Written on the Wind ★★★★

One of the major Sirks for good reason, starting with an almost surrealist beginning and ending with the leaves blowing their way into the house—you can almost feel like it’s the wind pulling the trigger. Classic Sirkian narrative—insiders vs. outsiders, public display vs. private desires, but this is at least the only one I’ve seen that takes place exclusively amongst a community of upper class family (complete with prison gates to the entrance). The idea that Sirk is a master of high irony strikes me as somewhat dubious (Sarris here: “Where John Stahl transcended the lachrymose dramas of Imitation of Life and Magnificent Obsession through the force of his naive sincerity, Sirk transformed the same plots in hilarious comedies through the incisiveness of his dark humor.”*) Not that he doesn’t embed his film with ironic visual wit (the final cue of Dorothy Malone holding the phallic-like oil-rig model, her father’s gigantic portrait overshadowing her) but irony is a poor phrase for what is really dramatic satire. Sirk clearly loves these characters and wants the best for them, and treats them with loaded passions that cannot be contained in the performances, so their emotions splash into the rest of the frame by loading them with colors. To think of the film’s most bravura sequence—Malone sitting alone by the lake, in voiceover hearing the voices of her brother and her only love, and as those eyes stare out toward a lost past—and see that as irony is something for 1970s academics, because I’m choking up here. Sirk feels the loss as much as they do.

*Credit due, Sarris did save Sirk by putting him in the second tier of The American Cinema, up with names like Cukor, Lubistch, and Vidor. I just wish he hadn’t had to find a backwards way to do it.