Written on the Wind

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This article is about the film. For the song by Roger Daltrey, see Written on the Wind (song).
Written on the Wind
WrittenOnTheWind2.jpg
Original poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by Douglas Sirk
Produced by Albert Zugsmith
Written by Robert Wilder
Screenplay by George Zuckerman
Based on Written on the Wind (1945 novel)
Starring Rock Hudson
Lauren Bacall
Robert Stack
Dorothy Malone
Music by Frank Skinner
Victor Young
Cinematography Russell Metty
Edited by Russell F. Schoengarth
Distributed by Universal International Pictures
Release dates
  • December 1956 (1956-12)
Running time 99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4.4 million (US/ Canada rentals) [1]

Written on the Wind is a 1956 American drama film directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone.

The screenplay by George Zuckerman was based on Robert Wilder's 1945 novel of the same name, a thinly disguised account of the real-life scandal involving torch singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds. Zuckerman shifted the locale from North Carolina to Texas, made the source of the family wealth oil rather than tobacco, and changed all the character names.

Plot[edit]

Self-destructive, alcoholic nymphomaniac Marylee (Dorothy Malone) and her insecure, alcoholic playboy brother Kyle (Robert Stack) are the children of Texas oil baron Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith). Spoiled by their inherited wealth and crippled by their personal demons, neither is able to sustain a personal relationship.

Problems ensue after Kyle's impulsive marriage to New York City executive secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), who becomes a steadying influence to his life through the first few months after they meet. Kyle resumes drinking after being unsuccessful in fathering a baby. He turns against his childhood friend, Marylee's long-time infatuation, Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a geologist for the oil company. Kyle's anger and depression grow after the death of his father, who admires Mitch but is disgusted with the behavior of his two heirs.

Mitch is secretly in love with Lucy. He keeps these feelings private until Kyle, having been diagnosed with a low sperm count, physically assaults Lucy when she announces her pregnancy, wrongly assuming it to be the result of adultery with Mitch. Lucy's fall results in a miscarriage. Mitch vows to leave town with her as soon as she's well enough to travel. On his return, a drunken Kyle recovers a hidden pistol and intends to shoot Mitch. Marylee struggles with her brother for the weapon, but it accidentally fires, killing him.

Repeatedly spurned by the man she claims to love, a spiteful Marylee threatens to implicate Mitch in Kyle's death. At the inquest, she first testifies that he killed her sibling. But she tearfully redeems herself at the last second by admitting the truth. Mitch and Lucy depart, leaving Marylee to mourn the death of her brother and run the company alone.

Cast[edit]

Production notes[edit]

Dorothy Malone, a brunette previously best known as the brainy bespectacled bookstore clerk in a scene with Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946), had more recently played small supporting roles in a long string of B movies. For this film she dyed her hair platinum blonde in order to shed her "nice girl" image in portraying the obsessive Marylee Hadley. Her Oscar-winning performance finally gave her cachet in the film industry.

Dorothy Malone attempts to seduce Rock Hudson in this scene from Written on the Wind

Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty worked together six times prior to this film. He helped perfect the light and color effects associated with Sirk's greatest films.

Lauren Bacall, whose film career was foundering, accepted the relatively non-flashy role of Lucy Moore at the behest of her husband Humphrey Bogart. At the same time she was shooting Wind, she was preparing for a television adaptation of Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit, co-starring Coward and Claudette Colbert. In 2005, she accepted the Frontier Award on behalf of the film from the Austin Film Society, which annually makes inductions into the Texas Film Hall of Fame recognizing actors, directors, screenwriters, filmmakers, and films from, influenced by, or inspired by the Lone Star State.

Stack felt the primary reason he lost the Oscar to Anthony Quinn (whose winning performance in Lust for Life was less than ten minutes long) was that 20th Century Fox, who had loaned him to Universal International, organized block voting against him to prevent one of their contract players from winning an acting award while working at another studio.[2]

The title song, written by Sammy Cahn and Victor Young, was sung by The Four Aces during the opening credits. The film's score was composed by Frank Skinner.

This was the sixth of eight films Douglas Sirk made with Rock Hudson, and the most successful. Sirk reunited key cast members Rock Hudson, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone two years later in 1958 for The Tarnished Angels, his black-and-white epic about early aviators based upon William Faulkner's novel Pylon.

This title was one of the very few "flat wide screen" (FWS) titles to be printed "direct to matrix" by Technicolor, a process which was usually reserved for Technicolor's "captive" processes, including Cinerama, Technirama, Techniscope, Todd-AO, VistaVision and a few other so-called "wide gauge" processes, and by which this specially-ordered 35mm printing process it was intended to maintain the highest possible print quality, as well as protecting the negative. Other notable examples of such FWS printing by Technicolor includes Giant. Universal must have expected this title to be a blockbuster, as was Giant, released just two months earlier, otherwise it would not have gone to the great expense of ordering "direct to matrix" Technicolor prints.

In the case of this title, the Criterion DVD has the motor and changeover cues erased, with the exception of a few reels in which these cues are still intact. These cues are the "legacy" Technicolor "serrated" kind, generally abandoned after 1955, but without the highlighting usually found thereupon. By the date of this title, most Technicolor cues had been changed to smaller round cues, which accommodated the significantly higher magnification which was required for FWS projection.

Critical reception[edit]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times calls it "a perverse and wickedly funny melodrama in which you can find the seeds of Dallas, Dynasty, and all the other prime-time soaps. Sirk is the one who established their tone, in which shocking behavior is treated with passionate solemnity, while parody burbles beneath . . . To appreciate a film like Written on the Wind probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces, because Bergman's themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message. His interiors are wildly over the top, and his exteriors are phony - he wants you to notice the artifice, to see that he's not using realism but an exaggerated Hollywood studio style . . . Films like this are both above and below middle-brow taste. If you only see the surface, it's trashy soap opera. If you can see the style, the absurdity, the exaggeration and the satirical humor, it's subversive of all the 1950s dramas that handled such material solemnly. William Inge and Tennessee Williams were taken with great seriousness during the decade, but Sirk kids their Freudian hysteria."[3]

In his review in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther said, "The trouble with this romantic picture . . . is that nothing really happens, the complications within the characters are never clear and the sloppy, self-pitying fellow at the center of the whole thing is a bore."[4]

TV Guide describes the film as "the ultimate in lush melodrama," "Douglas Sirk's finest directorial effort," and "one of the most notable critiques of the American family ever made."[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Evans, William: Written on the Wind: London: BFI/Palgrave Macmillan: 2013

References[edit]

External links[edit]