Greetings! I return, rejuvenated by the promise of change for my country and the end of some weird muggy weather we’ve had in New York lately. Although, that spunk was somewhat countered by the film – much like Bigger Than Life, this was another film I was dragging my feet on watching, thanks to the description. Written On The Wind was pitched to me as being about a love triangle among the heirs to an oil baron, which made the whole thing sound less like a film and more like a random episode of Dallas. Fortunately no one in the film was named “Bobby” or “J.R.”, and Lauren Bacall was one of the stars here – but the Douglas Sirk melodrama certainly made it feel kind of familiar to this Gen-X baby.
Bacall is “Lucy Moore”, who starts off as an executive assistant in the marketing department for Hadley Oil, the company founded by an old-school Texas oil baron Jasper Hadley. Jasper still keeps a tight hold on the company, since his two kids – son Kyle (Robert Stack) and daughter Marylee (Dorothy Malone) – are too busy partying. Fortunately, there is Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a childhood friend of Kyle and Marylee who’s grown up into a responsible, hard-working geologist in the company. It’s Mitch who meets Lucy first, when he drops by the New York office of Hadley oil and discovers her there. He was going to ask her boss to join him for lunch at 21 with Kyle, who’s spontaneously taken a private jet up from Texas; but the pretty and witty Lucy enchants him, and he makes it a date.
However, Kyle’s also just as enchanted with Lucy when he meets her. He’s also far more aggressive in his pursuit, talking Lucy onto his private jet for further adventures (unsuccessfully trying to ditch Mitch on the way). Lucy is nonplussed, and almost bails when Kyle tries flying the trio to Miami Beach for the weekend. But she’s caught off guard when Kyle drops the playboy act, admitting it’s been getting old. To Kyle and Lucy’s great surprise, she marries him.
Mitch and Marylee are equally as surprised. But Mitch is supportive – he still carries a torch for Lucy, but has to admit that she’s a good influence on him; he’s given up drinking and carousing, and is starting to actually buckle down and contribute to the company. Marylee isn’t as convinced that Kyle’s reformed – but she’s more bothered by Mitch’s pining for Lucy, since she’s pining for Mitch herself. If Kyle throws Lucy out, she thinks, it would also take Lucy away from Mitch – so when Kyle and Lucy hit a rough patch, she gets to work. The only trouble is, the loyal Lucy and the upright Mitch haven’t quite gotten over each other, which adds an unpredictable element to Marylee’s plans…
Y’all, typing that all out makes me feel like I’m in high school. This is shot beautifully, and the performances are all fine, but it all feels like overwrought and disposable mind candy, pretty people having exciting problems just so you can watch them and get distracted for a while and then forget the second you look away. The critic for the New York Times panned it, complaining that “nothing really happens, the complications within the characters are never clear and the sloppy, self-pitying fellow at the center of the whole thing is a bore.” I agree completely.
Interestingly, contemporary critics have argued that the heightened melodrama is kind of the point. Roger Ebert argued that Douglas Sirk was intentionally going camp, edging just up to the edge of incredulity as a way to poke fun at the melodramas that took themselves more seriously. “His interiors are wildly over the top, and his exteriors are phony—he wants you to notice the artifice, to see that he’s not using realism but an exaggerated Hollywood studio style…. 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.” Even if that is the case, that doesn’t change the fact that watching this film still requires sitting and watching pretty people have overwrought problems for 90 minutes, and….I’m fine not doing so. I wasn’t into the 80s prime-time soaps either anyway, for precisely the same reason.