Written On The Wind (1956 with Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall)

USA / 1956

Director: Douglas Sirk
Writers: George Zuckerman, based on the novel by Robert Wilder

Cast: Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Robert Keith, Grant Williams, Robert J Wilke, Edward C Platt

Years before television offered a waiting world heady drama and high passion among Texan oil millionaires in the facile soap opera Dallas, Hollywood mounted its own glossy and absorbing examination of the same milieu in Written on the Wind. The film, said Motion Picture Herald, “is strong, heady drama, handsomely and often brilliantly handled.”

The pivotal role in George Zuckerman’s involving adaptation of the novel by Robert Wilder went to Robert Stack who, in his autobiography Straight Shooting, described the character as “a tormented man, a dypsomaniac, haunted by fears of impotency.” Introduced by his best friend Rock Hudson to secretary Lauren Bacall, who works for his oil tycoon father Robert Keith, Stack steals Bacall away from Hudson and marries her. His father approves of the match, hoping that marriage will be the making of his irresponsible, hard-drinking son. Hudson, in love with Bacall, is unable to conceal his feelings. Adding to inherent emotional stresses is the fact that Stack’s self-willed sister, Dorothy Malone, worships Hudson while being aware of his feelings towards Bacall. The emotional temperature is further raised when Stack learns from doctor Edward C Platt that he may be unable to have children, which unnerves him and causes him to return to the solace of alcohol once more. And Malone, having at last charmed Hudson into becoming her lover, hints to Stack that Bacall and Hudson are having an affair. When Stack faces Bacall with the accusation, she miscarries and loses her child. Keith dies and then – during a quarrel involving Bacall, Hudson and Malone – Stack is accidentally shot…

Heady stuff, directed with stylish panache by Douglas Sirk, lavishly produced by Albert Zugsmith and acted with a passion that overrode the melodrama and genre cliches. Malone’s performance as the wilful nymphomaniac sister won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and, said Motion Picture Herald, “She sinks her teeth into a role of fiery, exciting potential, and offers one of the stand-out performances of recent memory.” For Variety, she “hits a career high as the completely immoral sister” and CEA Film Report thought her “very good.” Stack succeeded in controlling a role which might otherwise have descended into maudlin melodrama and, said Kinematograph Weekly, “is psychologically sound and wins sympathy.” “Rock Hudson and Miss Bacall are as impeccable as ever in their performances,” wrote the News of the World, “Lauren Bacall contributes an intelligent performance as Lucy, Rock Hudson displays nearly as much brain as brawn,” commented Kinematograph Weekly. Other roles were well taken by Keith, Grant Williams (best remembered as The Incredible Shrinking Man) as “One of Miss Malone’s many motel mates (Variety), Robert J Wilke, Edward C Platt and John Larch.

Russel Metty’s colour cinematography added a sheen to the picture and the title song, sung behind the credits by the Four Aces, earned an Oscar nomination for Victor Young and Sammy Cahn.

Written on the Wind “is well done with an excellent cast,” stated Variety, which also commented that “dramatically deft direction by Douglas Sirk and socko performances by the cast give the story development a follow-through that maintains a strong hold on the viewer.” The News of the World wrote of “heady draughts of exciting melodrama.” “The film is good entertainment,” reported CEA Film Report and, said Kinematograph Weekly, “Its Lyceum-style plot is powerfully portrayed by an all-star cast, its salient situations fairly crackle and its turned-out-nice-again ending neatly contrived. Dazzling bandbox presentation further consolidates mass and feminine appeal. The crowd’ll love it. Outstanding melo.”

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