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Written on the Wind is a 1956 Americanmarker drama film directed by Douglas Sirk. The screenplay by George Zuckerman was based on Robert Wilder's 1945 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 Carolinamarker to Texasmarker, made the source of the family wealth oil rather than tobacco, and changed all the character names.


Self-destructive dipso-nymphomaniac Marylee (Malone) and her insecure alcoholic brother Kyle (Stack) are the offspring 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 successful personal relationship.

Problems ensue when Kyle's impulsive marriage to New York Citymarker executive secretary Lucy Moore (Bacall) begins to crumble and his childhood friend, and Marylee's long-time infatuation, Mitch Wayne (Hudson), a Hadley Oil geologist, becomes involved with their problems.

Kyle, diagnosed with a low sperm count, physically assaults Lucy when she announces her pregnancy, as he wrongly assumes her adultery with Mitch, who orders Kyle out of the house. Lucy's fall results in a miscarriage, and Mitch promises to leave town with her as soon as she's well enough to travel. On his return, a drunken Kyle recovers a pistol hidden by Mitch and aims the gun at him. 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 he killed her sibling, then tearfully redeems herself by admitting the truth. Mitch and Lucy depart, leaving Marylee to mourn the death of her brother and her broken dream.

Production notes

Dorothy Malone, a brunette previously best known for seducing Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) in The Big Sleep (1946), had more recently played small supporting roles in a long string of B movies, dyed her hair platinum blonde in order to shed her "nice girl" image to portray obsessive Marylee Hadley. Her Oscar-winning performance finally gave her cachet in the film industry.

Dorothy Malone attempts to seduce Rock Hudson in this scene from Written on the Wind
was the sixth of eight films Douglas Sirk made with Rock Hudson, and the most successful. Hudson, Malone, and Robert Stack worked so well together that the director reunited them for The Tarnished Angels (1958).

Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty also worked together six times prior to this film. He helped perfect the light and color effects associated with Sirk's greatest 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 Noel 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, who had loaned him to Universal International, organized block voting against him to prevent one of their contract players from winning an acting award while working at another studio.

The title song, written by Sammy Cahn and Victor Young, was sung by The Four Aces during the opening credits.

Principal cast

Critical reception

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times calls 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."

In his review in the New York Times, 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."

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."

Awards and nominations


  1. Written on the Wind at Turner Classic Movies
  2. Roger Ebert review
  3. New York Times review
  4. TV Guide review

External links

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