"Giant" and "Written on the Wind": Capturing the Essence of the Romantic Melodrama

"Giant" and "Written on the Wind": Capturing the Essence of the Romantic Melodrama

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Aristotle once said that, "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." That statement summarizes the highest intents of a classic romantic melodrama. To watch movies like Giant or Written on the Wind, two staples of the genre, is to watch storytellers who care less about their plot than its meaning. The scope of their statements still resonates with society. These are stories of infectious greed, of broken dreams, of ruined families, and of the general malaise surrounding the American dream. The morality tales beneath the plots of Giant and Written on the Wind show the Greatest Generation's greatest fears. Through these, they capture the true essence of Romantic Melodrama.
In caring more about what they say and less about how they say it, these two movies lean on the common archetypes of melodrama. Rock Hudson's performance as Bick Benedict in Giant and his performance as Mitch Wayne in Written on the Wind are almost identical. Hudson's handsomeness and gentle delivery were such perfect fits for the protagonists in these films that he created an archetype in an of himself. The Hudson-archetype was symbolically united with "nature on a grand scale," be it through the country boy in Giant or the brown toned, hunter-businessman in Written on the Wind (McDonald, 846). There is an argument that Bick Benedict is a sort of anti-hero. He is a racist and a sexist. He is a uncaring father. He slips into alcoholism. But, those are not the Bick traits Giant highlights. Just as Written on the Wind ignores Mitch's backstabbing and paints him as a righteous force, the Hudson-archetype is defined by his forthrightness. Rohan McWIlliam summarized this trait up in her article, "Melodrama an...

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...em does that job for him.
Perhaps it is this simplification of emotion that bars these movies from being dated. There is a raw intensity to Giant that remains entertaining today, a wildness to Written on the Wind that never lost its bite. Perhaps it is the fact that these characters are so hyperbolic that we can do nothing but identify with them. Each one is an archetype, each one represents a moral virtue (or lack thereof). These movies put the most primal of American anxieties on the table and pick them apart with a surgical blade. They find the malignant tumors inside every American family. They find the transformative effects of greed, adultery, and countless other moral transgressions. Through this exploration, Giant and Written on the Wind are the very definition of classic Romantic Melodrama.
Or, perhaps, it's simply the earth tones of Rock Hudson's suit.

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