The Four Aces – Written On The Wind

17th August 2023 · 1950s, 1956, Doo Wop, Music

Here’s a blast of primal punk… no, wait. Not that. It’s the theme music of Douglas Sirk’s magnificent film Written On The Wind, written by Sammy Cahn and sung by The Four Aces.

I went to the Rio yesterday to watch the classic melodrama, which is even older than me. Unlike most of the audience, who had probably seen it as teenagers when it came out.

I’m not sure which queues were longer – the ones for the toilets or the line for the free tea and biscuits in the foyer – while the auditorium was packed with Zimmer frames, sticks and wheelchairs.

They even had to leave the lights on so the oldsters didn’t get frightened in the dark or, perhaps, so they could see the many noisy bags of popcorn and avoid spilling tea in their laps.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful film – Rock Hudson at his prettiest, Lauren Bacall at her coolest, Robert Stack at his smarmiest and Oscar-winning Dorothy Malone at her Marilyn-channelling over-the-toppest.

Made in 1956, it’s the first of Sirk’s series of spectacular melodramas, excoriating the super-rich as a bunch of morally bankrupt alcoholics (Stack) and nymphomaniacs (Malone).

Somewhere in there there’s a love triangle (Rock loves Lauren, Dorothy loves Rock, Robert loves… well, he shares a hotel suite with his “best friend” Rock – and we know all about him, don’t we).

There’s a lot of boozing, a fair bit of brawling, some spectacular sports cars, some hilarious studio backdrops (Miami Beach! Manhattan!) and a fantastic scene in which Malone, going beatnik crazy in her bedroom, literally rhumbas her father to death. And a gun.

What could possibly go wrong?

As for the song, written by Sammy Cahn (lyrics) and Victor Young (music), it’s performed over the opening credits by The Four Aces, gently setting the scene for the fireworks to follow.

One of the most successful pre-rock vocal groups, the Four Aces did well during the early ’50s with a narrow range of pop material but burned out before decade’s end – blown away by the rock’n’roll revolution.

Founded by a pair of Navy shipmates and boosted to a quartet, they first made a name for themselves around their native Philadelphia before their debut single (It’s No) Sin, became a big hit in late 1951 and sold a million copies, as did their debut for Decca, Tell Me Why.

A few Top Ten hits followed during the early ’50s before the theme to the film Three Coins In The Fountain hit number one in 1954, while another movie theme, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, spent over a month at the top during 1955.

But with the rise of rock & roll, the Four Aces were doomed. They scraped the charts with a novelty song, Bahama Mama but a rather desperate rock-themed (but resolutely middle-of-the-road) song called Rock and Roll Rhapsody would be their final hit in 1958.