Every now and then, you stumble upon a movie that completely takes you by surprise — in the best way possible. 1956’s Written on the Wind — starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone — led to this type of experience for me.
Now, I do feel I should begin by stating my adoration for everything dramatic. I adore melodramas, though only to a certain extent. There has to be some restraint, some realism, something that keeps the melodrama from making the film a joke.
Director Douglas Sirk knew this — and every melodrama he made is excellent as a result. Written on the Wind has an excellent cast, but the movie could’ve still failed. It likely would’ve if Sirk hadn’t been at the helm. But with his expert skill for this type of storytelling, he created one of the best melodramas ever.
After watching Written on the Wind, I’m left with the feeling that I’ve discovered one of my new favorite movies. I absolutely loved it.
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About Written on the Wind (1956)
Written on the Wind follows a Texas oil family — so you can expect a lot of drama from this rich, spoiled family. We have the father of the family, an aging oil baron who is always frustrated with his kids. His two grown children are both absolute delights, in the melodramatic sense of the way.
First, we’ve got the son, Kyle Hadley (played marvelously by Robert Stack). Kyle is a playboy, an alcoholic, and out of control. His younger sister Marylee Hadley (Dorothy Malone at her absolute best) is even crazier — the true wild child of the family.
It seems the only person Kyle on his side is his childhood best friend Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson). Marylee is madly in love with Mitch, though he won’t give her the time of day.
Written on the Wind opens quite dramatically. Kyle is driving and drinking, clearly out of his mind. He arrives at his gorgeous mansion… events play out off-screen, a gunshot is heard, and then a man collapses to the ground. The story then rewinds to how this all came to be, beginning the story years earlier.
To start, Mitch meets new secretary Lucy (Lauren Bacall). He takes her out to meet Kyle. While Mitch is obviously interested in her from the get-go, it’s Kyle who eventually sweeps grounded Lucy off of her feet. And he’s not just playing around — he’s serious. He marries her. Mitch is stunned… and as Lucy moves down to Texas with him, as she gets him sober for a year, Mitch can’t help but love his best friend’s girl from afar.
Of course, nothing stays perfect for long. The movie is full of drama — and Kyle will eventually return to drinking. Marylee causes drama throughout the movie, from start to end. Without giving too much away, Kyle and Lucy’s life (and the lives of everyone around them) changes drastically.
More About Written on the Wind
Watching Written on the Wind decades after it was made, it’s clear that many soap operas (both daytime and primetime ones, such as Dallas) were inspired by this movie (and probably some of the other melodramas that came out during this time). A rich family with so many problems? Yeah, that’s entertaining stuff to watch.
However, a lot differentiates this film from the future soap operas that would be inspired by it. While Lauren Bacall called this movie “a masterpiece of suds” (and that it is!), there’s actual substance to the directing, dialogue, and acting that some later works tend to lack.
Again, a lot of this comes from Douglas Sirk’s master touch. But really, the actors make this melodrama work. They make this movie entertaining and interesting. All four of the main actors here are stunning and play off of each other so well — and it’s so entertaining to watch.
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Quick Thoughts I Had While Watching Written on the Wind (1956)
Alrighty, now that we’ve discussed a bit of Written on the Wind — including how much I love it — I’d like to share some random thoughts I had while watching this excellent 50s drama:
- DOROTHY. MALONE. What a role. What an actress. Goodness, she is stunning here. Malone won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work here — which makes a whole lot of sense to me.
- This is my first Robert Stack movie, I’m ashamed to say — but he’s marvelous! I’m a fan. I’ll probably watch many of his films because of his great performance here. He plays unstable and crazy very well.
- At first, I didn’t quite understand why Bacall was cast in this film. I almost felt like she was miscast. However, as the movie continued on, I actually really loved her in this role. She plays grounded characters so well, so having her being the only sane one along with Hudson was fun to watch.
- Rock Hudson could do anything, couldn’t he? Even though he’s not the flashiest of characters here — that goes to Malone and Stack — his presence alone managed to still make him stand out amongst these other stellar actors. Truly, he was a real star.
- The directing here is, of course, wonderful. I particularly love Sirk’s use of mirrors!
What Are Your Thoughts?
Go ahead and watch this excellent film if you haven’t already. I streamed it on Criterion Channel. The film is also a part of the Criterion Collection (spine #96) for those looking to purchase the movie with some great bonus features.
Also, be sure to hit the comments below with all your thoughts and opinions about this melodrama. Do you love the film as much as I do? Or do you prefer something a little less melodramatic? Hit the comments below with all your thoughts and opinions — I’d love to hear them!
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