I guess I am a bit stupid. I read the comments on “Written on the Wind” about how this is a subversive and clever movie, appreciated belatedly by critics some time in the seventies, but I do not get it. “Written on the Wind” is “Dynasty” set and made in the fifties. It is soap. Funny and witty at times, melodramatic at others, exaggerated, trashy and flashy. To me it reminded me more than anything about the cheap novels mass produced for women. Subversive and clever? Hmmm… help me out here, please.
Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall) is working in advertisement for Hadley Oil when she is discovered by Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), a rich playboy who wows to give up his lifestyle if that will win her over. Lucy is generally unimpressed, but ends up sympathetic to Kyle and voila, they are married, much to the chagrin of Kyle’s childhood friend and buddy Mitch (Rock Hudson), who has also taken a liking to her.
Kyle is a bad boy, or at least makes a show of being bad. Actually he is terribly weak and always feel inferior to smart, controlled and handsome Mitch. All Kyle has is his money. As son and heir of Hadley Oil that amounts to a lot of money. Lucy is about the first real success he ever had that was not due to his money.
Marylee Hadley (Dorothy Malone), Kyle’s sister is really badass, vicious, scheming and not bothered by trivial things like conscience and common sense. But then again she is also terribly childish and weak. Her viciousness is primarily a means to get attention and out of bitterness that she cannot have Mitch. As a result she tries to ruin everything for everybody, her father, brother, Mitch and Lucy and she is largely successful.
Things fall apart for Kyle when he finds out he cannot get children. Maybe a final failure too many, maybe his life in a nutshell. Anyway, he cracks up and starts drinking again. When Lucy then gets pregnant after all he is sure Mitch is the father and he decides Mitch is to blame for all his failings. Actually Kyle is the father, but he is too far out to realize that. In his raging madness he hits Lucy into a miscarriage, estranging her and ends up shooting himself. That is actually what we see in the opening sequence. The rest is a court drama to see if Marylee will point a finger at Mitch or tell what really happened.
There is not really that much to it. The rich are corrupt and the real hero is the hard working guy who did not have the advantage of money, but instead tons of integrity. When the family implodes he is the only one left standing. Give him Rock Hudson’s physique and this is fast becoming very predictable.
I am unimpressed with the story and even less impressed with the script. Especially the first half is artificial in the extreme. Nobody speaks like that outside a telenovela, not even in “Dynasty”. Fortunately the acting on the most part compensates for that. Rob Stack and Dorothy Malone both put the pedal to the metal and take rich kid lunacy to new heights. It did earn Malone an Academy Award for Supporting Actress and it was a deserved one. Rock Hudson is just being a picture of himself, strangely anonymous, but worst is Lauren Bacall. I had so looked forward to see her again, but I suppose there was a good reason why her career was slumping. Her performance is incredibly wooden and cold as if she is not really there. She is supposed to be tough and the common sense outsider to watch the Hadleys implode, but she appear to be the resident valium addict and almost disappears out of the story after the initial courtship.
As you probably have guessed soaps are not really my thing. Romances can be intriguing and moving, but the escapades of the rich is just uninteresting and blown up as it is here I just cannot get sold on it.
What is worse, I cannot figure out what is that special value of the movie. What am I missing here?
Maybe if Lucy combined with Marylee and Mitch with Kyle we would have two characters that were both alive and equipped with a modicum of integrity. Then they would be almost normal.