Written on the Wind is a deep social commentary gloriously masquerading as lurid, glossy soap opera by director Douglas Sirk, starring Robert Stack, Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall and with an Oscar-winning performance from Dorothy Malone.
Hugely popular on its release, Written on the Wind has been much misunderstood as a kitsch and vulgar, over the top soap opera that influenced the likes of Dallas and Dynasty . However, director Douglas Sirk became recognised as one of cinema’s great stylists and it is this overt stylisation, true to the film’s theme, that creates the most obvious overtone of the movie – but it is Sirk’s intelligent criticism of the American capitalist dream that lies at the foundation of this masterpiece.
Kyle Hadley (Stack) is an alcoholic playboy with little thought of responsibility but he is also heir to the Hadley oil empire. When he discovers that he is possibly sterile, thus depriving him of his selfhood, a downward spiral is set in motion leading to murder. His sister, Marylee (Malone) is equally irresponsible, as well as being an emotionally dysfunctional, manipulative nymphomaniac. Lucy Moore (Bacall) is a secretary with whom Kyle has an affair and quickly marries before emotionally destroying her, while her true love, Mitch (Hudson), is Kyle’s more level-headed best friend. And when Bacall announces she is pregnant, all hell breaks loose.
If it sounds like pure soap trash then that’s how Sirk meant it to be as the lives of the four are intertwined in catastrophic ways while powerless father Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith) fails to control his errant children. Deeply Freudian, the narrative is driven by sexuality, sterility and failed patriarchy, criticised by some as overloaded with kitsch symbolism. But Written on the Wind is an immensely tragic melodrama illustrating the garish nightmare of the repressed mores of a sick and empty society coming back to haunt it.
USA / 1956
Director: Douglas Sirk
Writer: George Zuckerman from the novel by Robert Wilder
Cast: Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Robert Keith, Grant Williams