It's the 1950's in the town of Hadley, Texas, and the town's namesake and resident oil baron Jasper Hadley (Keith) has about all he can handle with his business and two adult children, Kyle (Stack) and Marylee (Malone). Kyle has just met Lucy Moore, (Bacall) an advertising executive's secretary who was introduced to him by his best friend Mitch Wayne (Hudson) after they had only just met themselves. Kyle sweeps Lucy off of her feet and after a one-day courtship end up eloping, much to Mitch's chagrin since he's in love with Lucy himself. Meanwhile, Marylee, who is the resident town tramp, is becoming increasingly aggressive in her pursuit of Mitch, who wants nothing to do with her. When Marylee plants the idea in Kyle's head that Lucy and Mitch are having an affair (at the time, untrue) in a sick attempt to break up the couple in order for her to have Mitch there for herself, Kyle goes on a bender. Lucy, meanwhile, discovers from the doctor that she is pregnant, the father definitely being Kyle. That night, after Kyle returns home drunk, she tells him the news and he hits her, knocking her to the ground, assuming that it is Mitch's, and leaves the house after Mitch throws him out, threatening to kill him if he returns. He of course does return, and tries to shoot Mitch, but Marylee sneaks up behind him and grabs the gun, causing Kyle to shoot himself instead, not before finding out that he indeed was the father of Lucy's baby, which was of course, miscarried.
"Written on the Wind" was one heck of a movie. Directed by the great Douglas Sirk, it is high melodrama and camp at its best. (Worst, depending on how much you like this kind of film.) Lauren Bacall, who has been quiet and dignified in every film I've seen her in, carries that demeanor through to this film, but it seems grossly out of place. Dorothy Malone, an actress I have heard of but haven't seen in a film that I can recall, is so tanned she is orange, and has a bad brassy blonde dye job, and practically spits out her lines, she is so evil and childish. Rock Hudson stays pretty true to character, playing the big lug who is generally a good guy, and Robert Stack, who I honestly only remember seeing in Unsolved Mysteries, is a riot as a drunken playboy. The story is nothing better than your average nighttime soap opera fare, and as stated earlier, the ending is sewn up a little too nicely and easily to be believed.
What the film does have, however, is style to spare. In classic Douglas Sirk fashion, the vibrancy of the colors in the film is astounding, and the lush scenery and costumes are beautiful. One scene in particular that actually left me kind of breathless was a pivotal scene in the film where the father, Jasper, dies. Marylee has just picked up another guy, a gas station attendant this time, and was brought home by the cops. After marching upstairs defiantly, she puts on a Latin-style "cha-cha" type album with screaming trumpets and turns it up very loudly, while dancing around in her bedroom with this flowing dark pink nightgown on. We see the father walking up the stairs resolutely, but weakly, to confront her about it, but when he reaches the top of the stairs he collapses and falls down the entire staircase. Meanwhile, we still hear the music shrieking, and the shots of the father are intercut with his daughter dancing furiously and kicking her legs around in this pink gown. It is a stunning scene that lasts for only about 20 seconds, but was enough to make me sit up and take full notice. The melodrama factor in "Written on the Wind" is about as high as I've seen short of a Joan Crawford/Bette Davis film, and it is pretty delicious. Much like the great "deer scene" at the end of "Magnificent Obsession", "Written on the Wind" has its own overly done final scene. Marylee, left alone in the family house now that Kyle and her father are both deceased, watches Mitch and Lucy leave from her father's office window. She turns around and is wearing a prim suit (first time we've seen something like that on her) and as she sits at her father's desk, she clutches a model of an oil tower, mirroring the portrait of her father behind the desk. It is an absolute riot, pure and simple.
"Written on the Wind" begins with the film's near conclusion, and the wind blows the pages of a day calendar back to show what happened in the preceding year leading up to the events. Unfortunately, the characters in the film were so shallowly presented, with little background, that I didn't feel a whole lot for them. However, that is not to say that the film is not well done or enjoyable. If anything, Douglas Sirk shows that he can take bland fare and turn it into a film that is both well-presented and easy to watch. It isn't remotely boring, nor is it believable, but it is great escapist cinema. Watching this film is like watching a good episode of Dynasty, or in recent programming, Desperate Housewives. I actually had a pretty low opinion of it on a surface level, but after reconstructing it in my mind I could not deny that the film was exactly what it set out to be, and that I had actually really enjoyed it for its extravagance. If you don't have an appetite or appreciation for this kind of drama, don't bother with the film; you'll hate it. If you do like and appreciate this type of film and subsequently, the work of Douglas Sirk, don't miss this one because it is actually a lot of fun. 6/10 --Shelly