Written on the Wind (1956, Douglas Sirk)

Holy awesome, an incredible movie. The actors are OUT there, Rock Hudson all repressed, Dorothy Malone all seething sexuality, Robert Stack extreme in everything he does, and poor Lauren Bacall ping-ponging all over the place. The sweeping style announces itself right at the start with the best windstorm since David Copperfield, a speeding car and gunshots (movie starts at the end, just like all movies do today). Tons of over-the-top comic moments that had our appreciative audience chuckling (or howling, as in the ending when Malone suggestively strokes a phallic oil-well model while thinking about Rock).

Apparently based on the death of RJ Reynolds’ son. Robert Stack, fresh off Sam Fuller’s House of Bamboo (and doesn’t this movie display some Fuller-esque drama) plays the son and ROCK is his hard-working best-bud wingman. Rock (in the middle of a streak of Sirk films) is tied to Stack’s family but would like to get out and do something for himself. Dorothy (Artists and Models, Colorado Territory) is Stack’s spoiled, slutty sister who has always been in love with Rock. And Lauren (The Big Sleep, etc) is a hot thing first noticed by Rock but violently wooed away and married by Stack. The less-than-proud father of the big oil family is Robert Keith (Lt. Brannigan in Guys and Dolls).

When Lauren can’t conceive, Stack’s penis is blamed and in shame he turns to wild drinking and loutish behavior. Rock’s and Dorothy’s pent-up love issues can’t be contained and the thing explodes into a violent, windy passion when Stack beats his wife causing her to lose their baby (which he believes is Rock’s), and Dorothy accidentally shoots her brother in a fight. Closing court scene gives a somewhat believable happy ending (Dorothy has a chance to lock up Rock, but she proves herself an alright gal by setting him free).

Movie is gorgeous and wonderful. Sirk called it “a film about failure”. Laura Mulvey says the film “responds to these failures and frustrations by crowding the screen with answering images from the overtly Freudian to flamboyantly cinematic lighting, color and decor.” At oscar time, Dorothy Malone won best supporting actress, Robert Stack was beaten by Anthony Quinn, and Rock was nominated for Giant instead.

Mulvey again, on the greatest part of the movie:

In one of the film’s key moments, she performs a wild solo dance of rebellion in her bedroom. As her loud, jazzy music fills the house, her father slowly climbs the sweeping staircase, only to collapse and fall to his death. With Sirk’s instinct for melodrama (in the literal sense of music plus drama), the intercutting between the spaces occupied by father and daughter quickens to create an innovative, cinematic rhythm for a montage sequence that was rare in studio-system Hollywood.

Feb 2017: Watched it again with Katy, who was impressed and disturbed by all the psychology on display and isn’t sure what to think about this Sirk fella anymore.

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