Dorothy Malone received her first and only Oscar and nomination for her performance as Marylee Hadley in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind. As far as melodramas go, Written on the Wind is at the top in terms of pure trashy soap opera-like appeal, in the best possible way. The film centers around the Hadley family after the heir to the company Kyle (Robert Stack) impulsively marries his secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall). Kyle's best friend, Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), who his father prefers to Kyle, is also in love with Lucy, while his sister Marylee (Malone) pines after Mitch. It's all one big love square of sorts, and Marylee is always at the center of it. Of the four main actors, Malone has the juiciest role, as Hudson and Bacall are purposely bland, and Stack (despite earning an Oscar nomination) is almost laughable in that he fails completely at his pitiable role. Marylee is undoubtedly the most complex character, and Malone shoulders the brunt of the emotional weight of the film.
Of the two Hadley children's deep psychological problems, Marylee's is perhaps the most troubling in that she is essentially a nymphomaniac whose unhealthy obsession with Mitch has led her to the point of becoming the town slut. Malone really knows how to use her body, and that level of physicality is important to show that Marylee has a sexual appetite, and isn't just a blandly pretty girl. Malone manages to make even the most garish outfits in the film sensual, and handles that incredibly bizarre lake scene especially well, making it simultaneously orgasmic and painful. To go with her blatant sensuality, Marylee is given all the bitchy lines and attitude to go along with it. She's playful at the most awkward of times, working to increase the tension at all times. Marylee wears all the contempt she feels towards basically everyone besides Mitch on her sleeve, and Malone handles that side of the performance perfectly. She's the perfect balance of Va-va-voom and malice.
It's in the emotions where Dorothy Malone's performance elevates to another level, as she handles the complex emotional makeup of Marylee with a startling proficiency. It takes only a few moments to realize the source of Marylee's pain--her deep love for Mitch, and she doesn't hide that fact at all. Besides openly offering herself up to him and keeping pictures of him prominently displayed in her room, she has her father asking him if he'd reconsider marrying her. Mitch's rejection of her has clearly pushed Marylee to a point of being an utterly pathetic, desperate whore. It's a heartbreaking sight to watch her barrage him with proposition after proposition, most of them only offering to have sex with him as if she needs it desperately. Surprisingly, her and Hudson have a natural chemistry, and the only scene where I saw him coming out of the coma he seemed to be in the entire film was the one in his room. Malone conveys the hurt Marylee feels phenomenally, and at the end of the film when she tries to blackmail Mitch you can tell it's not real because of her skill in laying out the feelings Marylee has for him.
This performance was overall a huge surprise for me, because the first time I watched Written on the Wind, I don't remember being quite as enamored with Malone and the film in general. It's a surprisingly emotionally complex performance, and the melodrama of the film only helps to make her performance better. It's a high difficulty performance, only because of the extreme melodramatic nature of the film, and the fact that it would be easy to make Marylee a one dimensional slutty character, but Malone hits all the right notes in elevate herself out of that stereotype. The only real criticism I can give to her is the fact that her dancing is pretty dreadful, but that isn't much of anything. If you've only seen this performance once, I'd recommend you go back and take another look at it, because you may just find yourself liking it as much as I did this time around. 5/5 Thelmas.