Monday, October 6, 2014

#510: Written on the Wind

Directed by: DOUGLAS SIRK
1956, TSPDT Rank #347

At last long last I have ventured once again to the Technicolor dream-world of Douglas Sirk. Written on the Wind is neither as hypnotically beautiful or overpoweringly sentimental as All That Heaven Allows - but it does have its share of sensational moments and visual innuendo. In fact, I watched this film the other day in my Cinema Studies class, and Dorothy Malone's not-so-subtle "hand acting" in the final scene could probably give my professor enough material to fill a two-hour lecture (and probably gave film audiences in the mid-1950s a real shock)!

But I digress. Despite a few ridiculously over-blown moments, Written on the Wind is actually a more pensive and nuanced film than most contemporary reviewers seem to give it credit for. Sirk's films like All That Heaven Allows or Imitation of Life are more immediately accessible, but also more broadly-drawn and obvious in their approach. Written on the Wind is more akin to The Tarnished Angels than the aforementioned Sirk films - there's an element of ambiguity to the film, and the characters have more depth. Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, and Robert Stack all bring a lot to their roles - but the Dorothy Malone character was the one who interested me the most. Malone won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this role, which seemed to shock my professor - but I thought it was much deserved. Her character is usually written off - by both reviewers as well as the characters in the film - as a crazy nymphomaniac, but really she's in the same situation as Rock Hudson's character is in the film. They are both in love with someone else - except that Hudson's character deals with the situation in a way that would be seen as "noble", and Malone's approaches it in the opposite way. But regardless of the melodramatic fine points, the character of Marylee Hadley is an interesting example of how women with their own personal agenda were portrayed in Hollywood during this era. She didn't seem like a nymphomaniac to me - more like someone who was just lonely, lost, and desperate.

Nevertheless, this is a film that should be seen by anyone interested in classical Hollywood melodrama. One of the things which has always fascinated me most about this era of film history is how much filmmakers had to rely on visual metaphors and pure sexual tension to convey ideas which could not be explicitly shown or referred to in dialogue. The level of craftsmanship displayed by someone like Douglas Sirk makes the difference between a forgettable film and one which the viewer truly feels and experiences during the process of watching it.

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