Tuesday, 17 May 2011

CMBA Films of 1939 Blogathon: Wuthering Heights

Hello all, time has come for me to post my review for the great Films of 1939 blogathon held by Page and Becky! My review is on William Wyler's production of Wuthering Heights.

Wuthering Heights

Directed By: William Wyler (based on Emily Bronte's famed classic)
Starring: Lawrence Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Donald Crisp, Flora Robson and Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Now, I'm sure that many of you are familiar with the plot of Wuthering Heights, but just in case you aren't, her is a summary that won't probably won't ruin too much of the story.

Catharine and Hindley Earnshaw have lived in peace with their father at their home, Wuthering Heights, in the middle of the beautiful Yorkshire moors all their lives, until one day, when their father brings them back a surprise from London. He had found a homeless boy on the streets of London and had taken pity on him and brought him home. As soon as the boy arrives he and Cathy (as Catharine was nicknamed) gell well together and spend a great deal of their time playing King and Queen on the moors, pretending that their castle was a special tall rocky slope called Penistone Crag. But Hindley treats Heathcliff like a stable boy, being violent and horrible to him.

Years later, and even after their father's death, Hindley is still treating Heathcliff like filth, but Cathy and Heathcliff still have a very affectionate relationship. But when they are caught spying on a party at the wealthy Lintons' nearby house, The Grange, their friendship changes. Cathy is caught by a guard dog and bitten badly on the ankle. After staying for a while at The Grange to recover from her injuries, Cathy comes back to the Heights a much changed person. She also starts to treat Heathcliff badly until she realises that she does love him.

But that night she receives Edgar Linton, who she had come to know very well while she was staying at his family's house, and he asks her to marry him. Heathcliff is concerned about Cathy's feelings for him and overhears her talking to the housekeeper (and narrator of the story), Ellen, about her situation. When he hears her say that it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff he leaves on his horse not to return for years. What he didn't hear was that she said that she loves Heathcliff more than she loves anyone.

Some years later, after the wedding of Edgar and Cathy, Heathcliff returns a new man. Quite the gentleman, he starts to go after Edgar's sister Isabella, in order to try and make Cathy jealous...

One of the first things that I noticed about this film was the change from the book (that I read recently). Only half of the book is used at all! The film completely cuts off after *serious spoiler!* Cathy dies and tells nothing of the next generation of Lintons and Earnshaws which takes up about 14 of the 34 chapters in the book.

Watching this film again reminded me about how much I love the costume design. I was seriously coveting the beautiful outfit of flowing skirt, stripy shirt and scarf worn by Cathy before she becomes "Linton-ified". All of everyones outfits throughout the movie were beautiful, though the whole film is set when the novel was published, rather than the earlier period the book is actually set in.

All performances were great and Merle Oberon is good as Cathy. I always really enjoy Geraldine Fitzgerald's performance as Isabella Linton, and, surprisingly, I like David Niven! Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate his talent and all, but I find that he is a little dodgy or strange in many movies - though I really like his performances in both this and A Matter Of Life And Death (1946, Powell and Pressburger of The Red Shoes fame). Flora Robson and Donald Crisp are both very good too.

And now on to Lawrence Olivier who I feel deserves a paragraph of his own. I just love him as Heathcliff and sympathise so much more with him in the film than I do with Heathcliff in the book! I don't know if this is just because I seriously like him, but every time I see him in a book-movie production, I like his character so much better than I do in the book. Take "Rebecca".

In the book: Maxim - Obviously a very romantic figure but sounds like a bit of a psycho murderer towards the end; The New Mrs De Winter - Poor girl who marries a murderer (even if this murderer is of Maxim amazingness, it's not that great a choice.) and is tormented by his deceased wife.
In the film: Maxim - *swoon* Handsome man who was treated seriously badly by his dead wife and is just looking for happiness; The New Mrs. De Winter - Annoying. Does love Maxim. More annoying. (nothing to do with Joan Fontaine's performance...)
Yes. He is a great Heathcliff :-) He makes me so upset whenever Cathy rejects him!

The whole picture is directed excellently. My love for William Wyler movies knows no bounds. Just think about it. Mrs. Miniver, The Letter, Ben Hur, Jezebel, Roman Holiday, Funny Girl, is there anything this man can't do? The interesting way that he choses to close up on Heathcliff's hands and other features which are a main part of the description of him in the book is very effective. Producer of the film, Samuel Goldwyn was quoted as saying "I made Wuthering Heights, Wyler only directed it." THIS MAKES ME SOOOOO MAD!!!!!!! It is so obvious that William Wyler made the film what it is - and if there had been any other things added the film may have been quite different.

See. Geraldine Fitzgerald is also angry :-)

The script is also great - maintaining some of the lines from the book. Cathy's scene with Ellen when she tells her she loves Heathcliff is written very well... "Ellen, I am Heathcliff!" And the line that Cathy says to Ellen while preparing for Edgar Linton, "There's nothing to be gained by just looking pretty, like Isabella. Every beauty mark must conceal a thought, and every curl be full of humour," is also very cool.

I also just have to say, doesn't Merle Oberon look so much like Meryl Streep? I think so!

I would honestly recommend this film to anyone. If you have read the book and not seen this film (my parents don't think so highly of the newest ones...) do go and watch it now! One other thing that I have to say is that it isn't nearly as "gothic" as the book. The most gothic it gets is at the end (which Wyler hated and was a suggestion from Goldwyn) and at the begging where Heathcliff runs into the storm and is all crying: "CATHY!!! CATHY!!!"

I hope you enjoyed my review, and you can see the list of all participants here!



Kendra said...

I definitely agree with you about Laurence Olivier's performance. It is definitely one of his best and I think he is the best Heathcliff on film. I didn't much like the book when I read it, so the fact that this film cuts out half of the story didn't bother me at all. The film as a film is fantastic.

Also, David Niven is a gem and I'd really recommend seeing more of his films.

Kevin Deany said...

Hi Bette: I sure did enjoy your write-up of "Wuthering Heights."

I'm very fond of the film too, and can't think of it without humming Alfred Newman's memorable score, especially Cathy's Theme (Sam Goldwyn's favorite piece of music.)

About 20 years or so the film was re-issued to theaters and I saw it on the big screen in downtown Chicago. The place was about half fill of people of all ages but you could have heard a pin drop throughout. It was a magical experience. Such beautiful contrasts in the black and white photography.

Thanks again, Bette. Great job!

Clara said...

Hi Bette, great review! This was one of my favorite books. I agree with you about Laurence, I only wish that Vivien had gotten the role of Cathy...I don't really like Merle in this...

Rick29 said...

Bette, I especially enjoyed where you noted the differences between the novel and the film. I don't think a film needs to mirror its source (they're two distinct forms of art), but I always find the differences interesting. I like WUTHERING HEIGHTS, but--as Hollywood film adaptations of Bronte novels go--I prefer JANE EYRE with Joan and Orson.

whistlingypsy said...

You have written an excellent review of one of my favorite films: a good balance of summary and personal observations. I read both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre before I saw the film versions, and unlike Orson Welles’s version of Jane Eyre, I absolutely adored Wuthering Heights (despite not being entirely faithful to the book). I also had the wonderful experience of seeing Wuthering Heights in a theater when the film was re-released for the fiftieth anniversary; there really is no better experience than sharing a film with an auditorium full of classic film fans. My favorite line in both the book and the film is when Heathcliff asks Ellen why he cannot smell the scent of heather in her hair. The line is heartbreaking and for me Olivier is Heathcliff in that moment. I wonder, has any actress truly captured the spirit of Cathy, for me no actress has matched the character for spirit and willfulness. I would also like to point out Gregg Toland’s excellent cinematography, for which he won an Academy Award.

Page said...

Dear Bette,
I don't even know where to start here! As you know I collect autographs and Wuthering Heights is what got me started over 20 years ago. Olivier with his portrayal of this sad orphan only to become such a selfish monster so many years later. Oberon with her exotic beauty pining away then soldiering on as proper ladies do.

I attribute this film to my rabid collecting, making me have a sometimes questionable crush on Olivier but in the end bringing me here to the CMBA.

A film that has so many meanings in which you explained so beautifully in your well thought out post. *virtual hugs*

FlickChick said...

One of the great romantic films! Thanks for such a fine review! Agreed that Olivier makes this film, but for me, Merle Oberon just about wrecks it. Not her finest hour, but everything else is so perfect, we can overlook a bit of miscasting!

Grand Old Movies said...

You make a good point about how Heathcliff's character is changed from book to movie; he becomes a more sympathetic, less violent person in the film. Perhaps the filmmakers were afraid audiences wouldn't like the original character (from the novel). I rather think Merle Oberon was miscast; Olivier didn't like working w/her and he had wanted Leigh in the part. I think Ida Lupino would have been great in the role; she had the kind of fire and passion that's in Cathy's character. Thanks for your interesting post! I only hope that this classic film is issued on a high-quality DVD someday w/lots of extras!

ClassicBecky said...

I agree with Grand Old Movies -- Hollywood at that time would never have depicted Heathcliff or most of the story as it truly was written. Too dark, too emotionally violent for 1939. Nonetheless, it is a film of great romance, and I love it! I am not a Merle Oberon fan, and she was too wooden as Cathy. Leigh or Lupino would have done better in the part.

I read that one of the bigwigs of the studio (my brain won't come up with his name!) thought Merle Oberon's shoulders and bosom were so beautiful, that is the reason the costumes are of the wrong era, so those they could show up those attributes.

Wonderful write-up Bette, and a really important contribution to the blogathon. Thanks so much for sharing it!

R. D. Finch said...

Bette, I really enjoyed your enthusiastic review of "Wuthering Heights." I saw this movie before I read the book, and I too was surprised when I read the book at how much was left out. But I have to say I think the writers made the right decision by keeping the core of the story and discarding all the framing material. The plot of the novel might work as a long mini-series, but it's just too sprawling to make a successful movie. I've always thought Merle Oberon was limited as an actress, but she was beautiful, and she sure looks gorgeous in this movie, especially in those elaborate costumes as in the photo you used. But I have to agree that acting honors go to Geraldine Fitzgerald and especially Laurence Olivier. I've never thought he was quite right for Maxim de Winter (I've taken some flak for this view), but he was perfect as Heathcliff. And I agree about Wyler. He seemed to bring out the best in his script, crew, and especially his actors. Your namesake Bette Davis said he was the best director she ever worked with. And Olivier said that in "Wuthering Heights" Wyler taught him everything he needed to know about screen acting, and he had made quite a few movies by that time.

ClassicBecky said...

Bette, I meant to mention that there is another version of Wuthering Heights made in 1992 with Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff and Juliet Binoche as Cathy. I don't know if you've seen it, or liked it if you did, but I LOVED it. The original 1939 is one of my favorites and always will be. However, the 1992 version does the whole book, not just the first part, and is very true to the book. Fiennes is a marvelous Heathcliff and Binoche is the same as Cathy. I know it's available to buy, and you might be interested. Again, loved your review of one of my top 10 favorite romantic movies.

Whitney said...

Love, Love, Love your thoughts! I completely agree with what you said about cutting the film short after Cathy's death. I watched the 1970s adaptation recently and felt cheated at the end.

Anyway, I also found your comparison between Merle Oberon and Meryl Steep kind of interesting, Maybe Kramer vs Kramer? Excellent review! very newsy and with great points and detail.

Bette said...

Thanks all for the lovely comments!


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