Thursday, 24 May 2018

Written On The Wind (1956)

Another Douglas Sirk movie must mean another selection of simmering tensions and moments of heated drama, and that's exactly what you get with Written On The Wind.

The plot sees Rock Hudson and Robert Stack playing two good friends, Mitch and Kyle. Mitch is a decent and dependable guy, Robert . . . not so much. But Robert has the money, and has been used to passing blame along to his friend as he has encountered various problems over the years. Both men find themselves smitten with a young woman named Lucy (Lauren Bacall), and things really start to become problematic when she opts to marry Robert. Meanwhile, Robert's sister (Marylee, played by Dorothy Malone) despairs as she finds herself constantly spurned by Mitch.

First of all, Written On The Wind is a very good film. I have now seen about half a dozen Douglas Sirk movies and not had a bad experience yet. This ticks a lot of the same boxes as both Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows. Yet it doesn't QUITE work as well as those films, mainly because it feels a bit more forced in the way that all of the characters are moved into place.

The script by George Zuckerman is fine, particularly when it comes to highlighting the damaging behaviours of some of the main characters while staying on just the right side of tastefulness (obviously essential for the box office prospects when it was first released). With a bit of harsh editing and streamlining it would be easy to imagine this as a very simple chamber piece but Zuckerman, and Sirk, try to open things up a bit to take in more of the local environment, and also the past lives of all involved.

I have to say that, until very recently, I was as unfamiliar with Hudson as I was with Sirk. Whether he was always such a dependable lead or whether Sirk brought out the best in him, he delivers yet another winning performance. Stack gets to deliver more histrionics than anyone else in the cast, which he does well, although it can be very hard to keep a straight face if you know him best (as I do) from his superb comedic turn in Airplane! Malone is both sweet and potentially dangerous, in a way that is obvious in almost every scene she has. The only weak link is Bacall, who doesn't do a bad job but just never really feels like the desirable, amazing, woman that she is obviously supposed to be, at least in the eyes of her male co-stars.

It's well-paced, with a portentous atmosphere throughout that makes the whole thing feel as if thunderstorm clouds are literally gathering over the heads of the leads, and fans of Sirk won't be disappointed. It just doesn't rank up there with his best, but that's more a comment on the consistent greatness of his filmography than any condemnation of this work.


This is, once again, an easy choice for shoppers.

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