Written on the Wind


1h 32m 1957
Written on the Wind

Brief Synopsis

A young woman marries into a corrupt oil family then falls for her husband's best friend.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1957
Premiere Information
Los Angeles, Chicago, IL, New Orleans, LA and Tulsa, OK opening: 25 Dec 1956; New York opening: 11 Jan 1957
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Written on the Wind by Robert Wilder (New York, 1946).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

In Texas in November 1956, drunken millionaire Kyle Hadley speeds through the town named after his father, oil tycoon Jasper Hadley, to their mansion home. Inside, a shot rings out and both Kyle and his wife, Lucy Moore Hadley, fall to the ground. Over one year earlier, Lucy is working for the Hadley Company in New York when she is noticed by Mitch Wayne, Kyle's best friend since childhood. Mitch invites Lucy to lunch with him and Kyle, who has flown from Texas with Mitch merely to have a sandwich at the "21" club. When Lucy expresses her distaste for the men's highly publicized playboy lifestyle, an impressed Mitch agrees with her assessment. She continues to earn Mitch's respect at the restaurant, while rejecting Kyle's advances. Her coldness motivates Kyle to invite her to fly to Miami on his private jet, and Lucy, overwhelmed by the adventure, agrees. Although uninvited, Mitch joins them on the plane, where Kyle finds himself willingly confessing his past to Lucy: As a child, troublemaker Kyle earned his father's contempt, while Mitch remained a bastion of good conduct and bravery. Believing he could never fill his father's shoes, Kyle turned to alcohol and a wanton lifestyle, as did his sister Marylee. Kyle's candor charms Lucy, but once they reach their Miami hotel, she realizes that the lavish gifts Kyle has heaped in her suite are payment for her company for the night, and leaves for the airport in secret. While Mitch revels in this confirmation of Lucy's virtue, Kyle races to her plane and begs her to allow him to court her properly, and confesses that he loves and wants to marry her. The next morning, at the same time that a saddened Mitch learns that the couple has eloped, Lucy discovers a pistol underneath her new husband's pillow. Five weeks later, Mitch is discussing business with Jasper when the newlyweds finally return from their whirlwind honeymoon. Based solely on Mitch's endorsement, Jasper receives Lucy warmly, and is even more heartened after she tells him that Kyle no longer drinks or carries a gun. Just then, bar owner Dan Willis calls Mitch and Kyle to rescue Marylee from sleeping with ruffian Roy Carter. At the bar, Kyle starts a fight with Roy, but after Roy knocks him out, Mitch steps in and beats up the thug. Marylee laughs bitterly as Kyle stumbles out, and later tells Mitch that she despises Kyle's weakness, and will never give up her childhood dream of marrying Mitch. After Mitch turns down her offer to be with him as wife or mistress, Marylee visits the river where they used to play, and weeps. In October, Kyle throws a party for his first wedding anniversary, where Marylee attempts once again to seduce Mitch, who is upstairs hiding from the festivities. Meanwhile, Kyle, concerned that Lucy has not become pregnant, questions their guest, physician Paul Cochrane, who reluctantly informs Kyle that he has "weak" sperm that may never impregnate Lucy. Devastated, Kyle resumes drinking, and the next night becomes so drunk at the country club that Lucy must put him to bed. Downstairs, just as Jasper tells Mitch that he blames himself for his children's shortcomings, the police bring home Marylee, who has spent the evening in a hotel with a gas-station attendant. Jasper struggles upstairs, but suffers a heart attack on the way and dies. By November, Kyle, who blames himself for his father's death, is still drinking and refuses to reveal his feelings to Lucy. Mitch tells Lucy that he is planning to take a job in Iran, and although she asks him to stay, he agrees only to drive her to Dr. Cochrane's. Marylee jealously watches them leave together and then lies to Kyle that the two are having an affair. When Mitch picks Lucy up later, he confesses his love, and Lucy kisses him passionately but reveals that she is pregnant and must stay with Kyle. That night, Lucy divulges her condition to Kyle, who wrongly suspects that the baby is Mitch's, and punches her. Mitch bursts into the room and threatens Kyle, who flees, and within hours Lucy miscarries. Kyle, meanwhile, goes to Dan's bar and announces that he must buy a gun to protect himself from Mitch, and then speeds home drunkenly. There, he finds his father's gun and aims it at Mitch, who calmly convinces Kyle that he has never touched Lucy, and informs him about his lost child. Drunk and confused, Kyle condemns Mitch for stealing the love of his father, sister and wife, and raises the gun. Marylee lunges for the gun in a desperate attempt to save Mitch, and the pistol discharges into Kyle's chest. He collapses, and hearing the gun go off, Lucy falls to the ground in grief. At the inquest for Kyle's death, Marylee tries to force Mitch to marry her by pointing out that, as his wife, she cannot present damning testimony against him. Mitch refuses, but at the trial, the servants and Dan bear witness that Mitch threatened to kill Kyle, and when Marylee takes the stand, she confirms the evidence. Stricken by her conscience, however, she finally reverses her story, stating that Kyle, who needed so much and had so little, was killed accidentally. Later, Marylee, dressed in a business suit and seated in her father's home office, cries as she watches Mitch and Lucy bid farewell to Hadley.

Photo Collections

Written on the Wind - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Written on the Wind (1957). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Written On The Wind (1957) - Not Duties, Pleasures Right-hand man Mitch (Rock Hudson) has persuaded Lucy (Lauren Bacall), secretary in a Manhattan ad agency, to meet his playboy Texas oil-family scion and virtual-brother Kyle (Robert Stack) at "21," early in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Welcome To Hadley First appearance of oil tycoon Hadley (Robert Keith), atop his tower in the town named after him, with protege Mitch (Rock Hudson), joined soon by his sobered-up son Kyle (Robert Stack), introducing his new wife Lucy (Lauren Bacall), in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Thank You, Sir Galahad First appearance of trampy oil heiress Marylee (Dorothy Malone), with grabby Roy (John Larch) and barkeeper Dan (Robert J. Wilke), who has called her newly-wedded and sober brother Kyle (Robert Stack) and his wing man Mitch (Rock Hudson), in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Open, November 1956 Dramatic and fancy opening from director Douglas Sirk, Robert Stack as "Kyle" and Lauren Bacall as wife "Lucy" featured, from Written On The Wind, 1957, also starring Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone.
Written On The Wind (1957) - You're My Girl As Douglas Sirk-ian as scenes get, Texas oil heiress Marylee (Dorothy Malone) remembering brother Kyle and friend Mitch, who grew up to be Rock Hudson, himself love-lorn, and her target behind the scenes at a family party, in Written On The Wind, 1957.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1957
Premiere Information
Los Angeles, Chicago, IL, New Orleans, LA and Tulsa, OK opening: 25 Dec 1956; New York opening: 11 Jan 1957
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Written on the Wind by Robert Wilder (New York, 1946).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Award Wins

Best Supporting Actress

1956
Dorothy Malone

Award Nominations

Best Song

1956

Best Supporting Actor

1956
Robert Stack

Articles

The Essentials


SYNOPSIS

Mitch Wayne is a simple country boy who has more or less been adopted into the wealthy, troubled Hadley family, Texas oil barons. He is the constant companion and caretaker of the alcoholic, irresponsible Kyle, an object of lust for Kyle's sister Marylee, and the one their father, Jasper Hadley, most often turns to and favors above either of his own children. When Mitch falls in love with Lucy Moore, a woman he meets in New York, he is crushed when she is easily swept off her feet and into a marriage with Kyle. Being a highly moral fellow, Mitch buries his feelings and tries to respect a marriage that at first appearances seems to be working better than anyone expected. Under Lucy's influence, Kyle gives up drinking and stops sleeping with a pistol under his pillow. But when he discovers he may have a medical problem preventing him and Lucy from having children, his life begins to unravel. The situation is not helped by Marylee, whose jealousy of Lucy and frustration over Mitch's repeated rejection of her advances, lead her to poison Kyle's mind against his wife and best friend. When Kyle's father is driven to a heart attack by Marylee's wild behavior, Kyle becomes further unhinged, leading to tragedy and a scandalous public trial that exposes the family's dark secrets.

irector: Douglas Sirk
Producer: Albert Zugsmith
Screenplay: George Zuckerman, based on the novel by Robert Wilder
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Editing: Russell F. Schoengarth
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen
Music: Frank Skinner, title song by Victor Young, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
Cast: Rock Hudson (Mitch Wayne), Lauren Bacall (Lucy Moore Hadley), Robert Stack (Kyle Hadley), Dorothy Malone (Marylee Hadley), Robert Keith (Jasper Hadley).
C-99m.

Why WRITTEN ON THE WIND is Essential

When it was released at the end of 1956, Written on the Wind became director Douglas Sirk's most successful picture. While popular with audiences, this lush, over-the-top melodrama suffered the same critical fate as all his work in that genre. Generally dismissed as a stylish purveyor of big budget trash, no one would have suspected at that time that one day Sirk's films would be considered essential viewing. From his early discovery by the critics and the future filmmakers of Cahiers du Cinema (particularly Jean-Luc Godard), to his rediscovery by the pioneers of feminist and psychoanalytic film theory, to the obvious and often-stated impact he has had on such directors as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes, to the admiration he engenders in contemporary film artists, Sirk is a creator of unique and visually baroque movies.

Many postmodern theorists and those responsible for the resurrection of Sirk's reputation in the 1970s see in Written on the Wind a brilliant example of how, through the visual codes and mise en scene, Sirk subverts the intentions of the melodramatic form, suggesting a bitter irony behind the apparently "happy" endings in which the destructive elements are tamed or destroyed and order seems to be restored. Other critics reject this type of analysis as an attempt to force meaning on a visual artist whose style is the meaning. You may also choose to take the word of the artist himself: "It was a piece of social criticism, of the rich and the spoiled and of the American family, really. And since the plot allowed for violence, it allowed for power of presentation also....A condition of life is being portrayed and, in many respects, anticipated, which is not unlike today's decaying and crumbling American society....Written on the Wind is the ultimate degeneracy of the system. The kaput superstructure...."

The film's style is excessive in every way, from the garish lighting to the blaring music. The whole film is a flashback, and by showing the viewer Stack's violent death at the beginning, we are assured that any happiness that Stack's character may find is only temporary. According to Sirk: "Almost throughout the picture I used deep focus lenses which have the effect of giving a harshness to the objects and a kind of enameled, hard surface to the colors. I wanted to bring out the inner violence, the energy of the characters which is all inside them and can't break through." Stack and Malone's characters dream of going "back to the river," but even this bit of nostalgia seems pathetic because there is no escaping the true source of their sickness. As Sirk himself noted, "they can't go back, they can't return." And so they set themselves on a course of self-destruction.

While Hudson and Bacall would seem to portray the more balanced and happy alternative to the Hadley sickness, they are, in fact, quite unsympathetic. And purposely so. According to Sirk, Hudson's character "is a negative figure. He is not really a man who has a helpful feeling toward these two degenerate kids, Stack and Malone....The Hudson and Bacall characters are rather coldish people and not very interesting." Sirk does a brilliant but counterintuitive thing here: he casts his big box-office stars - Bacall and Hudson - in the least interesting roles and lets Stack and Malone steal the movie. In fact, Stack recalls that when he read the script, he knew at once that Kyle was the "best part in the picture, a part that could hardly fail to earn the actor an Academy Award nomination." To Stack's surprise, Hudson gladly accepted the lesser role: "He never said a word, not a peep. He let the part go completely. He was in a position of power, and didn't misuse it." In the end, Stack was right and he got the nomination (though Anthony Quinn won for his performance in Lust for Life, 1956).

Sexual frustration is a theme in many of Sirk's films, but nowhere is this theme so ubiquitous as in Written on the Wind. Sex is the central problem for all the characters, and Sirk goes to almost excessive pains to mock their troubles. When Stack learns from his doctor (Edward Platt) that he may be sterile, he hobbles like a wounded man out of the drugstore only to be confronted by a boy happily bouncing up and down on a mechanical pony. From Stack's perspective, the boy's physical vitality is like a knife in the heart. (Realism is clearly shunted aside here as it is doubtful a doctor would tell the town's most prominent citizen about his low sperm count at a drugstore luncheonette.) And the phallic oil wells seen pumping everywhere in the background seem to represent a kind of sexual energy that both comments on and mocks the characters' own sexuality.

Malone (who won an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress) is the epitome of sexuality in the film. But like her brother's impotence, her sexuality is diseased. This is best seen in her sexualized dance that Sirk intercuts with her father's fatal fall down the stairs. Malone does all but jump Hudson, but he isn't interested in her as anything but a sister. His disinterest spurred German director Rainer W. Fassbinder to comment that Hudson's character is "the most pig-headed bastard in the world. How can he not possibly feel some of the longing Dorothy Malone has for him?"

Written on the Wind was the sixth of the eight pictures that Sirk made with Hudson, and though Hudson is, as always, portrayed as the unproblematic American male, contemporary viewers might chuckle at his response when asked why he doesn't just find a girl and get married: "I have trouble enough just finding oil." Hudson, Stack and Malone worked so well together that Sirk reunited them one year later for The Tarnished Angels (1958).

by Rob Nixon & Mark Frankel
The Essentials

The Essentials

SYNOPSIS Mitch Wayne is a simple country boy who has more or less been adopted into the wealthy, troubled Hadley family, Texas oil barons. He is the constant companion and caretaker of the alcoholic, irresponsible Kyle, an object of lust for Kyle's sister Marylee, and the one their father, Jasper Hadley, most often turns to and favors above either of his own children. When Mitch falls in love with Lucy Moore, a woman he meets in New York, he is crushed when she is easily swept off her feet and into a marriage with Kyle. Being a highly moral fellow, Mitch buries his feelings and tries to respect a marriage that at first appearances seems to be working better than anyone expected. Under Lucy's influence, Kyle gives up drinking and stops sleeping with a pistol under his pillow. But when he discovers he may have a medical problem preventing him and Lucy from having children, his life begins to unravel. The situation is not helped by Marylee, whose jealousy of Lucy and frustration over Mitch's repeated rejection of her advances, lead her to poison Kyle's mind against his wife and best friend. When Kyle's father is driven to a heart attack by Marylee's wild behavior, Kyle becomes further unhinged, leading to tragedy and a scandalous public trial that exposes the family's dark secrets. irector: Douglas Sirk Producer: Albert Zugsmith Screenplay: George Zuckerman, based on the novel by Robert Wilder Cinematography: Russell Metty Editing: Russell F. Schoengarth Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen Music: Frank Skinner, title song by Victor Young, lyrics by Sammy Cahn Cast: Rock Hudson (Mitch Wayne), Lauren Bacall (Lucy Moore Hadley), Robert Stack (Kyle Hadley), Dorothy Malone (Marylee Hadley), Robert Keith (Jasper Hadley). C-99m. Why WRITTEN ON THE WIND is Essential When it was released at the end of 1956, Written on the Wind became director Douglas Sirk's most successful picture. While popular with audiences, this lush, over-the-top melodrama suffered the same critical fate as all his work in that genre. Generally dismissed as a stylish purveyor of big budget trash, no one would have suspected at that time that one day Sirk's films would be considered essential viewing. From his early discovery by the critics and the future filmmakers of Cahiers du Cinema (particularly Jean-Luc Godard), to his rediscovery by the pioneers of feminist and psychoanalytic film theory, to the obvious and often-stated impact he has had on such directors as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes, to the admiration he engenders in contemporary film artists, Sirk is a creator of unique and visually baroque movies. Many postmodern theorists and those responsible for the resurrection of Sirk's reputation in the 1970s see in Written on the Wind a brilliant example of how, through the visual codes and mise en scene, Sirk subverts the intentions of the melodramatic form, suggesting a bitter irony behind the apparently "happy" endings in which the destructive elements are tamed or destroyed and order seems to be restored. Other critics reject this type of analysis as an attempt to force meaning on a visual artist whose style is the meaning. You may also choose to take the word of the artist himself: "It was a piece of social criticism, of the rich and the spoiled and of the American family, really. And since the plot allowed for violence, it allowed for power of presentation also....A condition of life is being portrayed and, in many respects, anticipated, which is not unlike today's decaying and crumbling American society....Written on the Wind is the ultimate degeneracy of the system. The kaput superstructure...." The film's style is excessive in every way, from the garish lighting to the blaring music. The whole film is a flashback, and by showing the viewer Stack's violent death at the beginning, we are assured that any happiness that Stack's character may find is only temporary. According to Sirk: "Almost throughout the picture I used deep focus lenses which have the effect of giving a harshness to the objects and a kind of enameled, hard surface to the colors. I wanted to bring out the inner violence, the energy of the characters which is all inside them and can't break through." Stack and Malone's characters dream of going "back to the river," but even this bit of nostalgia seems pathetic because there is no escaping the true source of their sickness. As Sirk himself noted, "they can't go back, they can't return." And so they set themselves on a course of self-destruction. While Hudson and Bacall would seem to portray the more balanced and happy alternative to the Hadley sickness, they are, in fact, quite unsympathetic. And purposely so. According to Sirk, Hudson's character "is a negative figure. He is not really a man who has a helpful feeling toward these two degenerate kids, Stack and Malone....The Hudson and Bacall characters are rather coldish people and not very interesting." Sirk does a brilliant but counterintuitive thing here: he casts his big box-office stars - Bacall and Hudson - in the least interesting roles and lets Stack and Malone steal the movie. In fact, Stack recalls that when he read the script, he knew at once that Kyle was the "best part in the picture, a part that could hardly fail to earn the actor an Academy Award nomination." To Stack's surprise, Hudson gladly accepted the lesser role: "He never said a word, not a peep. He let the part go completely. He was in a position of power, and didn't misuse it." In the end, Stack was right and he got the nomination (though Anthony Quinn won for his performance in Lust for Life, 1956). Sexual frustration is a theme in many of Sirk's films, but nowhere is this theme so ubiquitous as in Written on the Wind. Sex is the central problem for all the characters, and Sirk goes to almost excessive pains to mock their troubles. When Stack learns from his doctor (Edward Platt) that he may be sterile, he hobbles like a wounded man out of the drugstore only to be confronted by a boy happily bouncing up and down on a mechanical pony. From Stack's perspective, the boy's physical vitality is like a knife in the heart. (Realism is clearly shunted aside here as it is doubtful a doctor would tell the town's most prominent citizen about his low sperm count at a drugstore luncheonette.) And the phallic oil wells seen pumping everywhere in the background seem to represent a kind of sexual energy that both comments on and mocks the characters' own sexuality. Malone (who won an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress) is the epitome of sexuality in the film. But like her brother's impotence, her sexuality is diseased. This is best seen in her sexualized dance that Sirk intercuts with her father's fatal fall down the stairs. Malone does all but jump Hudson, but he isn't interested in her as anything but a sister. His disinterest spurred German director Rainer W. Fassbinder to comment that Hudson's character is "the most pig-headed bastard in the world. How can he not possibly feel some of the longing Dorothy Malone has for him?" Written on the Wind was the sixth of the eight pictures that Sirk made with Hudson, and though Hudson is, as always, portrayed as the unproblematic American male, contemporary viewers might chuckle at his response when asked why he doesn't just find a girl and get married: "I have trouble enough just finding oil." Hudson, Stack and Malone worked so well together that Sirk reunited them one year later for The Tarnished Angels (1958). by Rob Nixon & Mark Frankel

Pop Culture 101: WRITTEN ON THE WIND


A number of observers have credited Written on the Wind with being the forerunner of the glossy, trashy nighttime TV soap opera, especially Dallas, which also followed the scandalous doings of a wealthy Texas oil family.

Written on the Wind has the same basic source material - the death of tobacco heir Smith Reynolds during his marriage to torch singer Libby Holman - as the Jean Harlow movie Reckless (1935).

Sirk has influenced directors as diverse as Spain's Pedro Almodovar and Hong Kong action director John Woo. "I have seen Written on the Wind a thousand times,'' Almodovar said, "and I cannot wait to see it again."

American directors John Waters and Todd Haynes have also cited Sirk's influence on their work. Haynes' recent film Far from Heaven (2002) is an obvious homage to Sirk, taking many plot elements directly from All That Heaven Allows (1955).

The German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder said Sirk was the single greatest influence on his work. While he never made a direct homage to Written on the Wind, as he did when he re-imagined All That Heaven Allows as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), the imprint of Sirk and this film are evident in such Fassbinder works as Lola (1981) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979).

The success of Written on the Wind led to another project starring three of the principals - Hudson, Stack and Malone - again produced by Zugsmith, directed by Sirk and scripted by Zuckerman, The Tarnished Angels (1958), an adaptation of William Faulkner's book Pylon. Sirk said that, in a way, the picture grew out of Written on the Wind. "You had the same pair of characters seeking their identity in the follow-up picture; the same mood of desperation, drinking, and doubting the values of life, and at the same time almost hysterically trying to grasp them, grasping the wind. Both pictures are studies of failure. Of people who can't make a success of their lives."

As with many of his films, the revelation of Hudson's homosexuality years later brought an additional layer of irony to aspects of this picture, particularly his character's frequent, determined rejection of sexual advances by Dorothy Malone's character. Film critic Roger Ebert reported that at a London screening in 1998, the audience, mostly maintaining a respectful silence throughout, snickered a little when Hudson's character is told it's time to get married and he replies, "I have trouble enough just finding oil."

by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101: WRITTEN ON THE WIND

A number of observers have credited Written on the Wind with being the forerunner of the glossy, trashy nighttime TV soap opera, especially Dallas, which also followed the scandalous doings of a wealthy Texas oil family. Written on the Wind has the same basic source material - the death of tobacco heir Smith Reynolds during his marriage to torch singer Libby Holman - as the Jean Harlow movie Reckless (1935). Sirk has influenced directors as diverse as Spain's Pedro Almodovar and Hong Kong action director John Woo. "I have seen Written on the Wind a thousand times,'' Almodovar said, "and I cannot wait to see it again." American directors John Waters and Todd Haynes have also cited Sirk's influence on their work. Haynes' recent film Far from Heaven (2002) is an obvious homage to Sirk, taking many plot elements directly from All That Heaven Allows (1955). The German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder said Sirk was the single greatest influence on his work. While he never made a direct homage to Written on the Wind, as he did when he re-imagined All That Heaven Allows as Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), the imprint of Sirk and this film are evident in such Fassbinder works as Lola (1981) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). The success of Written on the Wind led to another project starring three of the principals - Hudson, Stack and Malone - again produced by Zugsmith, directed by Sirk and scripted by Zuckerman, The Tarnished Angels (1958), an adaptation of William Faulkner's book Pylon. Sirk said that, in a way, the picture grew out of Written on the Wind. "You had the same pair of characters seeking their identity in the follow-up picture; the same mood of desperation, drinking, and doubting the values of life, and at the same time almost hysterically trying to grasp them, grasping the wind. Both pictures are studies of failure. Of people who can't make a success of their lives." As with many of his films, the revelation of Hudson's homosexuality years later brought an additional layer of irony to aspects of this picture, particularly his character's frequent, determined rejection of sexual advances by Dorothy Malone's character. Film critic Roger Ebert reported that at a London screening in 1998, the audience, mostly maintaining a respectful silence throughout, snickered a little when Hudson's character is told it's time to get married and he replies, "I have trouble enough just finding oil." by Rob Nixon

Trivia & Fun Facts About WRITTEN ON THE WIND


Although his pictures were very popular with audiences in the 50s, Sirk was largely dismissed by critics as a stylish purveyor of big-budget trash. After his last American film, Imitation of Life (1959), he returned to Europe and worked on only three more films, all of them minor efforts including My Life for Zarah Leander (1986). But he lived long enough to see the Sirk revival of the 1970s, spurred on to a great extent by Jon Halliday's landmark book-length talk with the director, Sirk on Sirk (Viking, 1972). Screenings of Sirk's films increased and became staples of art and repertory houses, as well as discussion topics for academic study and debate.

In addition to the six times they worked together prior to this, Sirk and his favorite cinematographer, Russell Metty, worked together three more times following this picture: Battle Hymn (1956), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) and Imitation of Life.

Metty began as a camera operator in the early 30s and got the first of his 165 cinematography credits in 1935. Among his most significant films, in addition to the ones he did for Sirk, were Story of G.I. Joe (1945); Touch of Evil (1958), which included a long and justly famous traveling shot at the film's opening; Spartacus (1960), for which he won an Academy Award; and The Misfits (1961).

An ad touting Malone's performance in Written on the Wind appeared in one of the trade papers saying: "Miss Malone, who probably won't campaign for herself, is overdue recognition as an actress who creates characterizations in depth. (This ad bought and paid for by friends of Dorothy Malone without her knowledge.)"

Malone had a few good roles after her Oscar® win for Written on the Wind: as James Cagney's wife in the film biography of silent actor Lon Chaney Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), in the tragic life story of actress Diana Barrymore Too Much, Too Soon (1958), and of course, Sirk's The Tarnished Angels (1958), which reunited her with Stack and Hudson. But her career was mostly in the doldrums until another soap opera (TV's first prime time soap) gave her a boost - as Constance MacKenzie in the popular Peyton Place.

Stack found success on TV when his excellent work for Sirk failed to bring a wealth of great lead roles. He is most famous today as both the 1920s crime fighter Elliot Ness on the TV drama The Untouchables and as the host for 15 years of the popular Unsolved Mysteries.

Stack felt that one reason he lost the Oscar® to Quinn (who only appeared on screen in his winning role for less than 10 minutes) was that 20th Century Fox, who had him under contract, organized block voting against him to prevent one of their stars from winning an acting award at another studio.

Robert Wilder, who wrote the book on which Written on the Wind is based, wore a number of hats in his career, including publicity agent for stars like Claudette Colbert. In addition to about a dozen novels, he wrote for the stage, radio, television and the screen. He adapted his own novel, Flamingo Road, into a 1949 film starring Joan Crawford.

The cast featured a few supporting players audiences may recognize from other roles. Grant Williams (Biff Miley, the service station attendant who offers to "fill 'er up" for Marylee) later appeared in one of the best science-fiction movies of all time, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Edward Platt (Dr. Cochrane) was for several years the "Chief" on the secret-agent TV spoof Get Smart. William Schallert, who makes a brief appearance as a reporter, played the father of Patty Duke on her TV sitcom in the early 1960s.

Robert Keith, who plays the Hadley family patriarch, was the father of actor Brian Keith, star of numerous movies and the TV sitcom Family Affair.

Famous Quotes from WRITTEN ON THE WIND

KYLE (Robert Stack): Mitch is just a country boy. Kind of assets you can't buy with money."

MITCH (Rock Hudson): I have a sheepskin says I'm a geologist.
KYLE: I was kicked out of the same school. They found rocks in my head.

KYLE: Cream?
LUCY (Lauren Bacall): I never use it.
KYLE: Shows how little I know you.

MARYLEE (Dorothy Malone): I love you, Mitch. I'm desperate for you.

JASPER (Robert Keith): Welcome to Hadley - the town and the family.

LUCY: Pardon me if I seem to be brushing you out of my hair.
MARYLEE: I'll send you some of my towels. I believe you're still wet behind the ears.

MARYLEE: I've changed since we last swam in the raw, haven't I?

KYLE: A toast to beauty. And to truth, which is anything but beautiful.

KYLE: You're a filthy liar.
MARYLEE: I'm filthy period.

MITCH: I made a resolution last week. Goes like this: to hell with the Hadleys.

MARYLEE: My brother always drank too much. He was sad. The saddest of us all. He needed so much. And had so little.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

Trivia & Fun Facts About WRITTEN ON THE WIND

Although his pictures were very popular with audiences in the 50s, Sirk was largely dismissed by critics as a stylish purveyor of big-budget trash. After his last American film, Imitation of Life (1959), he returned to Europe and worked on only three more films, all of them minor efforts including My Life for Zarah Leander (1986). But he lived long enough to see the Sirk revival of the 1970s, spurred on to a great extent by Jon Halliday's landmark book-length talk with the director, Sirk on Sirk (Viking, 1972). Screenings of Sirk's films increased and became staples of art and repertory houses, as well as discussion topics for academic study and debate. In addition to the six times they worked together prior to this, Sirk and his favorite cinematographer, Russell Metty, worked together three more times following this picture: Battle Hymn (1956), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) and Imitation of Life. Metty began as a camera operator in the early 30s and got the first of his 165 cinematography credits in 1935. Among his most significant films, in addition to the ones he did for Sirk, were Story of G.I. Joe (1945); Touch of Evil (1958), which included a long and justly famous traveling shot at the film's opening; Spartacus (1960), for which he won an Academy Award; and The Misfits (1961). An ad touting Malone's performance in Written on the Wind appeared in one of the trade papers saying: "Miss Malone, who probably won't campaign for herself, is overdue recognition as an actress who creates characterizations in depth. (This ad bought and paid for by friends of Dorothy Malone without her knowledge.)" Malone had a few good roles after her Oscar® win for Written on the Wind: as James Cagney's wife in the film biography of silent actor Lon Chaney Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), in the tragic life story of actress Diana Barrymore Too Much, Too Soon (1958), and of course, Sirk's The Tarnished Angels (1958), which reunited her with Stack and Hudson. But her career was mostly in the doldrums until another soap opera (TV's first prime time soap) gave her a boost - as Constance MacKenzie in the popular Peyton Place. Stack found success on TV when his excellent work for Sirk failed to bring a wealth of great lead roles. He is most famous today as both the 1920s crime fighter Elliot Ness on the TV drama The Untouchables and as the host for 15 years of the popular Unsolved Mysteries. Stack felt that one reason he lost the Oscar® to Quinn (who only appeared on screen in his winning role for less than 10 minutes) was that 20th Century Fox, who had him under contract, organized block voting against him to prevent one of their stars from winning an acting award at another studio. Robert Wilder, who wrote the book on which Written on the Wind is based, wore a number of hats in his career, including publicity agent for stars like Claudette Colbert. In addition to about a dozen novels, he wrote for the stage, radio, television and the screen. He adapted his own novel, Flamingo Road, into a 1949 film starring Joan Crawford. The cast featured a few supporting players audiences may recognize from other roles. Grant Williams (Biff Miley, the service station attendant who offers to "fill 'er up" for Marylee) later appeared in one of the best science-fiction movies of all time, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Edward Platt (Dr. Cochrane) was for several years the "Chief" on the secret-agent TV spoof Get Smart. William Schallert, who makes a brief appearance as a reporter, played the father of Patty Duke on her TV sitcom in the early 1960s. Robert Keith, who plays the Hadley family patriarch, was the father of actor Brian Keith, star of numerous movies and the TV sitcom Family Affair. Famous Quotes from WRITTEN ON THE WIND KYLE (Robert Stack): Mitch is just a country boy. Kind of assets you can't buy with money." MITCH (Rock Hudson): I have a sheepskin says I'm a geologist. KYLE: I was kicked out of the same school. They found rocks in my head. KYLE: Cream? LUCY (Lauren Bacall): I never use it. KYLE: Shows how little I know you. MARYLEE (Dorothy Malone): I love you, Mitch. I'm desperate for you. JASPER (Robert Keith): Welcome to Hadley - the town and the family. LUCY: Pardon me if I seem to be brushing you out of my hair. MARYLEE: I'll send you some of my towels. I believe you're still wet behind the ears. MARYLEE: I've changed since we last swam in the raw, haven't I? KYLE: A toast to beauty. And to truth, which is anything but beautiful. KYLE: You're a filthy liar. MARYLEE: I'm filthy period. MITCH: I made a resolution last week. Goes like this: to hell with the Hadleys. MARYLEE: My brother always drank too much. He was sad. The saddest of us all. He needed so much. And had so little. Compiled by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea


Written on the Wind started life as a novel written by Robert Wilder and published in 1946. It was a thinly disguised recounting of the real-life scandal of famous torch singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Smith Reynolds. The two were married in 1931, and the fast-living Holman joined her husband on his family's North Carolina estate. She frequently invited her New York and show business friends down for wild parties and at one notorious shindig in 1932, Holman reportedly made her husband jealous by kissing his closest friend, Ab Walker. Later that evening, she told Reynolds she was pregnant, which sent him into a fury. Because Reynolds had been dealing with impotence for a number of years, he was certain the child couldn't be his. No one knows for sure what happened, but a shot rang out from the couple's room and Reynolds lay dead. Holman and Walker were indicted on murder charges, although they insisted it was suicide. The charges were later dropped at the request of the family, reportedly to prevent unpleasant details of Smith Reynolds' life from becoming public.

While he was still producing films at MGM, David O. Selznick prepared an original story treatment based on the Holman case. It was first titled "A Woman Called Cheap" and was brought to the screen as Reckless (1935), a vehicle for Jean Harlow that capitalized on her own recent public scandal. Harlow's husband was also found dead from a gunshot, but it was ruled a suicide and the facts of the case were quickly hushed up and remain a mystery to this day.

Wilder's novel kept the story's setting within the world of big tobacco money in the South. Somewhere along the way, the setting was switched to the oil fields of Texas.

Producer Albert Zugsmith went into motion pictures after a career in journalism as a reporter, editor and eventual manager and owner of newspapers and radio stations. He began as producer of B-pictures at various studios and production companies, priding himself on being able to pick up on a kernel of value in a script and rescue properties languishing in development. Zugsmith went to work for Universal in the 1950s, having his first success with a lurid melodrama for Joan Crawford, Female on the Beach (1955).

At Universal, he found the studio had, in his words, "about a quarter or a third of a million invested in a pile of scripts three feet high" of Wilder's novel, which had been junked and written off as unfilmable. Zugsmith coaxed the studio into letting him revive the project, and they reluctantly gave him $500 to do a treatment. Eddie Muhl, the studio's production head, read it, and although he was convinced it was unfilmable, he agreed to give Zugsmith an inexpensive writer, George Zuckerman, whose last assignment was the Zugsmith-produced boxing drama The Square Jungle (1955), starring Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine. Zuckerman had come into the business via Zugsmith, for whom the writer once worked as a reporter.

Zugsmith worked very closely with Zuckerman on adapting the book. Rather than read any of the previous scripts, Zugsmith decided it was best to just go back to the source material and work from there. He thought Zuckerman's first draft was "magnificent," and later said that most of what was shot was from that first draft: "It was that good."

In an interview with Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn for the book Kings of the Bs: Working within the Hollywood System (Dutton, 1975), Zugsmith said that what attracted him to Written on the Wind was "the impotence angle, which of course, we had to play down, down, down, but we had never shown impotence on the screen before. That was what attracted me to it." In the version that reached the screen, Kyle Hadley's problem revolves around an issue of infertility, although the actions and attitudes of Kyle and other characters certainly seem to suggest that impotence is the real problem.

Universal contract director Douglas Sirk was also attracted to the subject of impotence and commented to the French film journal Cahiers du Cinema on the prevalence of that theme in many of his films: "Yes, that is one of the great problems of modern life. The man of today is practically 'impotent' before religion, or in his conduct, because of a certain frustration. You know that it has been proven medically that if you think too much of the sex act, you lose your sexual power. That is true of Robert Stack [as Kyle in Written on the Wind] and of a certain element of upper middle class Americans."

Sirk's take on the impotence theme, as something more than just sexual dysfunction, is supported by Zuckerman's description of Kyle in his outline of the story: "The scars of his boyhood include the high, lonesome plateau of his father's wealth...the realization that he has neither the resources nor the temperament for filling his father's oversized shoes."

Sirk later said he and Zuckerman conceived the Mitch Wayne character, the "potent" male of the story, to be "opposite in every way to the Stack character...so full of goddam typical American naiveté."

For his typically naive American, Sirk naturally thought of the actor with whom he'd worked most frequently in recent years, one who was fast becoming the cinema's standard for solid inner strength with a soft touch of vulnerability: Rock Hudson.

The fortunes of Sirk and Hudson were closely tied together in the 1950s. Sirk's background as a student of art and drama in Germany led first to a career as a theatrical producer and director, then into film. In 1937 he fled the Nazi regime, eventually landing in America. After a difficult and stormy first decade in Hollywood during which he managed to turn out some interesting films that proved him to be a first-rate cinematic stylist, he contracted with Universal Studios. The studio had a young actor under contract, Rock Hudson, one of a number of pretty faces then working at every studio in the business. But Sirk saw something more in Hudson, the first to realize his potential. "I thought I saw something," Sirk told Jon Halliday in the book Sirk on Sirk (Viking, 1972). "So I arranged to meet him, and he seemed to be not much to the eye, except very handsome. But the camera sees with its own eye...and ultimately you learn to trust your camera. I gave him an extensive screen test, and then I put him into Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952). ... Within a very few years he became a number one box-office star in America."

Hudson and Sirk did several pictures together before this one: Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), Captain Lightfoot (1955). But the film that really launched Hudson's career as a major star was also the one that propelled Sirk's career into the big-budget, high-gloss melodrama genre with which he's most associated: Magnificent Obsession (1954). Thanks to the great success of that picture, and the image-defining role Hudson played, director and star (along with leading lady Jane Wyman) were quickly put into another project, All That Heaven Allows (1955), considered one of Sirk's very best films. So it was natural that Hudson would take the lead in Written on the Wind.

When Lauren Bacall was offered the part of Lucy, she seized the opportunity to work with "a hot new star" like Hudson. It was also a lot of money for only a few weeks work, and her husband, Humphrey Bogart, encouraged her to take it in light of the fact that her career was not flourishing. "It had a big budget, a good cast," she noted in her autobiography. "I'd never done anything quite like it before - a really straight leading lady, no jokes, so I said yes."

Robert Stack had started out in the early 1940s as a handsome young supporting player (and the boy who gave teen sweetheart Deanna Durbin her first on-screen kiss). He graduated to solid adult leads in relatively uninteresting pictures. The part of Kyle Hadley in Written on the Wind offered him a chance to add new dimension to his image and range. "When I read the script, I cried for the fellow," he said later. "I knew him without ever having been an alcoholic."

Dorothy Malone was another actor for whom the project promised a way out of a rut. Her career had had its ups and downs since her debut more than a decade earlier. Although she had made an impression in a few roles, she was generally relegated to window dressing, and she considered her pictures under contract to Universal to be mostly junk. Late in 1955, however, she hired a new press agent, bleached her hair platinum and decided to go after parts that emphasized sex and glamour. It paid off with her casting as the wanton Marylee.

by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea

Written on the Wind started life as a novel written by Robert Wilder and published in 1946. It was a thinly disguised recounting of the real-life scandal of famous torch singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Smith Reynolds. The two were married in 1931, and the fast-living Holman joined her husband on his family's North Carolina estate. She frequently invited her New York and show business friends down for wild parties and at one notorious shindig in 1932, Holman reportedly made her husband jealous by kissing his closest friend, Ab Walker. Later that evening, she told Reynolds she was pregnant, which sent him into a fury. Because Reynolds had been dealing with impotence for a number of years, he was certain the child couldn't be his. No one knows for sure what happened, but a shot rang out from the couple's room and Reynolds lay dead. Holman and Walker were indicted on murder charges, although they insisted it was suicide. The charges were later dropped at the request of the family, reportedly to prevent unpleasant details of Smith Reynolds' life from becoming public. While he was still producing films at MGM, David O. Selznick prepared an original story treatment based on the Holman case. It was first titled "A Woman Called Cheap" and was brought to the screen as Reckless (1935), a vehicle for Jean Harlow that capitalized on her own recent public scandal. Harlow's husband was also found dead from a gunshot, but it was ruled a suicide and the facts of the case were quickly hushed up and remain a mystery to this day. Wilder's novel kept the story's setting within the world of big tobacco money in the South. Somewhere along the way, the setting was switched to the oil fields of Texas. Producer Albert Zugsmith went into motion pictures after a career in journalism as a reporter, editor and eventual manager and owner of newspapers and radio stations. He began as producer of B-pictures at various studios and production companies, priding himself on being able to pick up on a kernel of value in a script and rescue properties languishing in development. Zugsmith went to work for Universal in the 1950s, having his first success with a lurid melodrama for Joan Crawford, Female on the Beach (1955). At Universal, he found the studio had, in his words, "about a quarter or a third of a million invested in a pile of scripts three feet high" of Wilder's novel, which had been junked and written off as unfilmable. Zugsmith coaxed the studio into letting him revive the project, and they reluctantly gave him $500 to do a treatment. Eddie Muhl, the studio's production head, read it, and although he was convinced it was unfilmable, he agreed to give Zugsmith an inexpensive writer, George Zuckerman, whose last assignment was the Zugsmith-produced boxing drama The Square Jungle (1955), starring Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine. Zuckerman had come into the business via Zugsmith, for whom the writer once worked as a reporter. Zugsmith worked very closely with Zuckerman on adapting the book. Rather than read any of the previous scripts, Zugsmith decided it was best to just go back to the source material and work from there. He thought Zuckerman's first draft was "magnificent," and later said that most of what was shot was from that first draft: "It was that good." In an interview with Todd McCarthy and Charles Flynn for the book Kings of the Bs: Working within the Hollywood System (Dutton, 1975), Zugsmith said that what attracted him to Written on the Wind was "the impotence angle, which of course, we had to play down, down, down, but we had never shown impotence on the screen before. That was what attracted me to it." In the version that reached the screen, Kyle Hadley's problem revolves around an issue of infertility, although the actions and attitudes of Kyle and other characters certainly seem to suggest that impotence is the real problem. Universal contract director Douglas Sirk was also attracted to the subject of impotence and commented to the French film journal Cahiers du Cinema on the prevalence of that theme in many of his films: "Yes, that is one of the great problems of modern life. The man of today is practically 'impotent' before religion, or in his conduct, because of a certain frustration. You know that it has been proven medically that if you think too much of the sex act, you lose your sexual power. That is true of Robert Stack [as Kyle in Written on the Wind] and of a certain element of upper middle class Americans." Sirk's take on the impotence theme, as something more than just sexual dysfunction, is supported by Zuckerman's description of Kyle in his outline of the story: "The scars of his boyhood include the high, lonesome plateau of his father's wealth...the realization that he has neither the resources nor the temperament for filling his father's oversized shoes." Sirk later said he and Zuckerman conceived the Mitch Wayne character, the "potent" male of the story, to be "opposite in every way to the Stack character...so full of goddam typical American naiveté." For his typically naive American, Sirk naturally thought of the actor with whom he'd worked most frequently in recent years, one who was fast becoming the cinema's standard for solid inner strength with a soft touch of vulnerability: Rock Hudson. The fortunes of Sirk and Hudson were closely tied together in the 1950s. Sirk's background as a student of art and drama in Germany led first to a career as a theatrical producer and director, then into film. In 1937 he fled the Nazi regime, eventually landing in America. After a difficult and stormy first decade in Hollywood during which he managed to turn out some interesting films that proved him to be a first-rate cinematic stylist, he contracted with Universal Studios. The studio had a young actor under contract, Rock Hudson, one of a number of pretty faces then working at every studio in the business. But Sirk saw something more in Hudson, the first to realize his potential. "I thought I saw something," Sirk told Jon Halliday in the book Sirk on Sirk (Viking, 1972). "So I arranged to meet him, and he seemed to be not much to the eye, except very handsome. But the camera sees with its own eye...and ultimately you learn to trust your camera. I gave him an extensive screen test, and then I put him into Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952). ... Within a very few years he became a number one box-office star in America." Hudson and Sirk did several pictures together before this one: Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), Captain Lightfoot (1955). But the film that really launched Hudson's career as a major star was also the one that propelled Sirk's career into the big-budget, high-gloss melodrama genre with which he's most associated: Magnificent Obsession (1954). Thanks to the great success of that picture, and the image-defining role Hudson played, director and star (along with leading lady Jane Wyman) were quickly put into another project, All That Heaven Allows (1955), considered one of Sirk's very best films. So it was natural that Hudson would take the lead in Written on the Wind. When Lauren Bacall was offered the part of Lucy, she seized the opportunity to work with "a hot new star" like Hudson. It was also a lot of money for only a few weeks work, and her husband, Humphrey Bogart, encouraged her to take it in light of the fact that her career was not flourishing. "It had a big budget, a good cast," she noted in her autobiography. "I'd never done anything quite like it before - a really straight leading lady, no jokes, so I said yes." Robert Stack had started out in the early 1940s as a handsome young supporting player (and the boy who gave teen sweetheart Deanna Durbin her first on-screen kiss). He graduated to solid adult leads in relatively uninteresting pictures. The part of Kyle Hadley in Written on the Wind offered him a chance to add new dimension to his image and range. "When I read the script, I cried for the fellow," he said later. "I knew him without ever having been an alcoholic." Dorothy Malone was another actor for whom the project promised a way out of a rut. Her career had had its ups and downs since her debut more than a decade earlier. Although she had made an impression in a few roles, she was generally relegated to window dressing, and she considered her pictures under contract to Universal to be mostly junk. Late in 1955, however, she hired a new press agent, bleached her hair platinum and decided to go after parts that emphasized sex and glamour. It paid off with her casting as the wanton Marylee. by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera


To shoot the movie, Sirk brought in his favorite cinematographer, Russell Metty. The two had worked together six times prior to this: Take Me to Town (1953), Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), Magnificent Obsession (1954), Sign of the Pagan (1954), There's Always Tomorrow (1956), and All That Heaven Allows (1955), on which they perfected the light and color effects that would bring to the melodrama form the rich visual texture associated with Sirk's greatest films.

On Written on the Wind, Metty achieved a depth of field that was difficult for Technicolor stock at the time. Sirk liked the use of deep focus lenses because he felt they gave harshness to the objects and "a kind of enamelled, hard surface to the colors."

All the cast members had compliments for Hudson on this project. He made a particular impression on Stack, who definitely had the flashier part, full of hysteria, fear, madness, alcoholism, murderous rage, while, as Hudson himself noted about his own role, "as usual, I am so pure I am impossible." Hudson, of course, was the star, and one of the top actors at the studio, while Stack was a lesser name on loan to Universal for the picture. "Almost any other actor I know in the business...would have gone up to the head of the studio and said, 'Hey, look, man, I'm the star - you cut this guy down or something,'" Stack said. "But he never did. I never forgot that."

Malone later noted how Hudson helped her with her performance. "I loved Sirk as a director," she said, "but there was one day he just couldn't get through to me." Quietly and patiently, Hudson took Malone aside and, because he had so much experience with Sirk already, was able to make her understand what the director was trying to tell her.

During production, Hudson was married to Phyllis Gates, his manager's former secretary. It was a short-lived marriage that many people, after Hudson's homosexuality became known, insisted must have been a pre-arranged sham. But those who observed the two together, when Phyllis visited the set or when she and Hudson joined Stack and his wife for casual weekends, said they never thought there was anything between them to indicate that their relationship was entirely a lie.

Despite Hudson's pleasant camaraderie with everyone on the set and his apparent happiness in his marriage, Malone said she found him to be somewhat of a loner who hid his feelings of sadness and insecurity. Nevertheless, she developed a bond with him that helped her through moments of tension on the set. "Rock gave me that sense of security whenever I worked with him."

Stack said he did no research to prepare for his difficult role. "I just went and used my imagination, and I was doing DTs and madness and the six stages of drunkenness, and it was a good chance to truly prove that I could either do something pretty good or completely fall on my face." Stack got so involved in his part that Bacall, enacting the scene where he had to knock her over the bed and induce a miscarriage, became a little worried. As Stack later related it, Bacall told him, "You're crazy, your eyes are crazy." Stack told her the character was supposed to be crazy and she replied, "I don't mean acting crazy, you really are crazy!"

At the same time she was shooting this picture, Lauren Bacall was struggling to learn her lines for an upcoming TV production of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, co-starring Coward and Claudette Colbert. Bacall was pressured by Coward's insistence that all his cast have their lines letter-perfect by the time work began on the production.

by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera

To shoot the movie, Sirk brought in his favorite cinematographer, Russell Metty. The two had worked together six times prior to this: Take Me to Town (1953), Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), Magnificent Obsession (1954), Sign of the Pagan (1954), There's Always Tomorrow (1956), and All That Heaven Allows (1955), on which they perfected the light and color effects that would bring to the melodrama form the rich visual texture associated with Sirk's greatest films. On Written on the Wind, Metty achieved a depth of field that was difficult for Technicolor stock at the time. Sirk liked the use of deep focus lenses because he felt they gave harshness to the objects and "a kind of enamelled, hard surface to the colors." All the cast members had compliments for Hudson on this project. He made a particular impression on Stack, who definitely had the flashier part, full of hysteria, fear, madness, alcoholism, murderous rage, while, as Hudson himself noted about his own role, "as usual, I am so pure I am impossible." Hudson, of course, was the star, and one of the top actors at the studio, while Stack was a lesser name on loan to Universal for the picture. "Almost any other actor I know in the business...would have gone up to the head of the studio and said, 'Hey, look, man, I'm the star - you cut this guy down or something,'" Stack said. "But he never did. I never forgot that." Malone later noted how Hudson helped her with her performance. "I loved Sirk as a director," she said, "but there was one day he just couldn't get through to me." Quietly and patiently, Hudson took Malone aside and, because he had so much experience with Sirk already, was able to make her understand what the director was trying to tell her. During production, Hudson was married to Phyllis Gates, his manager's former secretary. It was a short-lived marriage that many people, after Hudson's homosexuality became known, insisted must have been a pre-arranged sham. But those who observed the two together, when Phyllis visited the set or when she and Hudson joined Stack and his wife for casual weekends, said they never thought there was anything between them to indicate that their relationship was entirely a lie. Despite Hudson's pleasant camaraderie with everyone on the set and his apparent happiness in his marriage, Malone said she found him to be somewhat of a loner who hid his feelings of sadness and insecurity. Nevertheless, she developed a bond with him that helped her through moments of tension on the set. "Rock gave me that sense of security whenever I worked with him." Stack said he did no research to prepare for his difficult role. "I just went and used my imagination, and I was doing DTs and madness and the six stages of drunkenness, and it was a good chance to truly prove that I could either do something pretty good or completely fall on my face." Stack got so involved in his part that Bacall, enacting the scene where he had to knock her over the bed and induce a miscarriage, became a little worried. As Stack later related it, Bacall told him, "You're crazy, your eyes are crazy." Stack told her the character was supposed to be crazy and she replied, "I don't mean acting crazy, you really are crazy!" At the same time she was shooting this picture, Lauren Bacall was struggling to learn her lines for an upcoming TV production of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, co-starring Coward and Claudette Colbert. Bacall was pressured by Coward's insistence that all his cast have their lines letter-perfect by the time work began on the production. by Rob Nixon

The Critics Corner: WRITTEN ON THE WIND


Written on the Wind was a box office success, a prime example of how Hollywood could combat the threat of television with big-budget, wide-screen, lushly color-photographed dramas with adult themes (i.e., lots of sex). Written on the Wind was able to push the limits of what could be shown on the screen partly because the Motion Picture Production Code was slightly modified around the time of the film's release with a more relaxed attitude towards its most stringent rules.

Dorothy Malone received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her heated performance as Marylee. Robert Stack received a Best Supporting Actor nomination and was highly favored to win, but was upset by Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956). Victor Young and Sammy Cahn were also nominated for the title song.

In 2005, Lauren Bacall accepted the Frontier Award on behalf of the film from the Austin Film Society, which annually makes inductions into the Texas Film Hall of Fame recognizing actors, directors, screenwriters, filmmakers and films from, influenced by or inspired by the Lone Star State.

"It is in visual terms that Written on the Wind merits our attention. É We watch Stack in the half-shadow of a blue bedroom, watch him dash into a red corridor and jump into a yellow taxi which lets him out in front of a steel-gray. airplane. All these hues are vivid and frank, varnished and lacquered to such a degree that a painter would scream. But they are the colors of the luxury civilization, the industrial colors that remind us that we live in the age of plastics."- Francois Truffaut, 1957.

"What the movie has is power and guts. I think it is my most gutty picture, which naturally is due to some extent to the material." - Douglas Sirk, Sirk on Sirk by Jon Halliday (Viking, 1972).

"The most violent and hyperbolic of family melodramas, Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind may be the most quintessential American movie of the 1950s. The film turns a cold eye on the antics of the degenerate superrich...Trash on an epic scale, it's a vision as luridly color-photographed, relentlessly high-octane and flamboyantly petit bourgeois as a two-toned T-bird with ultrachrome trim"- J. Hoberman, The A List, Da Capo Press.

"To appreciate a film like Written on the Wind probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces, because Bergman's themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message. His interiors are wildly over the top, and his exteriors are phony- he wants you to notice the artifice, to see that he's not using realism but an exaggerated Hollywood studio style."- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, January 18, 1998.

"Written on the Wind is bigger than All That Heaven Allows [1955]. The plot is fuller, the characters traverse greater expanses, and the themes of love and money are more at home in a mighty saga. Private jets, rivers of booze, barroom fisticuffs, shiny clothes, and a forest of phallic oil derricks give Written on the Wind the look of a rich fat uncle to Dynasty and Dallas. - Matthew Kennedy, Bright Lights Film Journal (www.brightlightsfilm.com).

"The director, Douglas Sirk, shows his talent for whipping up sour, stylized soap operas in posh settings." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt & Co.).

"The sheerest Hollywood moonshine: high-flying melodramatic hokum which moves fast enough to be very entertaining." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial).

"This film provides Sirk's clear commentary and critique of the underlying hollowness and shallowness of American society in the placid 1950s, and misfit lives stunted and corrupted by mental anguish, alcoholism, sexual frustration, and corruptible materialistic wealth." - The Greatest Films (www.filmsite.org/writt.html).

"The artificial lighting and crazy color schemes for which Sirk was noted are here, but there's again (as in All That Heaven Allows) an emotional intensity, carried to operatic extremes, that works against the idea that the film is merely a florid exercise in camp." - Gary Morris, Images Journal (www.imagesjournal.com/issue10/reviews/sirk/text.htm).

"This ranks with The Tarnished Angels [1958] as Sirk's best work. This is also about tarnished characters...As in all good potboilers, the characters are driven by their passions and are surrounded by destructive forces..." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Fireside).

"This outspoken drama probes rather startlingly into the morals and passions of an uppercrust Texas oil family. Intelligent use of the flashback technique before and during the titles credits runoff builds immediate interest and expectancy without diminishing plot punch." - Variety Movie Guide (Prentiss Hall).

"Irresistible kitsch" - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Plume).

Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

The Critics Corner: WRITTEN ON THE WIND

Written on the Wind was a box office success, a prime example of how Hollywood could combat the threat of television with big-budget, wide-screen, lushly color-photographed dramas with adult themes (i.e., lots of sex). Written on the Wind was able to push the limits of what could be shown on the screen partly because the Motion Picture Production Code was slightly modified around the time of the film's release with a more relaxed attitude towards its most stringent rules. Dorothy Malone received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her heated performance as Marylee. Robert Stack received a Best Supporting Actor nomination and was highly favored to win, but was upset by Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956). Victor Young and Sammy Cahn were also nominated for the title song. In 2005, Lauren Bacall accepted the Frontier Award on behalf of the film from the Austin Film Society, which annually makes inductions into the Texas Film Hall of Fame recognizing actors, directors, screenwriters, filmmakers and films from, influenced by or inspired by the Lone Star State. "It is in visual terms that Written on the Wind merits our attention. É We watch Stack in the half-shadow of a blue bedroom, watch him dash into a red corridor and jump into a yellow taxi which lets him out in front of a steel-gray. airplane. All these hues are vivid and frank, varnished and lacquered to such a degree that a painter would scream. But they are the colors of the luxury civilization, the industrial colors that remind us that we live in the age of plastics."- Francois Truffaut, 1957. "What the movie has is power and guts. I think it is my most gutty picture, which naturally is due to some extent to the material." - Douglas Sirk, Sirk on Sirk by Jon Halliday (Viking, 1972). "The most violent and hyperbolic of family melodramas, Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind may be the most quintessential American movie of the 1950s. The film turns a cold eye on the antics of the degenerate superrich...Trash on an epic scale, it's a vision as luridly color-photographed, relentlessly high-octane and flamboyantly petit bourgeois as a two-toned T-bird with ultrachrome trim"- J. Hoberman, The A List, Da Capo Press. "To appreciate a film like Written on the Wind probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces, because Bergman's themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message. His interiors are wildly over the top, and his exteriors are phony- he wants you to notice the artifice, to see that he's not using realism but an exaggerated Hollywood studio style."- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, January 18, 1998. "Written on the Wind is bigger than All That Heaven Allows [1955]. The plot is fuller, the characters traverse greater expanses, and the themes of love and money are more at home in a mighty saga. Private jets, rivers of booze, barroom fisticuffs, shiny clothes, and a forest of phallic oil derricks give Written on the Wind the look of a rich fat uncle to Dynasty and Dallas. - Matthew Kennedy, Bright Lights Film Journal (www.brightlightsfilm.com). "The director, Douglas Sirk, shows his talent for whipping up sour, stylized soap operas in posh settings." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt & Co.). "The sheerest Hollywood moonshine: high-flying melodramatic hokum which moves fast enough to be very entertaining." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial). "This film provides Sirk's clear commentary and critique of the underlying hollowness and shallowness of American society in the placid 1950s, and misfit lives stunted and corrupted by mental anguish, alcoholism, sexual frustration, and corruptible materialistic wealth." - The Greatest Films (www.filmsite.org/writt.html). "The artificial lighting and crazy color schemes for which Sirk was noted are here, but there's again (as in All That Heaven Allows) an emotional intensity, carried to operatic extremes, that works against the idea that the film is merely a florid exercise in camp." - Gary Morris, Images Journal (www.imagesjournal.com/issue10/reviews/sirk/text.htm). "This ranks with The Tarnished Angels [1958] as Sirk's best work. This is also about tarnished characters...As in all good potboilers, the characters are driven by their passions and are surrounded by destructive forces..." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Fireside). "This outspoken drama probes rather startlingly into the morals and passions of an uppercrust Texas oil family. Intelligent use of the flashback technique before and during the titles credits runoff builds immediate interest and expectancy without diminishing plot punch." - Variety Movie Guide (Prentiss Hall). "Irresistible kitsch" - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Plume). Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

Written on the Wind


"To appreciate a film like Written on the Wind probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces, because Bergman's themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message. His interiors are wildly over the top, and his exteriors are phony - he wants you to notice the artifice, to see that he's not using realism but an exaggerated Hollywood studio style."
- Roger Ebert

Between 1950 and 1959, Douglas Sirk made twenty-one films for Universal. Despite box-office successes (most notably with his last American film, Imitation of Life, 1959), Sirk was often ignored by contemporary critics, who considered him nothing more than a purveyor of glossy "women's pictures." But starting in the early 1970s, Sirk's films began to be seen as works of social criticism that transcended their usually melodramatic origins. As the above quotation from Roger Ebert shows, today he is considered an equal to any of the world's greatest directors. And Written on the Wind is arguably his greatest work.

According to Sirk, the film "was a piece of social criticism, of the rich and the spoiled and of the American family, really." The family Sirk refers to are the Hadleys, an oil-rich Texas family whose wealth is so great that the town itself is named after them. The Hadley "H" is so omnipresent that the town seems to be synonymous with the family. In this way, the decaying family stands in for a decaying society. The family's patriarch (Robert Keith) is trying to hold his family and empire together while his alcoholic playboy son (Robert Stack) and his nymphomaniac daughter (Dorothy Malone) run riot like the irresponsible children they really are. Stability seems to be guaranteed in the form of Rock Hudson, a close family friend, who works for the Hadleys and bails Stack and Malone out of their many troubles. But when Lauren Bacall comes into their lives, stability flies out the window.

The film's style is excessive in every way, from the garish lighting to the blaring music. The whole film is a flashback, and by showing the viewer Stack's violent death at the beginning, we are assured that any happiness that Stack's character may find is only temporary. According to Sirk: "Almost throughout the picture I used deep focus lenses which have the effect of giving a harshness to the objects and a kind of enameled, hard surface to the colors. I wanted to bring out the inner violence, the energy of the characters which is all inside them and can't break through." Stack and Malone's characters dream of going "back to the river," but even this bit of nostalgia seems pathetic because there is no escaping the true source of their sickness. As Sirk himself noted, "they can't go back, they can't return." And so they set themselves on a course of self-destruction.

While Hudson and Bacall would seem to portray the more balanced and happy alternative to the Hadley sickness, they are, in fact, quite unsympathetic. And purposely so. According to Sirk, Hudson's character "is a negative figure. He is not really a man who has a helpful feeling toward these two degenerate kids, Stack and Malone. . . . The Hudson and Bacall characters are rather coldish people and not very interesting." Sirk does a brilliant but counterintuitive thing here: he casts his big box-office stars - Bacall and Hudson - in the least interesting roles and lets Stack and Malone steal the movie. In fact, Stack recalls that when he read the script, he knew at once that Kyle was the "best part in the picture, a part that could hardly fail to earn the actor an Academy Award nomination." To Stack's surprise, Hudson gladly accepted the lesser role: "He never said a word, not a peep. He let the part go completely. He was in a position of power, and didn't misuse it." In the end, Stack was right and he got the nomination (though Anthony Quinn won for his performance in Lust for Life (1956).

Sexual frustration is a theme in many of Sirk's film's, but nowhere is this theme so ubiquitous as in Written on the Wind. Sex is the central problem for all the characters, and Sirk goes to almost excessive pains to mock their troubles. When Stack learns from his doctor (Edward Platt) that he may be sterile, he hobbles like a wounded man out of the drugstore only to be confronted by a boy happily bouncing up and down on a mechanical pony. From Stack's perspective, the boy's physical vitality is like a knife in the heart. (Realism is clearly shunted aside here as it is doubtful a doctor would tell the town's most prominent citizen about his low sperm count at a drugstore luncheonette.) And the phallic oil wells seen pumping everywhere in the background seem to represent a kind of sexual energy that both comments on and mocks the characters' own sexuality.

Malone (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) is the epitome of sexuality in the film. But like her brother's impotence, her sexuality is diseased. This is best seen in her sexualized dance that Sirk intercuts with her father's fatal fall down the stairs. Malone does all but jump Hudson, but he isn't interested in her as anything but a sister. His disinterest spurred German director Rainer W. Fassbinder to comment that Hudson's character is "the most pig-headed bastard in the world. How can he not possibly feel some of the longing Dorothy Malone has for him?"

This was the sixth of the eight pictures that Sirk made with Hudson, and though Hudson is, as always, portrayed as the unproblematic American male, contemporary viewers might chuckle at his response when asked why he doesn't just find a girl and get married: "I have trouble enough just finding oil." Hudson, Stack and Malone worked so well together that Sirk reunited them one year later for The Tarnished Angels (1957).

Producer: Albert Zugsmith
Director: Douglas Sirk
Screenplay: Robert Wilder, George Zuckerman
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Editing: Russell F. Schoengarth
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen
Music: Frank Skinner, Victor Young
Cast: Rock Hudson (Mitch Wayne), Lauren Bacall (Lucy Moore Hadley), Robert Stack (Kyle Hadley), Dorothy Malone (Marylee Hadley), Robert Keith (Jasper Hadley), Grant Williams (Biff Miley), Robert J. Wilke (Dan Willis).
C-100m. Letterboxed.

by Mark Frankel

Written on the Wind

"To appreciate a film like Written on the Wind probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces, because Bergman's themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message. His interiors are wildly over the top, and his exteriors are phony - he wants you to notice the artifice, to see that he's not using realism but an exaggerated Hollywood studio style." - Roger Ebert Between 1950 and 1959, Douglas Sirk made twenty-one films for Universal. Despite box-office successes (most notably with his last American film, Imitation of Life, 1959), Sirk was often ignored by contemporary critics, who considered him nothing more than a purveyor of glossy "women's pictures." But starting in the early 1970s, Sirk's films began to be seen as works of social criticism that transcended their usually melodramatic origins. As the above quotation from Roger Ebert shows, today he is considered an equal to any of the world's greatest directors. And Written on the Wind is arguably his greatest work. According to Sirk, the film "was a piece of social criticism, of the rich and the spoiled and of the American family, really." The family Sirk refers to are the Hadleys, an oil-rich Texas family whose wealth is so great that the town itself is named after them. The Hadley "H" is so omnipresent that the town seems to be synonymous with the family. In this way, the decaying family stands in for a decaying society. The family's patriarch (Robert Keith) is trying to hold his family and empire together while his alcoholic playboy son (Robert Stack) and his nymphomaniac daughter (Dorothy Malone) run riot like the irresponsible children they really are. Stability seems to be guaranteed in the form of Rock Hudson, a close family friend, who works for the Hadleys and bails Stack and Malone out of their many troubles. But when Lauren Bacall comes into their lives, stability flies out the window. The film's style is excessive in every way, from the garish lighting to the blaring music. The whole film is a flashback, and by showing the viewer Stack's violent death at the beginning, we are assured that any happiness that Stack's character may find is only temporary. According to Sirk: "Almost throughout the picture I used deep focus lenses which have the effect of giving a harshness to the objects and a kind of enameled, hard surface to the colors. I wanted to bring out the inner violence, the energy of the characters which is all inside them and can't break through." Stack and Malone's characters dream of going "back to the river," but even this bit of nostalgia seems pathetic because there is no escaping the true source of their sickness. As Sirk himself noted, "they can't go back, they can't return." And so they set themselves on a course of self-destruction. While Hudson and Bacall would seem to portray the more balanced and happy alternative to the Hadley sickness, they are, in fact, quite unsympathetic. And purposely so. According to Sirk, Hudson's character "is a negative figure. He is not really a man who has a helpful feeling toward these two degenerate kids, Stack and Malone. . . . The Hudson and Bacall characters are rather coldish people and not very interesting." Sirk does a brilliant but counterintuitive thing here: he casts his big box-office stars - Bacall and Hudson - in the least interesting roles and lets Stack and Malone steal the movie. In fact, Stack recalls that when he read the script, he knew at once that Kyle was the "best part in the picture, a part that could hardly fail to earn the actor an Academy Award nomination." To Stack's surprise, Hudson gladly accepted the lesser role: "He never said a word, not a peep. He let the part go completely. He was in a position of power, and didn't misuse it." In the end, Stack was right and he got the nomination (though Anthony Quinn won for his performance in Lust for Life (1956). Sexual frustration is a theme in many of Sirk's film's, but nowhere is this theme so ubiquitous as in Written on the Wind. Sex is the central problem for all the characters, and Sirk goes to almost excessive pains to mock their troubles. When Stack learns from his doctor (Edward Platt) that he may be sterile, he hobbles like a wounded man out of the drugstore only to be confronted by a boy happily bouncing up and down on a mechanical pony. From Stack's perspective, the boy's physical vitality is like a knife in the heart. (Realism is clearly shunted aside here as it is doubtful a doctor would tell the town's most prominent citizen about his low sperm count at a drugstore luncheonette.) And the phallic oil wells seen pumping everywhere in the background seem to represent a kind of sexual energy that both comments on and mocks the characters' own sexuality. Malone (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) is the epitome of sexuality in the film. But like her brother's impotence, her sexuality is diseased. This is best seen in her sexualized dance that Sirk intercuts with her father's fatal fall down the stairs. Malone does all but jump Hudson, but he isn't interested in her as anything but a sister. His disinterest spurred German director Rainer W. Fassbinder to comment that Hudson's character is "the most pig-headed bastard in the world. How can he not possibly feel some of the longing Dorothy Malone has for him?" This was the sixth of the eight pictures that Sirk made with Hudson, and though Hudson is, as always, portrayed as the unproblematic American male, contemporary viewers might chuckle at his response when asked why he doesn't just find a girl and get married: "I have trouble enough just finding oil." Hudson, Stack and Malone worked so well together that Sirk reunited them one year later for The Tarnished Angels (1957). Producer: Albert Zugsmith Director: Douglas Sirk Screenplay: Robert Wilder, George Zuckerman Cinematography: Russell Metty Editing: Russell F. Schoengarth Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Alexander Golitzen Music: Frank Skinner, Victor Young Cast: Rock Hudson (Mitch Wayne), Lauren Bacall (Lucy Moore Hadley), Robert Stack (Kyle Hadley), Dorothy Malone (Marylee Hadley), Robert Keith (Jasper Hadley), Grant Williams (Biff Miley), Robert J. Wilke (Dan Willis). C-100m. Letterboxed. by Mark Frankel

Douglas Sirk movies (Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows) - THE CRITERION COLLECTION DOES IT AGAIN WITH TWO DOUGLAS SIRK MOVIES!


Fans of director Douglas Sirk will find a real treat in the DVD bins. Two of his wildest melodramas, Written on the Wind (1956) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), have been released in special editions with sharp new transfers, enhanced for widescreen. A noted director in his native Germany, Sirk was one of many who fled the Nazis in the 1930s for a new home in Los Angeles. It was there that he continued his filmmaking career, even though he essentially had to start over again, making B-movies for the major studios. Sirk's sense of style and reliable production techniques eventually found him making high-profile melodramas featuring big-name stars but Sirk's theatrical background and wide intellectual interests gave them a unique twist. His films are self-critical without ever abandoning direct emotional appeal, making his films among the most important work of the 1950s.

Written on the Wind is a startling, overheated tale about the schemes and fantasies of a decadent Texas oil family. Robert Stack and sister Dorothy Malone run amuck through the lives of ad executive Lauren Bacall and geologist Rock Hudson. Sirk's imaginative but controlled style only highlights all the activity. The disc comes with notes by critic Laura Mulvey and production material. All That Heaven Allows is a bit more sedate on the surface but may be even more intense. Jane Wyman plays a wealthy widow attracted to her gardener (Rock Hudson again) despite the disapproval of her children and friends, a set-up that Sirk turns into an indictment of narrow-minded thinking. The disc includes a BBC documentary on Sirk plus a wonderfully demented essay by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, himself greatly influenced by Sirk. Both of the Sirk DVDs are from The Criterion Collection which is The Criterion Collection is distributed jointly by Home Vision and Image Entertainment. For more information, you can visit either Image or The Criterion Collection.

By Lang Thompson

Douglas Sirk movies (Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows) - THE CRITERION COLLECTION DOES IT AGAIN WITH TWO DOUGLAS SIRK MOVIES!

Fans of director Douglas Sirk will find a real treat in the DVD bins. Two of his wildest melodramas, Written on the Wind (1956) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), have been released in special editions with sharp new transfers, enhanced for widescreen. A noted director in his native Germany, Sirk was one of many who fled the Nazis in the 1930s for a new home in Los Angeles. It was there that he continued his filmmaking career, even though he essentially had to start over again, making B-movies for the major studios. Sirk's sense of style and reliable production techniques eventually found him making high-profile melodramas featuring big-name stars but Sirk's theatrical background and wide intellectual interests gave them a unique twist. His films are self-critical without ever abandoning direct emotional appeal, making his films among the most important work of the 1950s. Written on the Wind is a startling, overheated tale about the schemes and fantasies of a decadent Texas oil family. Robert Stack and sister Dorothy Malone run amuck through the lives of ad executive Lauren Bacall and geologist Rock Hudson. Sirk's imaginative but controlled style only highlights all the activity. The disc comes with notes by critic Laura Mulvey and production material. All That Heaven Allows is a bit more sedate on the surface but may be even more intense. Jane Wyman plays a wealthy widow attracted to her gardener (Rock Hudson again) despite the disapproval of her children and friends, a set-up that Sirk turns into an indictment of narrow-minded thinking. The disc includes a BBC documentary on Sirk plus a wonderfully demented essay by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, himself greatly influenced by Sirk. Both of the Sirk DVDs are from The Criterion Collection which is The Criterion Collection is distributed jointly by Home Vision and Image Entertainment. For more information, you can visit either Image or The Criterion Collection. By Lang Thompson

Robert Stack, 1919-2003


Robert Stack, the tough, forceful actor who had a solid career in films before achieving his greatest success playing crime fighter Eliot Ness in the '60s television series The Untouchables (1959-63) and later as host of the long-running Unsolved Mysteries(1987-2002), died on May 14 of heart failure in his Los Angeles home. He was 84.

Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling.

Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger.

Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen.

His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942).

After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958).

Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name.

Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980).

Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles.

by Michael T. Toole

Robert Stack, 1919-2003

Robert Stack, the tough, forceful actor who had a solid career in films before achieving his greatest success playing crime fighter Eliot Ness in the '60s television series The Untouchables (1959-63) and later as host of the long-running Unsolved Mysteries(1987-2002), died on May 14 of heart failure in his Los Angeles home. He was 84. Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling. Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger. Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen. His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942). After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958). Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name. Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980). Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

I'll kill him!
- Kyle Hadley
A whiskey bottle's about all you'd kill.
- Marylee Hadley
You're a filthy liar.
- Kyle Hadley
I'm filthy - period!
- Marylee Hadley
Welcome to Hadley. The town and the family.
- Jasper Hadley
I'm allergic to politeness.
- Marylee Hadley
Are you looking for laughs? Or are you soul-searching?
- Mitch Wayne

Trivia

Notes

According to contemporary sources, Robert Wilder's novel Written on the Wind was inspired by the notorious 1932 death of Zachary Smith Reynolds, millionaire son of tobacco tycoon R. J. Reynolds, and husband of torch singer Libby Holman. Holman was accused of his murder, and, although the case was never brought to court, it inspired several films, beginning with the 1935 M-G-M production Reckless, starring Jean Harlow (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). In 1945, RKO bought the rights to Wilder's novel, then sold them in 1946 to International. In 1951, International, which had by then merged with Universal, produced the adaptation, entitled Thunder on the Hill, directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Claudette Colbert and Anne Blyth. Although that picture's working title was Written on the Wind, the film was about a nun who shelters a society beauty accused of poisoning her pianist brother, and is unrelated to the 1956 Sirk film.
       According to a May 1955 "Rambling Reporter" item in Hollywood Reporter, Universal considered Anne Baxter for a starring role. Studio production materials add the following information: New York's "21" club was reproduced on the set through the use of photographs and items such as menus and napkins lent by the club's owners; and the staircase used in scenes at the "Hadley" home was the same set used in Universal's 1925 film The Phantom of the Opera and in the 1936 picture My Man Godfrey (see AFI Feature Film Catalog, 1921-30 and 1931-40, respectively).
       Many modern sources consider this picture to be Sirk's finest, including the Village Voice, which in October 1987 referred to the film as "the original Technicolor noir." Although the film's official release date was January 1957, Universal scheduled December 25, 1956 openings in Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans and Tulsa, OK in order to qualify the film for the 1956 Academy Awards. Although the New York Times review refers to "Mr. Stack's absurd performance and another even more so by Miss Malone," Stack was nominated for an Academy Award and Malone won the 1956 Best Supporting Actress award. The title song "Written on the Wind" was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States July 1999

Released in United States on Video August 11, 1988

Released in United States Winter January 1957

Re-released in United States on Video October 24, 1995

Began shooting November 1955.

Completed shooting January 1956.

Released in United States Winter January 1957

Released in United States July 1999 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Universal Sirk" July 9-22, 1999.)

Released in United States on Video August 11, 1988

Re-released in United States on Video October 24, 1995