WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956) C widescreen 99m dir: Douglas Sirk
w/Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Robert Keith, Grant Williams
Attention Sirk-o-philes! One of his absolute best films is a flashy melodrama enhanced by the director's stylized use of color. Examining the decline and fall of the oil aristocracy, the film (adapted from a novel by Robert Wilder) focuses on the sexual problems of a doomed family: the scion (Stack), who's suffering from infertility and coping with suspicions about his wife's (Bacall) fidelity; and the sister (Malone), a nymphomaniac who, having failed to get the man she loves (Hudson), proceeds to sleep with every other man in Texas! (If this sounds extreme, it is!) Provocative and supercharged, this melodrama's richest characters are the supporting ones, the characters who are split, torn apart by life. (Malone richly deserved her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Stack, it's said, was crushed by his failure to win the Supporting Actor award for which he was nominated.) These split characters are the ones that truly interested Sirk, and he lavished his cinematic attention on them, rather than on the ostensible stars of the picture, Hudson and Bacall. As is true of the best of Sirk's work, the film offers a pertinent and scathing criticism of contemporary (1950s) society.
From The Movie Guide: "The ultimate in lush melodrama, WRITTEN ON THE WIND is, along with IMITATION OF LIFE, Douglas Sirk's finest directorial effort, and one of the most notable critiques of the American family ever made.
"A Texas oil baron (Stack) has a whirlwind romance with a secretary (Bacall) and then marries her, but later has doubts as to whether the child she is expecting is really his. Stack's nymphomaniac sister (Malone) stokes up his suspicions that his best friend, geologist Rock Hudson, is really the father, and sets off on a series of larger-than-life confrontations and crises from which no-one escapes lightly.
"WRITTEN ON THE WIND successfully combines all the elements of the genre that has become synonymous with Sirk's name. Sirk's melodrama, though, diverges from what is usually understood by that term to encompass a highly developed sense of ironic social critique. Some critics have seen his sumptuous visual style, full of parody and cliche, as a kind of Brechtian distancing that draws attention to the artificiality of the film medium, in turn commenting on the hollowness of middle-class American life. The lake in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, for example, is presented as a patently artificial studio interior, ironically pointing up the romantic self-delusion with which Malone sees her world."
Besides Malone's Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Stack's nomination for Supporting Actor,WRITTEN ON THE WIND was also nominated for Best Song (the title tune, written by Victor Young and Sammy Cahn).