Continuing on with our ‘Five Nights With…’ series, we’re going to take a little detour from the world of the thriller and walk into pure soap operatic heaven. Yes, we’re looking at Douglas Sirk’s trashy ‘Written on the Wind’, a 1956 melodramatic opera of sorts starring sex symbols Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall. Now, you may wonder, just what ties this film in with the previous entry, ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’. Well, as I mentioned in that review; this is all about a singular musical moment. In ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ it was that infamous Albert Hall scene (I so wish I could have found the YouTube video for that) and here it is a crazy moment where Dorothy Malone shakes her tail feather and Robert Keith falls down a flight of stairs to his death.
And, we have a clip!!!
So, that moment ties our two films together, but they are already tied together by the theme of this month’s ‘Five Nights With…’, that theme being the film year of 1956.
Douglas Sirk does not shy away from the pulpy atmosphere when constructing this strangely enticing hot mess of a film. There is very little focus, everything feeling very clustered and chaotic, and yet it is in that chaos that the film builds such richly utilized tension. It reminded me a little of 1957’s Oscar hit, ‘Peyton Place’ in that it indulged in a tapestry of soap operatic undertones and overtones. It don’t feel it was as successful, mainly because the two leads couldn’t quite handle the drama, but in parts this film is untouchable.
The storyline follows a tumultuous relationship that spurns between four individuals. Kyle Hadley meets and falls very madly in love with Lucy Moore. She is swept off her feet and in a hurry weds the persistent Oil man. In the flurry of rash decisions, Kyle’s best friend, Mitch, was left in the dust as he watched the girl he too was smitten with accept a ring from another man. Mitch hides his attraction for Lucy the best he can, but as time marches along and cracks begin to surface in the Hadley marriage, Lucy’s attraction for Mitch starts to show and the two find themselves truly fighting temptation. In the background, watching, is Kyle’s rebellious sister Marylee. She is a thorn in the family’s reputation, sleeping around and manipulating everyone she can to get what she wants. She has an obvious incestuous connection to her brother, more of mental incest than anything else, and she has harbored a fantasy affair with Mitch for many years. Maneuvering things to get what she wants, Marylee begins chipping away at the fabric of the family dimensions in order to come out on top.
|She ruins everything...|
Every frame is dripping wet with melodrama, to the point where it becomes very hard to take the film seriously, and yet it is in that near camp atmosphere that the film really glistens. It is memorable because of all the bad choices it makes. For me, the sorest spot is the film’s beginning, which fails to really establish a basis for the marriage between Kyle and Lucy, which really is the core of the film. Without believing in their love, the rest feels more inevitable than shocking, and they wanted shocking.
|The stars of the show!|
Still, Dorothy Malone is on fire as the femme fatale here, and she earned her Oscar 100%. Even better than her, though, is Robert Stack (who looked a lot like James Caan), who just filters through Kyle’s every emotion with pitch perfect calibration. His descent into drunken madness over the idea of his wife and his best friend running around behind his back is so desperate and so honest. I just wish that Hudson and Bacall weren’t so stiff here. Bacall was wonderful in everything I’ve seen her in, so charming and charismatic and mysteriously enticing and yet she did nothing of note here and failed to make Lucy a woman we could believe two men would fall head over heels for. Hudson was just a wooden box here, empty and stiff.
For what it is worth, this is a real hot mess of a film and one I recommend checking out despite its flaws. The atmosphere is enough to sell the thing, but those BIG moments and that finale really seal the deal. This is one of those bad movies that I can’t help but really like.
So, tomorrow is the last entry for this month, and we’ll be carrying on this soap operatic theme with another trashy film, this time incorporating a little bit of that ‘thriller’ vibe we talked about earlier. Tomorrow we’ll be talking about ‘A Kiss Before Dying’.