At the Academy Awards ceremony on March 27, 1957, Dorothy Malone won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her torrid, over-the-top portrayal of a spoiled heiress of a Texas oil tycoon in WRITTEN ON THE WIND. The 1956 potboiler, adapted from Robert Wilder's novel , was a veritable three-ring-circus showcasing alcoholism, greed, impotence and nymphomania.
Malone's performance as Marylee Hadley , a lonely rich girl who picks up men to assuage the pain of rejection from a former childhood sweetheart, was representative of the movie as a whole. Mesmerizing to watch even as it resorts to the "lowest -common- denominator" melodrama, WRITTEN ON THE WIND is ultimately the work of one man, the incredibly gifted director Douglas Sirk, an émigré from pre -World War 2 Weimar Germany who left his European theater heritage behind to pursue a career in Hollywood.
An extremely erudite man, Sirk made a name for himself in the 1950's as Universal Studios' reliable director of lavish soap operas, most notably with Ross Hunter's productions of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION , ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS and IMITATION OF LIFE . Independent producer Albert Zugsmith offered Sirk the opportunity to work outside the limiting constraints of Universal's demure entertainments and create a more adult , "sensational" product , hence the sultry WIND and its follow-up, 1957's TARNISHED ANGELS, both released under the Universal International banner. It's anyone's guess why Sirk didn't pursue loftier themes, but apparently directing these exaggerated dramas appealed more to his artistic sensibilities. WRITTEN ON THE WIND could be considered Sirk's epic soap opera ; indeed, it is so rife with human vulnerability and neurosis as depicted among the very rich that it is as compelling to watch as any real life domestic squabble among the rich and famous, perhaps more so. Robert Stack (not an actor typically known for over -emoting) nearly matches Malone in intensity with his offering of the weak- willed brother Kyle Hadley, a mere shadow of his patriarchal father. When he finds out that he is unable to impregnate his new bride ( a beautifully leonine Lauren Bacall ) , Hadley goes off the deep end, escalating an already serious drinking problem with a "secret " gun fetish that threatens to make him a human time bomb. Both brother and sister, as venal and unlikeable as they are, are presented as victims of their past, giving them a human quality that makes them seem less monstrous ( and far more interesting than the 'good" side of the family, mainly Bacall and the impossibly handsome Rock Hudson , young Hadley's old boyhood friend and business associate, a surrogate son to the old man and Malone' s unattainable object of desire. ) Despite all the domestic co-dependency on display , it's not so much the story that is memorable here as the way it is filmed. With a real panache for pictorial composition and editing, director Sirk draws his audience into this picture with the most heightened Technicolor cinematography imaginable : every single shot in this film is an eye-filling canvas of saturated colors, from the sight of a tank-like pink Cadillac pulling up to an enormous mansion's front doors to the garish decor of a luxury Miami hotel , a spectrum of hues almost blinding in their diversity. Action and dramatic scenes feature Sirk's adept use of tilted camera angles , shadowy lighting and cross-cut editing , shown to greatest effect in the scene where a rebellious , drunken Malone dances uninhibitedly in her upstairs bedroom to the loud blaring of a record player while her stricken father precariously ascends the huge staircase ; the scene is so riveting that you swear you are experiencing a great oedipal drama unfold. What you're really watching is trash of an enormously entertaining kind, gussied up in lurid Technicolor and polished to perfection by a visual genius.