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Written in the Wind: Criterion Collection (1956) - Blu-ray Review

Written in the Wind: Criterion Collection (1956)

“Are you looking for laughs…or are you soul searching?”

The reception of Douglas Sirk films have been…let’s say: mixed. Audiences of the time of its release in 1956 flocked to his pictures, but critics of the time dismissed his melodramas. They figured them as being too concerned with domestic issues – films that only appeal to the likes of ‘overly-emotional’ women. But with the progression of time, Sirk’s films gained new life among critics and film-lovers, and for good reason. 

"Sirk is a rather acquired taste, but hopefully the film will find new viewers that will recognize the director’s theatrical style with appreciation"


On the surface, Written on the Wind appears much like an afternoon soap opera that would make eyes roll. The heightened emotions. The excess of wealth. The lavish sets. The vibrant technicolor everywhere. He makes the sets, the colors, and even the people phony. He makes it all so phony that you cannot help but notice it. Everything is artificial. Nothing about it feels slightly natural. But that is exactly the point! Sirk is not going for naturalism. If you want to put a label on it, he is striving more for surrealism. In his own words, he would say it is an “apocalyptic” film – the downfall of American ‘royal’ family. 

The Hadley family is wealthier than wealthy. Being the children of an oil empire in Texas, Kyle and Marylee (Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone) have, of course, been absolutely spoiled limitless their whole lives. But…money doesn’t mean everything, nor can it hide everything when personal demons constantly cripple the lives of the Hadley children. When lifelong friend, Mitch Wayne (Brock Hudson) brings executive secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall) to a lunch meeting while visiting New York with Kyle, Kylie immediately begins to try and win her over. Though initially declining his advances, the two quickly marry after Kyle reveals his many vulnerabilities. Despite almost a year of somewhat bliss, Kyle’s demons cannot hide anymore, and the destruction of the family quickly ensues.Written in the Wind: Criterion Collection (1956)

Just like their surroundings, the characters are over-the-top and artificial. A little way into the film you will probably think, “there is no way people talk like this.” Well, they don’t. In fact, as you get further into the film, the director makes it blatantly obvious (with many different clues) that this film is intended as a type of satire – a commentary on the hollow middle and upper-class American life. If you think something is corny or too much, it is…to a purposefully ridiculous amount. There is the children’s voiceover as Marylee reminisces by the lake, thinking about those simple, innocent times. There is also Kyle’s breaking point when he finds out that he may be impotent, leading him back to his alcoholism and even talking in his sleep. Scenes like these cannot help make the audience laugh. Do not feel guilty for finding humor in their absurdity – the director would be happy for the laugh. And by the end, you will get your classic, generic, and predictable ending that is, well…happy? (You’ll see what I mean).

It is not your typical comedy, but whether you find satisfaction in the illogic and absurd or in the commentary on materialistic America, then you will enjoy it. Sirk is a rather acquired taste, but hopefully the film will find new viewers that will recognize the director’s theatrical style with appreciation. And after years in the collection, Criterion has finally updated spine #96 with a brand-new, stunning 2K restoration of this Hollywood classic.

4/5 stars

Written in the Wind: Criterion Collection (1956)

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Criterion
Available on Blu-ray
- February 1, 2022
Screen Formats: 2.00:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
LPCM Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

The Technicolor expressionism of Douglas Sirk reached a fever pitch with this operatic tragedy, which finds the director pushing his florid visuals and his critiques of American culture to their subversive extremes. Alcoholism, nymphomania, impotence, and deadly jealousy—these are just some of the toxins coursing through a massively wealthy, degenerate Texan oil family. When a sensible secretary (Lauren Bacall) has the misfortune of marrying the clan’s neurotic scion (Robert Stack), it drives a wedge between him and his lifelong best friend (Rock Hudson) that unleashes a maelstrom of psychosexual angst and fury. Featuring an unforgettably debauched, Oscar-winning supporting performance by Dorothy Malone and some of Sirk’s most eye-popping mise-en-scène, Written on the Wind is as perverse a family portrait as has ever been splashed across the screen.

Video

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the new 2K digital transfer is immaculate. The deep shades of the technicolor pop with a bold extravagance. No dirt, tears, or imperfections can be seen. You will never see a better-looking version of this film.

Audio

The new 2.0 uncompressed monaural soundtrack is clear and big! Frank Skinner’s haunting and dramatic soundtrack can clearly be heard as it cuts through the picture with a gusto. All in all, sounds fantastic.

Supplements:

The few things that Criterion has included on this release offers wonderful insight to the making of the film and also on some of director Douglas Sirk’s career. There is also a very educational analysis by a film scholar that will make you double up on the appreciation for this film.

Commentary:

Special Features:

Acting for Douglas Sirk, a 2008 documentary featuring archival interviews with Sirk; actors Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone; and producer Albert Zugsmith

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 4/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

4/5 stars


Film Details

Written in the Wind: Criterion Collection (1956)

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
99 mins
Director
: Douglas Sirk
Writer:
George Zuckerman
Cast:
Rock Hudson; Lauren Bacall; Robert Stack
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:
This woman in his arms was now the wife of the man he called his best friend!
Memorable Movie Quote: "To beauty, to truth which is anything but beautiful."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 25, 1956
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 1, 2022.
Synopsis: Alcoholism, nymphomania, impotence, and deadly jealousy—these are just some of the toxins coursing through a massively wealthy, degenerate Texan oil family. When a sensible secretary (Lauren Bacall) has the misfortune of marrying the clan's neurotic scion (Robert Stack), it drives a wedge between him and his lifelong best friend (Rock Hudson) that unleashes a maelstrom of psychosexual angst and fury

Art

Written in the Wind: Criterion Collection (1956)

 

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