“I’m filthy. Period.”
Tawdry, tacky, and packed with high soap melodrama, Written on the Wind is one of director Douglas Sirk’s greatest films. The story concerns the stinking rich and utterly rotten Texas Hadley oil family, and the rot is manifested in the two Hadley offspring, alcoholic playboy, Kyle (Robert Stack) and his insatiable, nubile blonde sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone). Their father Jasper (Robert Keith) is a decent hardworking–but frazzled man who can’t quite grasp how bad his children really are, and he still manages to nurse the hope that one day, they’ll reform.
Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) is Kyle’s boyhood friend. He works for Hadley Oil, and his relationship with the Hadleys is troubled. From childhood, Mitch has extricated Kyle from scrapes, and this is a habit that continues in adulthood. Similarly, Mitch often has to babysit Marylee–she has a habit of picking up the local males and running off to seedy motels for the afternoon. Mitch’s task is complicated by the fact that Marylee insists she’s in love with Mitch–a feeling that is not reciprocated.
Complications for Mitch and the Hadleys occur when Kyle romances and marries Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall)–an elegant secretary employed by Hadley Oil. In spite of the fact that Mitch saw her first, Kyle–always the dominant male in their relationship since childhood–sweeps Lucy off her feet with a lavish, ostentatious courtship. Lucy marries Kyle, and Mitch meekly steps aside–even though he knows that Lucy’s marriage to Kyle isn’t going to be easy.
Written on the Wind is described as a film in “lurid” Technicolour, and while that’s an unusual way to describe it, the term fits and also matches the film’s content. There’s nothing subtle or implied here, and the bold plot cashes in on the twists and turns of completely overdone drama at every turn of events. Over time, Written on the Wind has developed a delicious camp factor, and some of the best scenes occur when Marylee throws herself at Mitch (literally), and he coyly and prudishly denies her the thing she wants the most. At one point, he even asks if she really thinks he would be ‘enough’ for her insatiable appetites. Dorothy Malone steals the film while burning fast and brightly as Marylee–the girl who just can’t help herself when she’s around men. Written on the Wind is splendid fun, and those who love “lurid” drama from the 50s should enjoy this film immensely. The Criterion DVD looks gorgeous–extras include: Douglas Sirk Trailers, and the Melodrama Archives.