Acting, Directing, and Experience

     William Wyler directed both Wuthering Heights in 1939 and The Heiress in 1949. The difference in the quality of the films is amazing. The Heiress is much better for many reasons, but especially because of the acting.

     The acting in Wuthering Heights is not good at all. The expression on Catherine's (Merle Oberon) face hardly ever changes, which is extremely bad because the original Catherine was a powerful character, who needed a strong actress to play her. Even in her last scene, when she is about to die, her make-up and hair are perfect, and she looks perfectly healthy. That scene could have made the movie, but Oberon flops.

     Laurence Olivier also does not live up to his potential in his role as Heathcliff. Even though Olivier was nominated for Best Actor of that year, he was not as good as he could have been as the powerful, cruel Heathcliff. He and Merle Oberon did not even act as though they liked each other on the screen, much less act as if they were the star-crossed Catherine and Heathcliff, created in the 1847 book. In short, Emily Bronte would not have been happy with the acting or the screenplay written by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht.

     On the other hand, Henry James would have been very pleased with Ruth and Augustus Goetz's 1948 Broadway play The Heiress, based on his 1880 book Washington Square. Ten years after Wuthering Heights, William Wyler finally comes into his own as a director with The Heiress. The acting is also wonderful in this film: Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper, young Montgomery Clift as Morris Townsend and Ralph Richardson as cruel Dr. Sloper.

     All of the actors worked well together in this movie. The screenplay was well written, because it followed the 1880 book more closely than the Wuthering Heights Screenplay; and it actually packed more punch, as far as Catherine was concerned. I especially liked the last scene when Catherine denies Morris, Olivia de Havilland did a wonderful job showing how Catherine changes over time. She shows the viewer a gradual change of Catherine Sloper. The viewer can see her eyes turn more cold through the years, and even such simple things as more uptight clothing and hair styles help to create this change. I think the difference in this picture and Wuthering Heights was a mixture of better acting, better directing and more experience on William Wyler's part.

April Russell

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