Saturday, May 5, 2012

Oooh, another hilariously overwrought film from Douglas Sirk!

TCM is showing the delightfully melodramatic Written on the Wind at midnight tonight. From the very start, you know that this is going to be a fun movie: Robert Stack rapidly and drunkenly drives his sports car to one of those lovely southern mansions, and runs in. Shots ring out, and we see Lauren Bacall shot and Stack staggering out of the house. And all of this is only over the opening credits....

Flash back, thanks to the help of the cinematic device of the pages of a page-a-day calendar flipping in reverse, about a year. Robert Stack plays Kyle Hadley, the scion of a Texas oilman (Robert Keith) who is expected to take over the firm in the future, but right now would rather just be a playboy, chasing every woman he meets. Looking after Kyle is the much more sensible Mitch (Rock Hudson), who has been Kyle's "best friend since childhood". (Personally, I wonder where there were supposed to be some homosexual overtones here. The film is rife with sexual overtones, as you'll soon see.) Mitch came from the wrong side of the tracks, but it seems as if the elder Hadley likes him more, something which causes more resentment by Kyle. (It probably leads to more of Kyle's sexual problems, too: he's got serious daddy issues.) Mitch's other job is to look after Kyle's sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone, who won an Oscar for this role). In continuation of the sexual tension, Marylee has just as high a sex drive as Kyle, and she's trying to woo every man in town, something which drives both male Hadleys nuts. Indeed, Kyle is constantly looking for a gun to deal with people who would go after Marylee, even if in fact it's she who is going after the guys. Did I mention there's a lot of sexual overtones here?

All that plot isn't enough. I mentoined that we see Lauren Bacall getting shot in the opening credits, and she eventually shows up as Lucy Moore, an advertising artist. Kyle being the playboy that he is, immediately falls or her and tries to bed her. Mitch likes her too and wouldn't mind being in love with her, except that Kyle comes first. Lucy is a bit wary of Kyle, but eventually decides to elope with him. Kyle tries to get her pregnant but finds out from the doctor that he's got a "problem" (we'd guess a low sperm count, although the Production Code wouldn't let the filmmakers be explicit) that makes it significantly less likely, but not impossible, that Kyle will ever knock up Lucy. Meanwhile, he's beginning to get jealous of Mitch. Fast forward a few months and, miracle of miracles, Lucy gets pregnant by Kyle. At least, Lucy swears up and down to Mitch that Kyle is the father. Lucy realizes that Kyle won't believe this, which I suppose is understandable, and that Kyle will accuse Mitch of infidelity. After all, Mitch does spend entirely too much time with the rest of the Hadleys.

Oh good lord is this whole film sexually charged. But it's this whole attitude of "Let's beat the viewer over the head with more nonsensical sexual innuendo!" that makes Written on the Wind so much fun. It's gotten a DVD release, although as part of the Criterion Collection, so it's a bit pricey.

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