Rock Gets a Stack of Love and Trouble
Director Douglas Sirk is held in high esteem as the king of the melodramas and there is a good reason why, he can take something which is completely obvious and turn it into something so much more. It is most certainly the case of "Written on the Wind" as on the surface we have an obvious love triangle with friends from childhood Mitch and Kyle both loving the same woman, Lucy Moore. But Sirk digs beneath the obvious surface romantic tensions and delivers depth in everyway as subjects such as alcoholism, jealousy, depression and betrayal are explored. And of course Sirk fills "Written on the Wind" with his trademarks, the vibrant colours, the sets which are embellished reality, the use of mirrors it is all there along with a mix of subtle and purposely over the top performances which just add to the contrast.
Geologist Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson - All That Heaven Allows) has been friends with alcoholic playboy and son of a tycoon Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack - The High and the Mighty) since their childhood and it is why he agrees to invite secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall - Blood Alley) to a conference so that Kyle can get to know her better. Despite Kyle's shallow attempts to impress Lucy with big gestures she does end up falling for him when he opens his heart to her and they get married leading to Kyle stopping drinking. But Mitch is secretly fond of Lucy, which in fact is not that secret as anyone can see this especially Kyle's sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone - Young at Heart) who ever since they were children has loved Mitch and will sink to any level to get him, even manipulating Kyle when he receives bad news.
"Written on the Wind" opens with a death, we see a man race to a house in the blowing wind, there is a gun shot and he stumbles out, gun in hand and collapses. It's an opening which immediately sets up the drama as we watch various people in the house as this drunk young man rush in and then things skip back to 24th October 1955 where the story starts. And that story is on face value a simple romantic love triangle as Mitch falls for Lucy Moore but his best friend Kyle woos her and marries her. I say simple because to be honest it is, Mitch loves Lucy, Lucy feels something for Mitch despite marrying Kyle, Kyle is jealous of Mitch as he is his father's favourite and then there is Kyle's attention seeking sister Marylee who has a thing for Mitch and so is jealous of his obvious feelings towards Lucy. It is on face value a text book romantic drama, a set up which has been used in various other movies over the course of time with the friends as close as brothers falling for the same woman.
But a text book story doesn't mean an ordinary movie because Douglas Sirk digs beneath the surface of these relationships building the drama and reasoning till we get to where the movie opens. As such along the way we learn that Kyle has problems, he is an alcoholic who suffers from depression and insecurity, why? well whilst he may be best friends with Mitch there is a jealousy between them as Kyle's father treats Mitch more like a son than he does Kyle. Of course with Kyle being such a fragile creation, feeling the need to prove himself it makes him dangerous because you know he is close to the edge before he loses it. And he does when a combination of things confront him starting with learning that he probably can't have children it pushes him over especially when Lucy tells him she is pregnant.
And alongside Kyle's problems there is also his attention seeking sister Marylee whose flamboyant gestures are a cry for help as she picks up men to satisfy something missing in her life. That something is Mitch who she desperately loves but for Mitch he only sees Marylee as a sister, which of course leads to more trouble when Marylee becomes jealous of Lucy especially when it is very obvious that Mitch loves her. All of which builds to a crescendo of drama and back to the opening scene, actually that is a lie as that opening scene is not the end; there is more to come, more jealousy and betrayal.
So whilst on the surface we have this obvious romantic drama Sirk focuses on the motives, the alcoholism, jealousy, depression, the need for love and in doing so he makes "Written on the Wind" into a much more interesting and deeper movie. Plus of course "Written on the Wind" is full of Sirk's trademarks, the frequent use of mirrors to add more depth to a scene, the vibrant colours and the fake reality of picture perfect sets helps emphasise the contrast between characters.
And then there is the acting and the acting in "Written on the Wind" is all about the contrast. On one hand you have Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall as Mitch and Lucy playing it very restrained, very normal, very quiet with no real big drama just the simmering feelings between them. But on the other you have Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone as Kyle and Marylee playing it purposefully over the top, more over the top than you will see in a modern day time soap opera but it works. It is again that aspect of contrast and Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone's over the top gestures establishing the unhappiness, their cries for help and attention.
what this all boils down to is "Written on the Wind" is another top Douglas Sirk movie which entertains with its romantic drama but at the same time explores the depths of the story as issues of alcoholism, insecurity, depression and jealousy fuel the tension between the various characters. Unlike Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" "Written on the Wind" is more dramatic than romantic but trust me you will love the drama.