Written on the Wind (1956)

Written on the Wind PosterFinally, a movie that dramatizes the shame of being a rich alcoholic guy with a low sperm count!

The Hadley family is in the oil business and practically run the small Texas town that shares their name. The patriarch, Jasper Hadley, tries in vain to keep his kids in line while trying to run his oil business, but he’s an old, used up man, barely living with the disappointment of messed up kids.

Jasper has a son played by Robert Stack. His name is Kyle and he has a passel of issues that manifest themselves in highly dramatic ways. For instance, he’s a drinker who sleeps with a gun under his pillow and he hates himself for never being able to please his father.

He also hates his father because he always feels like Jasper liked his best friend Mitch better. And he hates his best friend Mitch because Mitch is more stable and had a regular old loving father. (We know that Mitch’s dad is one of those solid salt of the Earth types because he goes hunting with Mitch and is always asking Mitch if he needs to talk about what’s on his mind.)

In addition to these standard issue issues, while not exactly shooting blanks, Kyle’s gun that he’s hiding in his pants isn’t exactly fully loaded with buckshot either. You can imagine what that does to a fellow who already feels like a worthless piece of crap. But I’m sure the booze will make him feel better and think rationally about the problem. And the gun fetish should take his mind off things as well.

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Jasper’s other kid, Marylee (Dorothy Malone), is acting out in her own way and causes him more trouble while he’s alive than Kyle does. (Kyle at least respects his dad enough that he waits to melt down until after Jasper croaks.)

Marylee is a nympho who throws herself at every guy in town and this usually results in Mitch and Kyle getting a phone call from the barkeep to come down and get her before she hooks up with some barfly. But it isn’t really all these losers she wants, but Mitch.

So who is this Mitch and what’s so danged great about him that Jasper wishes he was his son, that Kyle resents him for being an all-American man, and that Marylee lets herself get laid more times than reusable bathroom tile just to get his attention?

He’s Rock Hudson and once you get a gander at the square jaw and perfect hair, you’ll realize that skinny guys with wavy hair like Robert Stack will always be known as “that guy who hosted Unsolved Mysteries and appeared in a Rock Hudson movie.”

Rock plays Mitch Wayne, a geologist for Hadley oil (Rock as a geologist! These movies sure had a certain flair, didn’t they?) who is a decent, smart guy. He grew up with Kyle and Marylee and Jasper wants Mitch to marry Marylee, but Mitch only loves her like a sister.

And wading into this Texas-sized mess is Lauren Bacall as an executive secretary at some magazine. Her name is Lucy and Mitch falls instantly in love with her.

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Even though Mitch is a great guy and looks like Rock Hudson, Lucy ends up marrying Kyle. This made little sense since Lucy knew Kyle all of about two days and what she knew of him was that he was a rather insincere, smooth talking operator who liked to throw his money around in an effort to impress women.

Maybe Lucy didn’t need to know anything about Kyle beyond the fact that he liked to spend money on her, but why then was Mitch in love with her? Being a good guy, he surely wouldn’t have taken a shine to her if he knew she was that shallow, would he?

That’s really the problem with a movie like this. You’ve got to set up a love triangle, but if one of the guys is great and one of them is a nutter, how do you make it so that the woman picks the nutter over the good guy and not make her look like a moron?

Luckily for us, the movie isn’t all that interested in fleshing out Lucy’s character, so we don’t have to wonder about her motivations. We can just pretend she was there as a catalyst for all the seething hate and feelings of inferiority of both Kyle and Marylee to come to the surface.

Early on in their marriage, Kyle cleans up his act by not drinking and losing his interest in firearms. Things start to come apart though once Kyle gets the news from the doctor that he’s a little low on his man juice and he does what any self-respecting half-man would do – BENDER!

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He also allows himself to be manipulated by the insanely jealous Marylee into believing that Mitch and Lucy are having an affair, a belief only exacerbated when Lucy tells him that even though he’s kind of iffy in the bedroom, she’s white-trash fertile and pregnant anyway! Kyle believes this to be Mitch’s baby and goes insane!

Rock Hudson and director Douglas Sirk previously teamed up on All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession and if you’re familiar with those films, then whether you’ll find this one worth you time is an easy call to make.

You know how it works: Rock Hudson is the hunk you root for to triumph over various plot twists straight out of Days Of Our Lives. Every scene is played up with exaggerated emotion and import (movies like this have no time for subtlety – not when you need to move straightaway to the next crisis) and sometimes the characters suffer for it, seemingly only pieces to be moved through one situation to the next.

On the other hand, these movies are gorgeous to look at (it’s the kind of movie where leaves blow all around inside the beautifully polished mansion and where everybody drives brightly colored sports cars) and stocked with big time actors who don’t have any problems wringing as much as humanly possibly from the overheated script. (Both Stack and Malone were nominated for Oscars in this and Malone actually won.)

If lush, old style soap operas with bona fide movie stars are your bag, this one’s for you. I know I never turn down a chance to see guys with low sperm counts go on a rampage.

© 2014 MonsterHunter

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