28 June 2011 | bobsgrock
People are strange.
Of all of Douglas Sirk's sly and subversive melodramas, Written on the Wind may very well be the one that takes itself the most seriously. This is not to say that Sirk's wicked undertones are not present as they are; rather by this time (1956), he had perfected his ability to balance the false and lavish exterior with the sad, repugnant interior of the characters and the lives they inhabit.
What is unique to this film is how intense and emotional the story becomes rather than simple-minded fodder for soap fans. This is due in part to the very strong performances, particularly Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone as Kyle and Marylee Hadley, the filthy-rich but morally empty children of an oil tycoon who traipse about looking for thrills and challenges. Kyle finds one in straight-laced secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), whom he eventually marries. Marylee has been attracted to Kyle's best friend Mitch Wayne (the incomparable Rock Hudson) all her life but cannot get past his wall of incredulity. In short, none of these characters are truly happy or satisfied with their situations, even after attempts to correct them. This may be Sirk's most devastating critique of all: everyone, despite their varied backgrounds, remain unfulfilled and unwilling to settle for anything but what they feel is ultimate satisfaction.
If nothing else, this film is gorgeous to look at. Russell Metty, Sirk's longtime cinematographer, photographs Hollywood sets better than anyone. Perhaps its the color palate or Sirk's mise en scene; whatever it is it is used brilliantly to reflect the characters (and 1950s America's) vapid soullessness. This, combined with over the top acting and scenarios, would seem to present itself as sheer stupidity and disregarded melodrama. Of course, this being Douglas Sirk, one must attempt to look closer for the signs of that most modern of ideas: that people are strange and life is the most ironic of situations.