Bathed in lurid Technicolor, melodrama maestro Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind is the stylishly debauched tale of a Texas oil magnate brought down by the excesses of his spoiled offspring. Features an all-star quartet that includes Robert Stack as a pistol-packin’ alcoholic playboy; Lauren Bacall as his long-suffering wife; Rock Hudson as his earthy best friend; and Dorothy Malone (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance) as his nymphomaniac sister. —The Criterion Collection
The film director Douglas Sirk, whose reputation blossomed in the generation after his 1959 retirement from Hollywood filmmaking, was born Hans Detlef Sierck on April 26, 1900, in Hamburg, Germany to a journalist. Both of his parents were Danish, and the future director would make movies in German, Danish and English. His reputation, which was breathed to life by the French nouvelle vague critiques who developed the “auteur” (author) theory of film criticism, casts him one of the cinema’s great ironists. In his American and European films, his characters perceive their lives quite differently than does the movie audience viewing “them” in a theater. Dealing with love, death and societal constraints, his films often depend on melodrama, particularly the high suds soap operas he lensed for producer Ross Hunter in the 1950s: Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), and his last American film, Imitation of Life (1959). (Sirk’s favorite American film was the Western… read more
Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" is one of my favorite movies of the 1950's but that viewing experience in no way prepared me for "Written on the Wind," which surprisingly came just a year later. This is the trashiest and kitschiest film I've ever seen, so over the top and campy it makes "Spider-Man 3" look like a Merchant-Ivory production. The always creepy Robert Stack is able to sell us on his character's spiraling alcoholism, but it's Dorothy Malone who truly steals the show; her Oscar-winning(!) performance runs the gamut from grotesque to pitiable and back again. This is a melodrama with all of its elements turned up to 11: the Technicolor scenery is positively lurid here and the orchestral soundtrack rarely catches a break. As garish and hard to watch as this psychodrama can be, there's no denying "Written on the Wind" is instantly memorable.
Four clips from the cinema of cabaret: Chabrol, Godard, Sternerg, Sirk.
Above: Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in John M. Stahl's When Tomorrow Comes. Anthology Film Archives is performing a public service by showing
The French do love their Douglas Sirk, it would seem. Here in America, acquiring a Region 1 Sirk library involves a bit of cherry-picking—get