Director Douglas Sirk’s 1956 film Written On the Wind is a steamy melodrama about a wealthy Texas oil family and the tragic events that lead to each members self-destruction. The story focuses on Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), the self-pitying, self-destructive rich boy alcoholic who is a complete dissapointment to his father (Robert Keith). Kyle’s sister, the equally spoiled Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is an unstable, nymphomaniacal seductress who finds unrequited love with Kyle’s “good guy” best friend, Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson). Mitch, taken in by the Hadley’s as a boy, is the lone success story of the 3 “siblings”- he’s smart, hard working and becomes a geologist for the family’s lucrative oil business. While on a business trip, Mitch meets and falls for the virtuous, level-headed New York advertising secretary, Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall). Not to sit idly by, the aggressive Kyle blasts his way into Lucy’s life and eventually sweeps her off her feet. After a surprisingly blissful start to their marriage, Kyle and Lucy begin to experience discord and Kyle reverts back to his alcoholic ways. As Mitch and Lucy draw closer to one another, the family’s self-implosion is certain-as one bombshell after another is dropped on the unsuspecting clan. Taken as a serious drama, this overwrought, button-pusher of a film is truly silly. But when it’s viewed in high-gloss camp mode-with it’s over the top performances, fantastic visuals (a yellow sportscar races through the landscape amongst pumping, phallic oil wells), and well-played plot twists- the film works surprisingly well.
Written on the Wind earned three Academy Award nominations. Robert Stack scored a Best Supporting Actor nomination as the rich, temperamental drunkard, Kyle Hadley. Another nomination went to the film for it’s corny theme song, “Written on the Wind.” The final nomination (and the film’s only Oscar win) went to first-time Oscar nominee Dorothy Malone, winner, (137), for her work as the scheming viper Marylee Hadley. Frocked in horribly ostentacious outfits, Malone’s Marylee is pure trashy camp- and in this film, it goes over like gangbusters. Malone’s fiercely realized performance is anchored by three scenes in particular- the final courtroom scene, the lurid lake scene with Mitch, and the sexually-driven mambo scene (in which she feverishly dances while a member of her family gasps his last breath) are all brilliantly realized and are the very definition of range (not to mention Oscar bait) for a Best Supporting Actress. Although Malone dances along the edges of over the top showiness, her giddy portrayal of the seductive Marylee is nothing short of what we would expect from a seriously troubled vamp.