The ultimate in lush melodrama, WRITTEN ON THE WIND is, along with IMITATION OF LIFE, Douglas Sirk's finest directorial effort, and one of the most notable critiques of the American family ever made. A Texas oil baron (Stack) has a whirlwind romance with a secretary (Bacall) and then marries her, but later has doubts as to whether the child she is expecting is really his. Stacks's nymphomaniac sister (Malone) stokes up his suspicions that his best friend, geologist Rock Hudson, is really the father, and sets off a series of larger-than-life confrontations and crises from which no-one escapes lightly. WRITTEN ON THE WIND successfully combines all the elements of the genre that has has become synonymous with Sirk's name. Sirk's melodrama, though, diverges from what is usually understood by that term to encompass a highly developed sense of ironic social critique. Some critics have seen his sumptuous visual style, full of parody and cliche, as a kind of Brechtian distancing that draws attention to the artificiality of the film medium, in turn commenting on the hollowness of middle-class American life. The lake in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, for example, is presented as a patently artificial studio interior, ironically pointing up the romantic self-delusion with which Malone sees her world.