

I do like this film, but I also found it wildly uneven in parts and it suffered from Bacall and Hudson being so boring.

Malone and Stack were incredible though...truly incredible, and the production values were also spectacular.

thevoid99 said...

I think the presence of Bacall and Hudson were the perfect balance to Stack and Malone as the film needed Bacall and Hudson in terms of normalcy while Stack and Malone were just crazy. I had fun watching that film though I think Malone could've eased up on the tan.

Dan Heaton said...

I caught up with Written in the Wind a while ago (maybe seven or eight years), and I wasn't a big fan. I can see what Sirk is doing with the heightened melodrama, but I found it difficult to enjoy. Robert Stack also is a really unconvincing drunk.

Of course, I expect that I might have a better reaction on a second viewing. I've read a lot of raves about it, including Roger Ebert in his Great Movies book. At some point, I'll try to give it another chance.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan Heaton-I wasn't expecting much other than another melodramatic story but I didn't expect the film to be quite over-the-top at times which is probably why I enjoyed it.