Monday, June 1, 2009

The Great Movies: "Written on the Wind"



Written on the Wind
Douglas Sirk, 1956

Written on the Wind is a melodrama about passion, alcohol, sex, scandal, and death in a wealthy Texas oil family, and it was apparently a wildly successful piece of mass-market entertainment on its original release. Snooty intellectual types -- you know what those effete eggheads are like -- criticized it as "pop trash," shallow, lurid, and overwrought. Ebert also says, though, that real sophisticates recognize this film as a work of rare genius:

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.... Films like this are both above and below middle-brow taste. If you only see the surface, it's trashy soap opera. If you can see the style, the absurdity, the exaggeration and the satirical humor, it's subversive of all the 1950s dramas that handled such material solemnly.
It's well made, for sure. But really, I thought it was pretty much shallow, lurid, and overwrought. So much for my real sophistication.

The Plot: Spoiled rich playboy type reforms his life with the help of a good woman. Then his doctor tells him he has a low sperm count and he flips out, because apparently they didn't have adoption in the 1950s or something. Then there's a lot of drinkin' and fightin' and at one point a gun goes off, and everyone looks very stern and serious and well-dressed.

The Visuals: Everything seems to be filmed on big-budget soap opera sets, which I guess is part of the exquisite irony of the whole thing. We're told that the great Spanish director Alvomodar is a huge fan of Written on the Wind. In Alvomodar's films, I more or less get the high culture/low culture riffing. Here in Written, though, it just feels like somebody spent too much money on a soap opera.

The Dialog: Fairly plausible colloquial dialog, delivered by a strong cast that includes Lauren Bacall and Rock Hudson. Dorothy Malone shines as the evil rich girl; you can tell she's bad because she sleeps around and likes that bossa nova that the kids are into these days. The best scene in the movie has her joyfully boogying down in her dressing gown while her dad, plodding upstairs to tell her to turn that damn music down, drops dead of a heart attack.

Prognosis: This is by no means a terrible movie, but at the same time I have a hard time thinking whom I would recommend it to.

5 comments:

Elaine said...

MMM, now I need to watch this movie! But, M5000, I am sure it was the Samba; you can't blame anything on the Bossa Nova til the 60's.

BTW, loved the links for the Book Makers Guild show, sent them to our son (Cinti) and my sister (Atl)...Thanks!

Eversaved said...

Hey just a gentle spelling nudge...that Spanish director we all adore is Pedro Almodovar (accent over the second o, but I don't know how to do that on blogger), not Alvomodar.

On the bright side: If you do a google search for "Alvomodar," your blog is the first thing that pops up!

Rebel said...

"If you only see the surface, it's trashy soap opera. If you can see the style, the absurdity, the exaggeration and the satirical humor, it's subversive of all the 1950s dramas that handled such material solemnly."

This is the kind of thing snobs say when they just want to watch trashy soap operas.

It's like reading Cosmo "with purely a detached sociological interest in the uni-dimensional portrayal of women in the print media."

Michael5000 said...

@Elaine: I have never been able to keep my mid-century Latin dance crazes straight. It does seem like it would be fun to blame something on the bossa nova, though.

@Eversaved: I can't for the life of me keep that name straight.

@Reb: Niiiice Cosmo quote.

andrea said...

Me! I like this! I prefer All That Heaven Allows, though.