Written on the Wind

(Douglas Sirk, USA, 1956)


Robert Stack, in a drunken rage, smashes a booze bottle against a wall. Lauren Bacall, at her bedroom curtain, faints. Gunshots, death, tears. And on the soundtrack, a male chorus begins singing: "Our night of stolen bliss was written on the wind". From its first moments, this is the Hollywood melodrama that contains all others, in an electric, condensed and powerfully lyrical fashion.

Written on the Wind is about the twisted, fatal connections between sex, power and money. Characters are arranged into inverted mirror images of each other, good facing evil – but everyone, ultimately, inhabits a complex, contradictory position in the impossible scheme of things.

Dorothy Malone, as the quintessential bad girl who drinks, smokes, loves jazz, picks up guys at oil derricks and sends her father plummeting down the stairs, is particularly riveting.

Douglas Sirk specialised in films that were once dismissed by highbrows and lowbrows alike as 'women's weepies'. When they were finally rediscovered in the early '70s at film festivals around the world, the audaciousness and true subversiveness of his work was appreciated for the first time.

Few films are at once as visceral and insightful as this – a soap opera with passion, seriousness and intelligence. Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven (2002) does not even begin to approach its greatness.

© Adrian Martin April 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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