The second of Criterion's recent releases of director Douglas Sirk's work (the other being "All That Heaven Allows"), "Written On The Wind" is another in the romantic melodrama genre that Sirk was famed for providing works for. "Written" is a particularly soapy drama, providing all the elements of a daytime drama, but adding intelligence and style. The picture was popular with audiences when it was released, but not with critics.
The film centers around the romantic complications of a group of mostly priveliged people. There are the Hadleys. Kyle (Robert Stack) is a playboy and an alcoholic and his sister Marylee enjoys her own brand of controversy. Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) has grown up with the family and is considered part of it - Marylee even entertains thoughts of marrying him. Instead, he falls for Lucy (Lauren Bacall) - only problem is that Kyle falls for her as well. Mix in some problems with impotence, rage and other such troubles, and things become chaotic.
The performances throughout "Written" are terrific - Malone even won an Oscar for her portrayal of the sexy Marylee. Stack hasn't gotten too many roles that really have allowed him to explore his acting potential in recent years, but watching this is a reminder of how much talent he does have to offer. Hudson and Bacall also turn in stellar supporting efforts. Again, Sirk's use of technicolor is often breathtaking to behold, with a glorious array of almost glowing colors during the majority of the film.
VIDEO: Like they also did for Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows", Criterion has presented "Written On The Wind" in a 1.77:1 anamorphic transfer. Mastered from the 35mm interpositive, the transfer outshines even the excellent "All That Heaven Allows" presentation - a film that's one year older than this one. Sharpness and detail are stellar - the picture looked crisp and well-defined throughout, with a fresh, new feel that wouldn't otherwise indicate its approximately 45 year old age.
Although "All That Heaven Allows" did start to show its age in a few shots that had some visible scratches and marks, "Written On The Wind" hardly seems to have any visible wear - there were a few very minor speckles here and there, but certainly far less than I'd expect to see on a movie of this age. Edge enhancement and pixelation are also nowhere to be found for a picture that's wonderfully natural and smooth looking.
The movie is presented in technicolor and, again, like "All That Heaven Allows", sumptuous, elegant use of color can be seen in almost every scene of the movie. Colors also look like they haven't aged a day throughout the movie, still seemingly as vibrant and bold as they were so many years ago. This is a really top-notch effort from Criterion and fans should be thrilled that the movie has been treated with such care. Another interesting note that I saw was in the insert, where director Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope DVD labs are credited with the mastering.
SOUND: "Written on the Wind" is presented with mono audio and, like "All That Heaven Allows", works well simply due to the fact that the audio quality remains noticably above-average in comparison to many other thin, hollow-sounding mono presentations of the era. Created from the 3-track 35mm audio master, the mono sound seemed very pleasantly full and clean sounding, with no distortion or other problems. Clear, comfortable and a pleasure to listen to, even the limited mono soundtrack for the movie provides an enjoyable experience. .
MENUS:: Like Criterion has done for Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows", they have created a beautifully animated main menu, with scenes from the movie making up the background.
EXTRAS:: An elaborate and impressive biography called "The Melodrama Archive" takes a look at different portions of Sirk's career through both text and various images, including production photos and more. Trailers for "Written on the Wind" and "All That Heaven Allows" are also included.
Final Thoughts: "Written" is a highly entertaining drama with terrific performances and beautiful cinematography; at 99 minutes it's also paced very nicely. Criterion's DVD doesn't improve upon their effort's for Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" in terms of extra features, but "Written" does receive exceptional audio/video presentation, looking fantastic throughout. Recommended.
The Film ****
Video 90/A- = (360/400 possible points)
Audio: 83/B = (332/400 possible points)
Extras: 75/C = (225/300 possible points)
Menus: 89/B+ = (178/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ****
DVD GRADE: B