Written on the Wind

Written on the Wind is a 1956 American Technicolor melodrama film directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone.

Written on the Wind
Original poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byDouglas Sirk
Produced byAlbert Zugsmith
Screenplay byGeorge Zuckerman
Based onWritten on the Wind
by Robert Wilder
StarringRock Hudson
Lauren Bacall
Robert Stack
Dorothy Malone
Music byFrank Skinner
CinematographyRussell Metty
Edited byRussell F. Schoengarth
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • October 18, 1956 (1956-10-18) (London)
  • December 25, 1956 (1956-12-25) (United States)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4.3 million (US and Canada rentals)[3]

The screenplay by George Zuckerman was based on Robert Wilder's 1946 novel of the same name, a thinly disguised account of the real-life scandal involving torch singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds. Zuckerman shifted the locale from North Carolina to Texas, made the source of the family wealth oil rather than tobacco, and changed all the characters' names.


Self-destructive, alcoholic nymphomaniac Marylee (Dorothy Malone) and her insecure, alcoholic playboy brother Kyle (Robert Stack) are the children of Texas oil baron Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith). Spoiled by their inherited wealth and crippled by their personal demons, neither is able to sustain a personal relationship.

Problems ensue after Kyle's impulsive marriage to New York City executive secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), who becomes a steadying influence to his life through the first few months after they meet. Kyle resumes drinking after being unsuccessful in fathering a baby. He turns against his childhood friend, Marylee's long-time infatuation, Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a geologist for the oil company. Kyle's anger and depression grow after the death of his father, who admired Mitch but was disgusted with the behavior of his two heirs.

Mitch is secretly in love with Lucy. He keeps these feelings private until Kyle, having been diagnosed with a low sperm count, physically assaults Lucy when she announces her pregnancy, wrongly assuming it to be the result of adultery with Mitch. Lucy's fall results in a miscarriage. Mitch vows to leave town with her as soon as she's well enough to travel. On his return, a drunken Kyle recovers a hidden pistol and intends to shoot Mitch. Marylee struggles with her brother for the weapon, but it accidentally fires, killing him.

Repeatedly spurned by the man she claims to love, a spiteful Marylee threatens to implicate Mitch in Kyle's death. At the inquest, she first testifies that he killed her sibling. But she tearfully redeems herself at the last second by admitting the truth. Mitch and Lucy depart, leaving Marylee to mourn the death of her brother and run the company alone.


Production notes

Dorothy Malone, a brunette previously best known as the brainy bespectacled bookstore clerk in a scene with Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946), had more recently played small supporting roles in a long string of B movies. For this film she dyed her hair platinum blonde in order to shed her "nice girl" image in portraying the obsessive Marylee Hadley. Her Oscar-winning performance finally gave her cachet in the film industry.

Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty worked together six times prior to this film. He helped perfect the light and color effects associated with Sirk's films.

Lauren Bacall, whose film career was foundering, accepted the relatively non-flashy role of Lucy Moore at the behest of her husband Humphrey Bogart. At the same time she was shooting Wind, she was preparing for a television adaptation of Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit, co-starring Coward and Claudette Colbert. In 2005, she accepted the Frontier Award on behalf of the film from the Austin Film Society, which annually makes inductions into the Texas Film Hall of Fame recognizing actors, directors, screenwriters, filmmakers, and films from, influenced by, or inspired by the Lone Star State.

Stack felt the primary reason he lost the Oscar to Anthony Quinn (whose winning performance in Lust for Life was less than ten minutes long) was that 20th Century Fox, which had loaned him to Universal-International, organized block voting against him to prevent one of its contract players from winning an acting award while working at another studio.[4]

The title song, written by Sammy Cahn and Victor Young, was sung by The Four Aces during the opening credits. The film's score was composed by Frank Skinner.

This was the sixth of eight films Douglas Sirk made with Rock Hudson, and the most successful. Sirk reunited key cast members Hudson, Stack and Malone for The Tarnished Angels (1957), his film about early aviators based upon William Faulkner's novel Pylon.

This title was one of the very few "flat wide screen" (FWS) titles to be printed "direct to matrix" by Technicolor. This specially ordered 35mm printing process was intended to maintain the highest possible print quality, as well as protecting the negative. Other notable examples of such FWS printing by Technicolor includes Giant (1956).

Critical reception

Upon release

In his review in The New York Times upon the initial release of the film, Bosley Crowther said, "The trouble with this romantic picture ... is 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".[5]

Modern criticism

In 1998, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "a perverse and wickedly funny melodrama in which you can find the seeds of Dallas, Dynasty, and all the other prime-time soaps. Sirk is the one who established their tone, in which shocking behavior is treated with passionate solemnity, while parody burbles beneath ... To appreciate a film like Written on the Wind probably takes more sophistication than to understand one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces, because Bergman's themes are visible and underlined, while with Sirk the style conceals the message. 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 ... Films like this are both above and below middle-brow taste. 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. William Inge and Tennessee Williams were taken with great seriousness during the decade, but Sirk kids their Freudian hysteria".[6]

TV Guide describes the film as "the ultimate in lush melodrama," "Douglas Sirk's finest directorial effort," and "one of the most notable critiques of the American family ever made".[7]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress Dorothy Malone Won
Best Supporting Actor Robert Stack Nominated
Best Original Song Written on the wind, by Victor Young & Sammy Cahn Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress Dorothy Malone Nominated

See also


  1. Written on the Wind at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. British Newspaper Archive
  3. Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All-Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. p. M196.
  4. "Written on the Wind (1957) - Overview - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  5. Crowther, Bosley. "Movie Review : Screen: Sad Psychosis; 'Written on the Wind' Opens at Capitol". Movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  6. Ebert, Roger. "Written on the Wind Movie Review (1956)". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  7. "Written On The Wind". TVGuide.com. Retrieved 22 September 2017.


  • Evans, William: Written on the Wind: London: BFI/Palgrave Macmillan: 2013
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