WRITTEN ON THE WIND ( 1956 )

STAR OF THE MONTH: LAUREN BACALL.

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When Douglas Sirk is credited to a production you can guarantee that your in for a treat. Sirk who displayed prolific detail in capturing strong emotions abounded with people that were often plagued with mental illness or alcoholism problems highly excelled in the melodrama genre where his flair for encapsulating human crises and fine delicacy for character study were perfectly documented.

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Written On The Wind is a prime example of Douglas Sirk’s sensational works of art. From the glossy technicolor to the soapy plot and the exaggerated characters afflicted with tortured souls is what makes this film stand as a perennial melodramatic staple.

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Even though Written On The Wind is considered to be one of Douglas Sirk’s greatest films, it shares the same things in common with other melodramas; they are for an acquired taste. It’s a genre that is purposely built to suit a certain audience, most notably those with an air of sophistication who can easily become accustomed to the satirical techniques and the absence of realism. Once you do start to appreciate this method, you will find the creativity that is used to effect this unrealistic pathos absorbing and magical.

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For many of the films stars, Written On The Wind served as a turning point in their career. Lauren Bacall who at the time was facing a decline in status at the box office was offered the part of Lucy Moore, the non flashy role in the movie. To Lauren, the offer seemed ideal. She was going to receive a considerable income for three weeks work, and preparations for her role as Elvira in “Blithe Spirit” were not yet underway. However she was still unsure whether to accept, so she approached Humphrey Bogart who saw this as a great opportunity for her to disseminate her talents since this was a lot different to anything she’s ever played. With Bogart’s encouragement she agreed to take on the role.

Once Lauren Bacall was signed, the role of Marylee Hadley went into consideration. After several auditions, Dorothy Malone was cast. Prior to this, Malone had mostly played small supporting roles in B movies, and was primarily remembered for her portrayal of the brainy bespectacled bookstore clerk in the Bogart and Bacall vehicle “The Big Sleep”, but this was far more peculiar than anything else she’s ever done. Malone was use to playing roles that would display her amiable aura. Now she was to parade around as a nymphomaniac, which meant that she would have to dye her hair platinum blonde to shed her nice girl image.

For Dorothy Malone, this was a career transformation. Not only did she attain an Oscar for her portrayal of the flirtatious and obsessive Marylee, it also cemented her as a reputable figure in the film industry.

Apart from Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone, Rock Hudson continues his usual tradition by working with Douglas Sirk, and takes on the male lead. Having already appeared in five Sirk vehicles, he was now accustomed to working with the eminent directer. However after Written On The Wind they only reunited for two more features, one of them being The Tarnished Angels which starred him alongside Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone yet again.

Another major key star in the film is Robert Stack, who was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Anthony Quinn for his short role in “Lust For Life”. This was said to have hurt Stack. However he later admitted that the primary reason of why he missed out on the Oscar was that he was loaned out to Universal International by 20th Century Fox, who organized block voting against him to prevent him from winning an acting award while working away from the studio.

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Written On The Wind is the last film Lauren Bacall made before Humphrey Bogart’s illness. Shortly after Bogart was approached by Greer Garson, who was concerned about his cough and advised him to consult her doctor at the Beverly Hills Clinic. Bogart very rarely visited the doctors and refused to take her advise, but Garson was that alarmed by his cough that she accompanied him to the doctors herself. Shortly after Humphrey Bogart was diagnosed with Esophagus Cancer. With Bogart’s exacerbating health, Bacall stayed home to care for her husband and never took on any movie roles except for Designing Woman which was made not long before Bogart’s death in 1957.

Sadly for Lauren Bacall, who was hoping to impress Humphrey Bogart with her performance in Written On The Wind immediately had her confidence reduced when Bogart bluntly told her that he was unimpressed with the film and implored her to never make another one like it.

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While the story loosely follows Libby Holman’s real life scandal, it is actually based on a 1945 novel by Robert Wilder with a superb screenplay by George Zuckerman, and accompanied with Douglas Sirk’s directorial efforts.

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In a spectacular production that epitomizes the heightened state of emotion caused by domestic suffering and heartbreak, Lauren Bacall simply dazzles in her role as Lucy Moore, the executive secretary, who after meeting Kyle Hadley ( Robert Stack ) the son of Texas Oil baron, Jasper Hadley ( Robert Keith ) at a business conference, finds herself caught in a difficult triangle of love with the self conscious alcoholic Kyle.

For Kyle it’s love at first sight, but to Lucy it’s a rather embarrassing quandary. Even though how many times she tries, she can’t seem to elude Kyle, and before she knows it, Kyle has exploited his opulence and entices her to marry him. After being swayed by impulse, the two travel to Acapulco and marry contiguously.

To add to the already troublesome dilemma is Mitch Wayne ( Rock Hudson ) who also finds himself falling in love with Lucy, but discovers he can’t have her because Lucy has already been inveigled by Kyle’s wealth.

In the middle of all this is Marylee ( Dorothy Malone ) the vivacious nymphomaniac who has always loved Mitch and is trying her hardest to lure him into a relationship with her, but Mitch views their association as a brother and sister correlation and is not interested in advancing it to an higher level.

Kyle at first is euphoric about the marriage and puts an end to his drinking. With a stable relationship and a loving wife, he is able to remain sober for a year, but when it is revealed that Lucy is having problems falling pregnant, he becomes anxious and perturbed by the fact that he holds infinitesimal faith in the prospects of parenthood, and returns to drinking where he slowly get’s swept into the abyss of dipsomania once again.

From that moment things are on a downward spiral. Kyle can’t escape his drinking, and Lucy is tied to a loveless marriage with a husband who can’t seem to elude from the bottle. Now with the title of the long suffering wife, will Lucy ever be able to free herself from Kyle and the Hadley estate? Watch the movie and find out.

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Written On The Wind is a cinematic masterpiece. Not only does it spotlight a stellar cast at the zenith of their craft, it’s directed by Douglas Sirk, who makes the film sparkle with hyperbolic expressionism and glowing technicolor.

Many viewers wonder why this film is so intriguing. The answer is because it is uncompromisingly flamboyant. Everything in the picture is way out there. From the artificial set to the lurid bright colors that are splashed throughout the movie, Written On The Wind doesn’t seem to display an ounce of realism except for Lauren Bacall and Rock Hudson.

Another redeeming feature is the cast. All of the supporting players in this are commendable. In the movie, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone are nothing more than phony with a trashy nature. That was the part they were given, and both stars were outstanding, especially Dorothy Malone who almost steals every scene she’s in with her provocative aura and self destructive ways. It’s no wonder she received the Oscar for her performance.

As much as we like seeing Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack totally hamming it up in the film, Lauren Bacall as Lucy the long suffering wife of Kyle is the one we all root for. Lucy tries her hardest to help Kyle overcome his alcoholism, but once Kyle becomes violent towards Lucy, she knows that she needs to escape her existence in the Hadley mansion, and only Mitch who supports Lucy all the way can help her succeed that.  With Kyle totally absorbed in the chasm of alcoholism and Marylee who is off the tracks, Mitch is Lucy’s sole support.

Lauren Bacall delivered a meritorious performance. Prior to this she mainly portrayed tough talking characters with sex appeal, here she portrays Lucy who has got more of a quiet and sensible nature, and she pulled it off to the same effect as she did some of her hard biting tough as nails characters. Rock Hudson has got the least productive role, and doesn’t really get the chance to showcase his acting ability, but he is still one of the films main focal points, and it’s great seeing him in a role as a person with a caring personality.

Written On The Wind is melodrama at it’s finest. If your a fan of this genre, you can’t go wrong with this Douglas Sirk classic. It’s the high art of pantomime.

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Trivia:

Humphrey Bogart was unimpressed by the film, and advised Lauren Bacall not to make another one like it.

Douglas Sirk wanted it to be stated that Kyle Hadley was gay in the film. However this could not be mentioned directly due to the Hay’s Code. Nevertheless it is still implied that Hadley is secretly in love with Mitch Wayne.

Lauren Bacall’s Lucy Hadley character is loosely based on Libby Holman.

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Quotes from film:

Marylee Hadley: “That was no lady. That was your wife.”

Kyle Hadley: “Where are they going?”

Marylee Hadley: “I don’t know. Where would you take your best friends wife?”

Kyle Hadley: “You’re a real sweet kid.”

Marylee Hadley: “Now, be nice to my brother. One morning, we’ll wake up and be all alone together.”

Kyle Hadley: “I’ll kill him.”

Marylee Hadley: “A whiskey bottle’s about all you’d kill.”

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Cast:

Lauren Bacall: Born Betty Joan Perske on September 16th, 1924 in The Bronx, New York. Died: August 12th, 2014 in New York.

Rock Hudson: Born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. on November 17th, 1925 in Winnetka, Illinois. Died: October 2nd, 1985 in Beverly Hills, California.

Robert Stack: Born Charles Langford Modini Stack on January 13th, 1919 in Los Angeles, California. Died: May 14th, 2003 in Beverly Hills, California.

Dorothy Malone: Born Dorothy Eloise Maloney on January 30th, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois.

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2 thoughts on “WRITTEN ON THE WIND ( 1956 )

  1. tammayauthor says:

    Nice discussion, but I can’t agree that there are undertones of homosexuality with Kyle or that it’s implied that he was in love with his friend. On the contrary, the whole idea behind his breakdown is that he is insanely jealous of him and believes he is sleeping with his wife. He sees his wife as the only person who accepts him for who he is and he is obsessed with keeping her.

    Tam

    Like

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