Written on the Wind (1956)
|Year Of Production||1956|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (42:21)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Douglas Sirk|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Robert J. Wilke
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.85:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||English for the Hearing Impaired||Smoking||Yes|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Ultra-wealthy Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), scion of an oil family, woos and weds Lucy (Lauren Bacall) from under the nose of his friend and colleague Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson). But all is not right in the Hadley clan. Father Jasper (Robert Keith) has spent all his time making money and has not raised his children well: Kyle is an alcoholic who, though he sleeps with a pistol under his pillow, fires blanks in other departments ("a certain weakness" means he is unlikely to father children), while his sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is a nymphomaniac who has the hots for Mitch. Mitch just looks on her as a sister.
Just about all of these characters are tortured: Jasper by his failure to raise his children properly, Mitch by his love for Lucy, Marylee by hers for Mitch, and Kyle by his being less than a man. The film opens with a shot, a man staggering out of the Hadley mansion and collapsing to the ground. We are then taken back to the day that Lucy, Kyle and Mitch met, and most of the film is told in flashback.
If you thought that some films or filmmakers were overanalysed, then welcome to the world of Douglas Sirk. Born Hans Detlef Sierck in Germany in 1897, he directed several films in his native Germany, including a couple with the most popular female star of the era, Zarah Leander. His second wife was Jewish, however, so in the late 1930s he fled Germany for America. His son from his first marriage remained in Germany with his mother and was killed on the Russian front. Sierck changed his name to the less Germanic Douglas Sirk and began his Hollywood directing career in the 1940s. In the 1950s he became Universal's house director of so-called women's pictures, turning out about one per year until ill-health and disillusionment with Hollywood forced his retirement. He settled in Switzerland where he died in 1987.
Most of his 1950s melodramas were produced by Ross Hunter, though this one was produced by the aptly-named Albert Zugsmith. Typically they were lush affairs, immensely popular but derided by critics. The critical tide has turned volte face since. Critics see in his work a critique of American society: its materialism and its hypocritical attitudes towards sex. This is achieved not only by a heightened sense of melodrama but also by the use of colour and symbolism. Sirk himself confirmed that this was what he was attempting, clandestinely while working with Hunter (whom he reportedly called "clueless") but with the tacit approval of Zugsmith.
There are any number of examples of what the critics are referring to in this film. When Marylee finds Mitch alone in the dark whilst a party is going on elsewhere in the mansion, she switches the light on to reveal he is lying back and holding a ukulele in a very suggestive way. Kyle's "problem" is ironic given the omnipresent symbols of his father's virility, the towering oil rigs. He also drives a bright yellow sports car, suggesting a cowardly streak. Marylee drives a bright red car, signifying both danger and sexuality. Lucy dresses in demure greens and browns, Mitch in manly blues and Kyle in dull greys. When Kyle is courting Lucy, he is briefly bathed in a red light, perhaps suggesting to the audience the danger that he represents. And Mitch is always lighting up a cigarette, a symbol of his virility (we never see Kyle smoking).
It is also suggested that the sets are meant to indicate the surface glamour but lack of substance of the wealthy, with impressive but sterile backdrops against which the emotional dramas are played out. However it should be pointed out that Universal was not noted for sparing no expense in dressing their films, so perhaps this is just one of those happy accidents.
This is an at times brilliantly directed film, with many distinctive touches. The sequence where Jasper, finally convinced that his daughter is a tramp, struggles up the stairs against the intercut shots of Marylee dancing lewdly to a record of Temptation, and ultimately falls as if destroyed by her lusts, is one of the best directed and edited sequences in 1950s American cinema.
All this is set against a backdrop of intense, over-the-top melodrama, played to the hilt by the stars. Although Lauren Bacall seems rather bland, Rock Hudson gives one of his best performances, convincing people that he could actually act. Egged on by Sirk, Robert Stack is deliberately over the top as Kyle, and, although the mechanics of acting sometimes show, Dorothy Malone is superb as the nymphomaniac Marylee, which would win her the Supporting Actress Academy Award. You probably would not recognise Robert Keith as being the father of Brian Keith (which he was). He is appropriately world-weary and despairing in his brief role as the Hadley patriarch. Also of note is Russell Metty's superb Technicolor cinematography, beautifully transferred here.
It is impossible to take this sort of movie entirely seriously. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the plot twists and visual images presented. Perhaps that wasn't the original intention of the filmmakers, but it makes for a highly entertaining and rich cinematic experience, of a kind that seems to have been virtually lost to American cinema. Critical subtext is something that seems to be lacking in most movies in recent times, and even Todd Haynes' recent paean to Sirk, Far From Heaven, captures the look but not the feel of the director's work. I can't find the quote, but someone remarked that it had the subtext brought to the front, which is possible in these more enlightened times but also makes for a less stimulating experience (fine though Far From Heaven is). Sirk is also an acknowledged influence on European directors like Fassbinder and Almodovar, though again neither has the depth of social critique found in Sirk's films.
Given the importance and influence of Sirk, it is disappointing that this film gets a bare-bones release. Region 4 deserves more.
The film is transferred in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.
It is hard to imagine a transfer much better than this. The entire movie looks superb with hardly any problems to note. A high level of detail is visible, and while shadow detail is perhaps slightly murky it is of no consequence. Contrast levels are excellent. I note from a comparison with the Region 1 release on DVDBeaver that that release is supposedly a good deal brighter than the Region 2. The Region 4, presumably exactly the same as the Region 2, stills looks bright and vivid.
The colour transfer of the Technicolor original is also excellent. The sports cars, Kyle's bright yellow one and Marylee's bright red model, both look vibrant and realistic. Flesh tones are very good. Blacks are solid and deep and whites pure and bright.
There is not much to mention in the way of film to video artefacts. An occasional slight shimmer reveals some aliasing, and there is edge enhancement visible in some of the outdoor shots, but otherwise the transfer is nigh-on perfect. There are some film artefacts of the small white speck variety, and some of the backgrounds in process shots are quite artefacted. Otherwise the transfer is exemplary.
Optional English subtitles are provided, which are in clear white font and appear to transcribe the dialogue accurately.
The disc is RSDL-formatted. The layer change occurs at 42:21, during a cut between scenes and is thus barely noticeable.
Audio is provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.
This is a good if not perfect audio transfer. I found I had to turn the volume up slightly more than normal to hear the dialogue clearly. At a higher volume level the dialogue seemed slightly fuzzy, as though some of the frequency range had been removed during the transfer to digital format. That being said, at normal volume levels the dialogue sounds fine, but perhaps a little soft. Otherwise the audio is acceptable for a mono recording, with music and effects sounding a little lacking in body.
The score, in keeping with the other aspects of the film, is lush and romantic in typical Hollywood style. It is by Frank Skinner and Victor Young, and includes a theme song heard over the opening credits.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The UK Region 2 disc seems to be the same as the Region 4, which is dual-coded for Region 2.
The US Region 1 equivalent comes from the Criterion Collection, and includes the following extras:
The transfer is also noted to be brighter than the Region 2, though the transfer seems to be pretty much identical. The extras just tip the balance in favour of the Region 1, but I doubt whether anyone would be disappointed with the Region 4.
One of the great melodramatic films of 1950s Hollywood, this deserves a place in any serious film lover's collection.
The video quality is superb.
The audio quality is very good.
There are no extras.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-S733A, using Component output|
|Display||Sony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.|
|Speakers||Main: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175|