5 August 2003 | gregcouture
Shown today on A.M.C. (i.e., "Always Multitudes of Commercials"!)
Channel-surfing earlier today I was passing the A.M.C. site and there was "Written on the Wind" already underway. I'd seen it during its first-run theatrical release (and not since) and was mildly surprised to observe how vividly I recalled its unfolding.
I rarely submit to watching anything on A.M.C. these days because this once watchable venue has deteriorated into nothing more than a merciless marketplace. Strings of commercials endlessly interrupt every broadcast; virtually all films are shown "formatted" to fill non-widescreen TVs (A.M.C. frequently showed widescreen films in letterboxed broadcasts in the past but not anymore, with the recent exception, I noticed, of a Bruce Lee martial arts festival, of all things!); and then there are A.M.C.'s promotions for its upcoming schedule which are usually outrageously, stupidly silly (and boringly repeated ad nauseum). That said... (once more, I might add...)
This luridly Technicolored "triumph of trash" (not photographed in CinemaScope at a time when that process was Hollywood's way of luring us from our home black-and-white boob tubes) again grabbed me with the same stupefied amazement that fascinated me as a comparatively sheltered young teenager. Douglas Sirk's subversively manipulative direction, Russell Metty's opulent cinematography, the eye-filling and fairly luxurious art direction, and the turgidly expressive musical score all add up to what "over the top" really means. And the cast, assembled with an eye to populating this fantasy with near-godlike creatures (even the African American servants at the Hadley mansion are played by handsome and elegantly capable actors) was a cut above those assigned to most of the Universal-International product of that era.
It was surely Dorothy Malone's finest hour and her supporting actress Oscar was a popular choice among her peers and with the audiences of the day. Robert Stack, before he became such an ossified stiff in the years that followed, deservedly earned his own supporting actor Academy Award nomination. Rock Hudson hadn't yet managed to show his mettle as an actor of some range, though his performance in "Giant" released about the same time gave him a better opportunity to escape the oft-repeated complaint that he was "wooden" and nothing more than a slab of beef(cake). Lauren Bacall, though, was credible as an object of desire for two rivals and her soigne presence was a nice counterpoint to Malone's well-heeled tramp.
All in all this kind of moviemaking is rarely attempted today and the presumed tastes of today's audiences would, were a story like this mounted with a suitable budget and an equivalent cast, most likely be swamped with a degree of tastelessness that would be much less palatable than this example of Sirk's mastery of melodrama was when it was released. It's the cinema equivalent of those new calorie-laden ice cream treats that the dietary watchdogs are so assiduously warning us about now, but I doubt that it's as deleterious for our mental and emotional health. Sure hope not, 'cause I savored every frame!