Written on the Wind
- Rock Hudson as Mitch Wayne
- Lauren Bacall as Lucy Moore Hadley
- Robert Stack as Kyle Hadley
- Dorothy Malone as Marylee Hadley
- Robert Keith as Jasper Hadley
Douglas Sirk creates a withering indictment on the hollow lifestyles of the rich and a critical look at family in 1950’s America in the magnificent melodrama Written on the Wind. Douglas Sirk, often thought of as the king of melodramas, draws excellent performances from his cast whilst binding this story of a perverse and deeply messed up family in the trappings of a lurid soap opera that helps sow the seed for shows such as Dallas and Dynasty. But rather than turning the material into overheated tosh, in Sirk’s hands the film becomes a scathing and ironic satire with hidden depths on the nature of familial ties and the ways in which they sever.
The story concerns the lives of four characters caught in a paranoid web of anger, frustration and deceit. Mitch Wayne is a well-meaning worker for Jasper Hadley, a prosperous oil baron from Texas. He looks up to the man as he has been friends with his kids since childhood. Kyle Hadley, the insecure and alcoholic son of Jasper, is Mitch’s best friend and longtime confidante. Problems arise in their friendship when Kyle impulsively marries the intelligent and hard-working secretary Lucy Moore after a brief courtship. Since Mitch first met Lucy, he has carried an earnest longing for her, but out of respect for his friend has never acted upon his feelings. Rounding out the quintet is Kyle’s sister Marylee; a manipulative, frustrated nymphomaniac who will stop at nothing to sink her talons into Mitch even if it means driving a wedge between her brother and his long-standing best friend. Prepare for electric arguments, sexual frustration and the plaguing of inner demons as the four characters each bring out unforseen and tragic circumstances in each other in this frothy melodrama from Douglas Sirk that burns with a luminous intensity and critically views the trappings of being rich but unhappy.
The first thing that should be praised in Written on the Wind is the visual palette. Sirk’s longtime cinematographer Russell Metty bathes the scenes in a gaudy and vulgar brightness to highlight the pains that lie just beneath the material surface of the Hadley family. The costume design is perfectly chosen, especially in the trashy and flashy outfits sported by the bitchy Marylee as she weasels her way around her longstanding object of desire Mitch. The music is stunningly scored, capturing the dramatic resentment and intensity that will eventually implode the relationships of the quintet. Assembling a talented cast, Sirk lets them create convincing portraits of rich anguish, especially the supporting players. As the well-meaning Mitch who eventually begins to see his friendship sour with Kyle, Rock Hudson creates an earnest character who silently burns with a secret love for a women he knows he can’t have. Lauren Bacall is ideally cast as Lucy, who becomes a steadying influence on her husband as he descends into the depths of alcoholism but who ultimately can’t save him from the tormented feelings he holds inside. As the wayward playboy and tormented son of Hadley, Robert Stack boils with barely concealed rage as he becomes paranoid that his family and friends are turning against him. The real showstopper of the piece is Dorothy Malone in an Oscar-winning performance; who creates an indelible portrait of a scheming bitch burnt by rejection who sets in motion a series of tragic events. Whether flaunting her body by the lake, attempting to seduce Mitch at a family party or sending her old father to his grave with her feral ways, Malone imbues Marylee with a deliciously venomous streak and boundless seductive energy that radiates off the screen with a malicious glee. In a brief but memorable role, Robert Keith shows us the effects that his wayward children have had on him and created a weariness around him.
The story may sound like the same thing you’ve seen a million times on prime time soaps, but don’t let that put you off seeing Written on the Wind as it becomes a magnificently scintillating masterwork from Douglas Sirk. Even if the plotline doesn’t interest you one bit, the full-blooded performances, devilishly crafted screenplay and exceptional mood and setting may entice you into watching this scathing look at the frailties of the rich and resentment and tightly coiled emotions that eventually amount to shocking circumstances.