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Syndicated sitcoms and trash television have removed older movies from the airwaves, which is really a shame, since these classic and near classic films are about a thousand times more entertaining the what plays on the tube these days. I don't know haw many hours of my misspent youth involved me being firmly planted in front of the television developing a taste for cinema classics. Watching old movies certainly never did me any harm, and its my opinion that today's youth would be better served by doing the same, instead of watching the garbage currently on TV or playing video games. This brings us to WRITTEN ON THE WIND ($30)- one of the many films that have disappeared from broadcast television, and a movie that I’ve personally missed. Fortunately, The Criterion Collection has come to the rescue of movie fans like myself, and is now offering Douglas Sirk's highly entertaining melodrama in a superbly beautiful DVD edition.

WRITTEN ON THE WIND is a pretty steamy tale of jealousy, lust and murder, which certainly pushed the limits of censorship in 1956. Told in flashback, WRITTEN ON THE WIND is the story of irresponsible millionaire playboy Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack), who has a severe drinking problem. Fortunately, Kyle's best friend Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) is always around to tidy up after all embarrassing incidents. When Kyle meets and quickly marries Secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), he turns over a new leaf and gives up the bottle. In fact, Lucy proves to be a good influence on her new husband that Kyle manages to remain sober for a year. Unfortunately, when Kyle learns that his wife's inability to conceive a child is most likely his fault, he can't deal with the blow to his manhood and falls off the wagon and into a perpetual drunken stupor. The situation on the Hadley estate becomes even more inflamed when Kyle's nymphomaniac sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone) alludes to him that his wife and best friend are having an affair, as a means of getting even with Mitch, who has repeatedly spurned her sexual advances.

The plot of WRITTEN ON THE WIND sounds like pure soap opera, but the script by George Zuckerman is well written and the performances are all first rate. Robert Stack was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in what is arguably one of his best screen roles, while Dorothy Malone took home the Oscar Statuette as Best Supporting Actress. Malone's performance leaves such a lasting impression that I would imagine that her casting in BASIC INSTINCT was a direct result of her sexually overwrought characterization in WRITTEN ON THE WIND. Director Douglas Sirk was the master of this type of melodrama, and he stylistically enhanced these emotionally charged stories with his keen visual sense. WRITTEN ON THE WIND was filmed in glorious Technicolor and Sirk uses color continuously throughout the film to ramp up the audience's response to the story playing out on the screen. The supporting cast of WRITTEN ON THE WIND also includes Robert Keith, Grant Williams, Robert J. Wilke, Edward Platt and Harry Shannon.

Criterion has made WRITTEN ON THE WIND available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This is truly a superb transfer that brings out all the sumptuous Technicolor hues of Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty's palette. Like many other films from the period printed in IB Technicolor, WRITTEN ON THE WIND has the kind of colors that the eyes truly savor, as though they were a rich desert to be eaten with a spoon. Flesh tones have the quality of a Hollywood makeup department, but remain consistently appealing throughout the film. None of the richly saturated colors show any signs of instability or smearing. In addition to the wonderful the transfer produces a clean, sharp and well defined image with nary a visible flaw. The film element used for the transfer is practically blemish free, which almost makes one forget that WRITTEN ON THE WIND was a 1956 release. Blacks are deep and inky, plus the image produces a surprisingly good level of shadow detail. Digital compression artifacts are completely concealed throughout the presentation.

WRITTEN ON THE WIND is presented in one channel Dolby Digital monaural. Although the sound only emanates from the center channel, it has the necessary impact. Sound effects are pretty convincing, plus the film's dialogue is always crisp and precise. Frank Skinner's score doesn't suffer from noticeable frequency limitations and actually maintains a pleasant musical quality. Despite it's age, I was surprised that the soundtrack doesn't have a horribly truncated bottom end. Certainly, the track isn't bass rich, but it is solid enough for the material. Overall, this is a very good sounding track taken from nearly half-century-old monaural source material. Subtitles are encoded onto the DVD in English.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a couple of supplemental features. A theatrical trailer for WRITTEN ON THE WIND and director Douglas Sirk's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS is presented on the DVD. The Melodrama Archive is an extensive look at Sirk's career from it origins in Europe, through his early Hollywood days and finally to Universal Studios, where he made some of his greatest films, including WRITTEN ON THE WIND.

In addition to being a personal favorite, WRITTEN ON THE WIND is one of the greatest Hollywood melodramas ever produced. Criterion has created an absolutely gorgeous DVD edition of WRITTEN ON THE WIND, making this a disc that every Douglas Sirk, Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone fan will want to possess. Very highly recommended.


Written on the Wind - Criterion...


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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