A couple weeks ago fellow classic movie fan, Crystal, invited me to be a participant in her blogathon, dedicated to the late, great actress, Lauren Bacall. I immediately said, “Yes!” To read other great posts on Ms. Bacall and her career, be sure to visit In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
Sometimes, even though it’s not the healthiest meal choice out there, you just want a burger, fries, and an ice cream sundae, with a soda chaser. It tastes great while you’re eating, but what all those calories and sodium and sugars will do to your body, you don’t want to know! The same can be said for some Hollywood movies: they are fun to watch, with over the top performances, a ridiculous plot, shot in bold technicolor and added stereophonic sound. The movie can be so bad, that it’s good-good for a mental escape from the real world for an hour or two. 1956’s Written on the Wind is one such movie-a colorful soaper, with Ms. Lauren Bacall as the brave heroine of this ensemble piece.
Written on the Wind existed first as a novel, written by Robert Wilder and published in 1945. It’s plot loosely based on scandals that had plagued the RJR Reynolds family of tobacco wealth. Wilder moved the location of the story from NC to TX and changed the family’s names and their fortune to oil. Universal-International bought the rights to make this best-seller into a movie and they hired Douglas Sirk to direct, and George Zuckerman to write the screenplay. Besides Bacall, the stars in this film included Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone(who is still with us today!), Robert Stack, and Robert Keith.
The plot isn’t too difficult to follow. Robert Keith is the patriarch of the wealthy TX oil family, the Hadley’s. Jasper Hadley(Keith) is a widower, he has tons of money, a gorgeous home, a very successful company, and two adult brats/losers for children. Those two, Marylee(Dorothy Malone) and Kyle(Robert Stack) belong in a mental ward: Marylee is an alcoholic nymphomaniac, and Kyle is an alcoholic jerk. These two horrible people have no real friends, just their partying crowd who probably like hanging out with the two richest kids they know, and I suppose that’s pretty sad if you dwell on that. Why these two drink like fishes isn’t really delved into, and Papa Jasper has pretty much washed his hands of them. They still get to live in the fabulous mansion, drive flashy cars, throw parties, and spend, spend, spend money. Stack and Malone are so great in their roles-they really gave these two icky characters flash and sparkle and tons of energy, despite being a couple of drunks for some of their scenes. It’s not much of a surprise that both were nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Actress Academy Awards, only Malone winning.
To counter-balance the wildness of Marylee and Kyle, we get two more characters: Miss Lucy Moore(Lauren Bacall) and Mitch Wayne(Rock Hudson). They are the stoic, wise, and quiet calm of this movie. Lucy is an executive secretary for the Hadley Company in NYC. She meets Kyle and Mitch( a geologist for the Hadley Company) when they jet there for a series of business meetings. Kyle falls head over heels for Lucy, and successfully wows her with suggesting they fly to Miami for the weekend. Lucy agrees, but when she sees all of the lavish gifts Kyle has sent to her hotel room, and the strong hint that he expects to be repaid that night, she sneaks out of the hotel to the airport to fly back to NYC. Mitch, who also is falling in love with Lucy, admires her virtue. Kyle finds out what Lucy’s done and races to the airport, promising to woo her correctly, and that he’s in love with her. After a whirlwind courtship, the two marry, Lucy gives up her job, and they arrive in TX to live at the Hadley estate.
Marylee has always been in love with Mitch, but has never been able to lure him into a relationship. She figures out that Mitch is in love with Lucy, and cruelly tells Kyle a lie, that Lucy and Mitch are having an affair. Her timing of the lie is bad enough-Kyle had been on the wagon, trying to be a good husband and son, but his wife wasn’t pregnant yet! He quietly consulted a doctor who tells him that Kyle’s sperm count is too low, and that he’ll probably never be a father!!! With the lie that Mitch is fooling around with his wife, Lucy, and Lucy eagerly telling Kyle that she’s going to have a baby-well, that’s the last straw!!! Kyle, who decided to get hammered with booze, thinks that the baby is probably Mitch’s and lashes out violently at poor Lucy.
I’m going to stop my relating of the film’s plot right there. To find out how this movie end’s you’ll have to find it and view it for yourself. It airs from time to time on TCM, there are quite a few clips of the movie on Youtube, including this opening sequence for the film. It is also available to purchase at Amazon, there are several dvds to choose from. It used to be available at their instant rent format, but isn’t now.
Lauren Bacall, in the mid-1950s, didn’t want to make this movie, but her husband, classic film actor Humphrey Bogart, convinced her to go ahead and make it. I’m glad that he did. It’s a different role for Bacall. In past roles, she played the tough-talking sexy gal who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid of anyone to get what she wanted. In this film, while not a mouse, she plays a much quieter character, a polite, sensible lady who wants her new husband to change his bad habits and to become a successful man. She’s willing to help him achieve this goal, and she’s so supportive. Goodness just radiates from her persona. Rock Hudson is also good, as Mitch, who secretly loves Lucy from afar, and doesn’t want to be a homewrecker. He knows Marylee is no good, and tries several times to tell her he’s not interested in her. Oh beware the woman scorned, Mitch!
For a great movie to sink into, to escape from your troubles for a while, to probably see the granddaddy-or perhaps great-granddaddy of 1980s tv prime time soapers such as Dallas, Knot’s Landing, and Dynasty, find Written on the Wind!