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USA 1956
Directed by
Douglas Sirk
99 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Written On The Wind

Adapted by George Zuckerman's from a novel by Robert Wilder, the plot and thematic material of Written On The Wind, the latter being signalled clearly in the opening credits, is typical enough of a sub-genre that was very popular in the late 1950s (it was released the same year as George Stevens' Giant, another Texas oil story also with Rock Hudson) riven by Southern dynastic dysfunctionality. Dramatically, it is not the most effective of such films but as melodrama, with its theatrical mise-en-scène, lush Technicolor visuals and swooning orchestral score it is hard to beat.

The opening credits establish the over-heated dynamics with Robert Stack as a spoilt rich boy with a big drinking problem, Rock Hudson as his best friend and pillar of virtue, Lauren Bacall as his saintly wife and Dorothy Malone as his nymphomaniacal sister. The film is essentially a soap-opera-ish demonstration of the thesis that Malone and Stack are sexually frustrated by Hudson’s Oedipal untouchability (a theme unsubtly driven home in the outrageous closing shot of Malone fondling a model oil derrick that appears in a portrait of her father on the wall behind her).

Whilst Hudson is quite good as the object of their libidinal anxieties, Stack in the kind of tortured young man role that Paul Newman could pull off with much greater effect, struggles to do more than be unctuously charming or pathetically drunk. Of the women, Malone is too old (she was thirty-one at the time, playing someone I assume is supposed to be at least ten years younger) although her vampish performance got her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, (the Academy always having a fondness for stereotypicality), whilst Bacall is a pale beauty but little more. The dramatic shortcomings notwithstanding, Sirk’s film, the biggest box office success of this career and sixth of eight he made with Hudson, is a genre treat. 

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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