Douglas Sirk

Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Robert Wilder. Scen.: George Zuckerman. F.: Russell Metty. M.: Russell F. Schoengarth. Scgf.: Alexander Golitzen, Robert Clatworthy. Mus.: Frank Skinner. Int.: Rock Hudson (Mitch Wayne), Lauren Bacall (Lucy Moore Hadley), Robert Stack (Kyle Hadley), Dorothy Malone (Marylee Hadley), Robert Keith (Jasper Hadley), Grant Williams (Biff Miley), Robert J. Wilke (Dan Willis), Edward C. Platt (Dr. Paul Cochrane). Prod.: Albert Zugsmith per Universal-International Pictures Co. █ 35mm. D.: 100’. Technicolor.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

“A study of failure”. That’s how Sirk defined Written on the Wind, saying that he preferred the French term échec to the English word failure as it better expresses the tragic sense of no exit. “Échec is indeed one of the few themes which interest me passionately”. No romanticism, no concession to the myth of the loser. Even in its sumptuous stylization, Written on the wind is colored by decay and ruin. We’re in Texas, with machines constantly extracting oil with a squeaking lament, reminiscent of the rhythms and lament of generations of slaves; Villa Hadley is the last replica of innumerable colonial mansions, and the swirling dry leaves everywhere seem to have been swept in by the wind from Tara. An American tragedy where everything has already happened, but we can be sure tomorrow will not be another day: “I wanted my films to show tragedies are starting over again, always and always”.
Sirk had the best possible cast, and he knew how to use them. He tones down the romantic couple, Rock and Lauren, just letting them irradiate their divine light at every appearance, and takes the two rich, unhappy and corrupt Hadley heirs, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone, to the extreme. A ruthless, powerful rhetoric describes the irreparable wound of not being appreciated by one’s own father, the pathetic utopia of returning to an innocent childhood (which never was), of sexual frustration cultivated like a weed and of alcohol’s gloomy consolation. As always, colors play their part: Lauren Bacall’s elegant carriage has a background of white flowers, red, insolent anthuriums split the frame with Dorothy Malone, who dances her “dance of death” (Fassbinder) undressing and redressing herself with pink veils, your everyday bad girl transformed into a combination of Salomè and Lady Macbeth. In the end, the movie belongs to her and her solitude: the scene in which she caressingly holds a model oil tower has been read by Truffaut (and by everyone after him) as ironic sexual compensation, but Sirk simply said it was: “a rather frightening symbol of American society”. Because the colors are there, but they seem like brushstrokes on a black canvas. Because Written on the Wind is, to borrow the words of Fassbinder again, a dark glowing story “about love, death and America”.

Paola Cristalli

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