Willie Wyler--All Grows up

     A decade of maturity in film direction and industry advancement shines through in William Wyler's progression from the overdramatized 1939 Wuthering Heights to his subtle, yet punchy 1949 The Heiress. As a director, Wyler's ability increases considerably from one production to the other.

     In Wuthering Heights, based on Emily Brontė's 1847 novel, every scene seemed to last longer than it should, as if he was dwelling on the already exaggerated acting of Merle Oberon, as Catherine, and Laurence Olivier, as Heathcliff. Perhaps it was just the timing of the movie (it was nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards); but, even for an era in love with love, it seemed overdone. From the sunset shots, to the long kiss before death, Wyler focus on the extreme emotion of every shot.

     Perhaps it was the mere presence of Ralph Richardson, as Catherine's father, in The Heiress that gives the film the edge that was lacking in Wyler's previous picture. Richardson has the kind of fierceness in his voice and appearance that sends the audience a message about himself and the film that is the opposite of meek. Olivia de Havilland as Catherine and Montgomery Clift as suitor Morris Townsend also had an amazing on-screen chemistry. Wyler did an especially good final scene of the film when he expanded on the ending of Henry James's 1880 Washington Square. It is surprising, but fortunate, that he could be so bold after the disastrous finale of Wuthering Heights.

     The development as Wyler as a director is evident in these two productions. Even his understanding of literature progressed in the decade. Unfortunately, Emily Brontė could not benefit from his experience, for she was just as biting as Henry James; however, Wyler missed all of the fine points of the first author yet embraced the words of the latter.

Jennifer Sacharnoski

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