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Written on the Wind: The Criterion Collection

A crazy cross between George Stevens' Giant and the TV series "Dallas," Written on the Wind (1956) is a lush, satirical, yet ultimately serious melodrama about love and lust within a wealthy Texas oil family. Directed by Danish director Douglas Sirk with what influential film critic Andrew Sarris called his characteristic "formal excellence and visual wit," Written on the Wind tells the story of Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), lower-class caretaker to the scion of the wealthy Hadleys, the alcoholic Kyle (Robert Stack). Kyle treats Mitch as a servant, but meanwhile all the women around Mitch secretly love him: Kyle's nympho sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone, who won a supporting actor Oscar for her performance), and even Kyle's new bride, the prim and competent Lucy Moore (Lauren Becall). Everyone wants Mitch, including, it seems, Kyle. It turns out that Kyle has a little trouble in the sack, and a doctor rashly tells him he's impotent, which sends the already lugubrious oilman deeper into the bottle. But Kyle's panic when Lucy does indeed become pregnant betrays a larger insecurity, or willful blindness, on his part, to the cause of his sexual dysfunction. Love-hate tensions rise between Mitch and Kyle, and Kyle and everyone else, until the film ends where it begins, with a shoot-out at the wind-swept Hadley manse. Though Sirk's film is hailed in today's quarterlies as a great satiric poke in the placid '50s eyeball, at the time of its release the film was charged with bringing an unwanted frankness and honesty about intimate relations to the screen — which no doubt was the source of its great popularity. Criterion's DVD edition of Written on the Wind offers a clean, colorful anamorphic transfer (1.77:1) mastered from the 35mm interpositive. Audio is Dolby Digital 1.0, derived from the 35mm three-track magnetic audio master, and English subtitles are available. Supplements include the theatrical trailers for Written on the Wind and All That Heaven Allows, and liner notes by film theorist Laura Mulvey, which gives a brisk summary of the director and his place in history. The most extensive supplement is a slide show entitled "The Melodrama Archive," an annotated and illustrated filmography of Sirk's career that admirably doesn't shirk detail. The disc might have benefited from an audio commentary track from a Sirk scholar (either Jon Halliday or Michael Stern), but barring that extra mile of attention, the DVD still venerates an important director — one who was quite possibly the smartest man ever to hit Hollywood. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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