Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Written on the Wind (1956) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

This week's sad news of the passing of Lauren Bacall has prompted another in my ongoing series of posts looking back at individual screenings at last spring's TCM Classic Film Festival.

This time I'll take a look at WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956), one of the classic '50s melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk. It's one of my favorite Lauren Bacall films, costarring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone.

I saw WRITTEN ON THE WIND at the festival on Saturday, just after seeing Maureen O'Hara greet the audience at the El Capitan Theatre, and just before seeing Edgar Ulmer's HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946). And that was just part of a four-film day!

Having seen WRITTEN ON THE WIND on the Criterion DVD and loved the vivid use of color by director Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty, I anticipated that seeing WRITTEN ON THE WIND on a big screen in 35mm would be a dazzling experience. Unfortunately I was disappointed in this regard, as to be honest the print was not up to the festival's usual standards. While it didn't have any skips or major flaws, it was dark and grainy, not at all what I was expecting.

Despite the movie not being as visually stunning as it might have been, I still enjoyed this screening immensely! I love this film in all its glorious, DALLAS-like excess, starting right off with the wonderful opening credits sequence, with the Four Aces singing the Cahn-Young title song. The credits sequence immediately sets up that all is not well at the Hadley mansion...and that's an understatement.

Stack plays wealthy Kyle Hadley, who sweeps poor but honest Lucy (Bacall) off her feet and marries her. Lucy genuinely loves Kyle, but Kyle's addiction to alcohol finds Lucy increasingly reliant on, and attracted to, Kyle's poor but honest friend Mitch (Hudson). Mitch quietly loves Lucy; meanwhile Kyle's excitable sister Marylee (Malone) chases after Mitch and bitterly resents his lack of interest in her.

When Lucy tells Kyle she's pregnant, he erroneously assumes it's Mitch's and flies off the deep end into alcohol-fueled madness.

There's really not a whole lot more to the plot; it's the presentation that's key. Though both films are visually striking, WRITTEN ON THE WIND in some ways is the antithesis of the quiet thoughtfulness of Sirk's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955), which starred Hudson the previous year.

Instead, WRITTEN ON THE WIND is all about the eye-popping colors of things such as the Miami hotel and Marylee's car, or the contrast between the stoic performances of Hudson and Bacall with the over-the-top but oh-so-entertaining emoting of Malone and Stack. Malone won the Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for this film, while Stack received a nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Bacall and Hudson are both fine as Lucy and Mitch, whose loyalty keeps them bound to the troubled Hadleys, perhaps for too long. Bacall's pensive Lucy is a particularly appealing character as she repeatedly tries to salvage her marriage while her self-loathing, distrustful husband continually sabotages that which he wants most -- a loving marriage and a child.

Sirk's melodramas may be an acquired taste for some; my oldest daughter, for instance, was baffled by this film when she saw it as part of a college course. Perhaps it was easier for me to immediately embrace the melodrama after years of watching DALLAS! I have to feel that this film must have provided some inspiration for the producers of the TV series.

It must also be noted that while the surface look is what grabs the viewer, there's also a lot going on under the surface of this film, which hints at all sorts of things -- some more overtly than others -- without discussing them explicitly in the script. Plain and simple, it's an eye-popping and highly diverting 99 minutes of Technicolor bliss.

Robert Keith plays Kyle and Marylee's stressed-out, disappointed father. The cast also includes Robert J. Wilke, Biff Williams, Edward Platt, and William Schallert. Bess Flowers is a party guest; in fact, she was in every live-action film I saw that day at the festival, in movies from three different decades! She was also in the courtroom in MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN (1935) and a dancer at a restaurant in HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946).

Though I've known his name for years thanks to films such as RIO GRANDE (1950) and THE QUIET MAN (1952), I think I'm only just beginning to realize what a key figure Victor Young was in Hollywood movie music. His compositions included "Stella By Starlight" from THE UNINVITED (1944) and the music for what became "When I Fall in Love" from ONE MINUTE TO ZERO (1952). Sadly, he passed on the year WRITTEN ON THE WIND was released, posthumously receiving an Oscar nomination for the title song.

The trailer is here.


Blogger dfordoom said...

Dorothy Malone totally steals this movie. You may well be right that it influenced Dallas (and I'm a Dallas fan as well).

1:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older