Thursday, January 04, 2007

Revisit: Written on the Wind, The Killers (1964)

A Universal-International Pictures release 1956
Directed by Douglas Sirk
Writing Credits:
Robert Wilder (novel)
George Zuckerman (screenplay)

Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), the son of a farmhand, and self-pitying playboy millionaire Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) have always been best friends. Hadley tries to cure his alcoholic ills by marrying the virtuous Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall), whom Mitch loves but cannot express his feelings towards. Kyle's wild sister, Marylee, hopes to marry Mitch, but he treats her as a brother. Kyle stops drinking until he discovers that he may be sterile. Slyly, Marylee suggests to Kyle that Lucy and Mitch are lovers, and when Lucy finds that she is pregnant, a drunken Kyle accuses Mitch of being the father. What follows is a whirlpool of searing emotionalism that results in disaster.

A Universal Pictures release 1964
Directed by Don Siegel
Writing Credits:
Ernest Hemingway (story)
Gene L. Coon (screenplay)

Based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, this crime caper follows two hitmen (Lee Marvin, Claude Akins) as they discover why their latest victim, race car driver Johnny North (John Cassavettes) "just stood there and took it" when they came to kill him. Ronald Reagan plays the rich, double-crossing bad guy who ordered the hit, and a young Angie Dickinson plays the femme fatale.*

*Please note that this is different from the 1946 noir version of the same Hemigway story

Though these films are inherently different, there are several undercurrents, both narrative and form based, that tie them together. Each feature themes of masculine sexual displacement, with a strong-willed, conniving woman at the center of the story responsible for the creation of conflict. Both Angie Dickinson's and Dorothy Malone's characters manipulate other characters within the films to get what they desire. Likewise, there is a strong emphasis on the reflected male gaze in each film. In The Killers, there are reflection shots in the bounty hunters' glasses; in Written on the Wind, reflection shots in mirrors are used heavily, particularly of Robert Stack's character. Both films have a sort of cheesy emotional resonance as well.

That being said, the films represent two very different genres (crime and melodrama respectively) with very different visual aesthetics. The Killers features a lot of quick, jarring cuts with sharp dialogue to match. (A lot of the lines from this film seem to have been reused in many of Tarrantino's films, further proving him the hack of the century). Written on the Wind is spacious, with a sort of classical, seemless editing style. The performances here are more natural, with emphasis on emotion.

Regardless, both films present directors working in their prime and should be seen by anyone who has interest in the cinema.

No comments: