Is it trash? Or is it art? Written on the Wind seems to escape every bit of logic and analyzing by presenting itself as something so one-of-a-kind in every aspect that it becomes almost impossible to judge it compared to ‘normal’ movies or performances.
The most celebrated aspect of this movie is easily Dorothy Malone’s Oscar-winning turn as the nymphomaniac Mary-Lee, daughter of a rich father who sleeps her way around as a way to compensate Rock Hudson’s sexual disinterest in her. I used to have this performance a little lower in my ranking but I decided to put her up some spots even though I am still not entirely sure what to think of her. Some people call this one of the greatest performances of all time – I certainly would not go so far but the thing is that in the context of Written on the Wind, Dorothy Malone is, indeed, perfect. This movie demands this kind of performance, no doubt about that. There are some kind of performances that can only work in the movie they are set in – Gloria Swanson is outstanding in Sunset Boulevard but put her performance in a movie like On the Waterfront and you will have to wonder what the hell is going on. But even though – the type of movie still does not make Dorothy Malone’s performance seem completely flawless because even in the theatrical and melodramatic world of Written on the Wind, Dorothy Malone’s over-the-top acting makes me wince or laugh more than once.
Basically, Dorothy Malone’s acting is this typical melodramatic acting from the 50s – like Susan Hayward, she constantly moves her body, constantly moves her head up or down, emphasizes every human emotions to the maximum. Dorothy Malone is not there to be realistic but become a vessel for Douglas Sirk’s sexual visions – and she clearly succeeds here. The porn-music that plays every time her character appears is maybe a bit too much, but hey…
So, Dorothy Malone has a juice, scene-stealing part, lots of screen-time and even a showy dramatic scene in the end – basically everything you need but, as I said, her acting style, even though meant for her movie, is not entirely for me. Her famous ‘mambo of death’, her confrontation with her brother when she tells him about a possible affair between his wife and his best friend or simply her delivery of a line like ‘Remind me to send you some of my towels. I believe you’re still wet behind the ears’ are so deliciously over-the-top that Dorothy Malone basically took the road to ‘bad’ but went so far that she came back to ‘brilliant’ – if ever a performance deserved the credit ‘so bad it’s good’, it’s probably this one. And in this case, I mean it as a compliment.
But other scenes, like the face she makes when her brother gets wounded after a fight with Mitch, the scene at the lake or her final scene in the court-room lack that camp-style that usually surrounds her work and therefore leave her totally on her own – and here she sometimes misses the ability to go from bad back to good.
So, it’s a performance that is impossibly hard to judge since it combines excellence with mediocrity like no other in this category but in the end, I can’t help but love her for what she doing here.