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Written On The Wind (1956, Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall)

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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.

production details
USA | 99 minutes | 1956

Director: Douglas Sirk
Writer: George Zuckerman from the novel by Robert Wilder

cast
William Schallert as Jack Williams (reporter)
Maidie Norman as Bertha
Robert Stack as Kyle Hadley
Robert J. Wilke as Dan Willis
Rock Hudson as Mitch Wayne
Lauren Bacall as Lucy Moore Hadley
Dorothy Malone as Marylee Hadley
Robert Keith as Jasper Hadley
Grant Williams as Biff Miley
Edward Platt as Dr. Paul Cochrane
Harry Shannon as Hoak Wayne
John Larch as Roy Carter
Joseph Granby as R.J. Courtney
Roy Glenn as Sam
Joanne Jordan as Brunette
Dani Crayne as Blonde
Dorothy Porter as Secretary
Bess Flowers as Restaurant Patron

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