At Least It Had the Same Name

        William Wyler’s 1939 film adaptation of Emily Brontë’s 1847 Wuthering Heights is the best fit for what Desmond and Hawkes describe as a loose adaptation. Several story elements were dropped or altered; most of it was condensed to a shorter time frame; and the main characters felt drastically different.

        The original work Wuthering Heights was a bleak tale. People were relentlessly cruel to each other with little justification; many characters died from illness; but, in the end, the story makes up for the malice of Heathcliff. Wyler’s film deviates from this. In Brontë’s work, Edgar and Heathcliff seem to truly hate each other, with Heathcliff seeking to punish him long after his death. In Wyler’s story, it feels like little more than a rivalry for a girl. The rest of the cast manages to survive without a sign of illness, and replaces the new generation of characters. There is no one atoning for the cinematic Heathcliff’s actions, not that there is much to atone for.

        Condensing the story’s time frame hurts it as well. The novel makes it clear that Heathcliff’s reign of terror over the Earnshaw and Linton houses lasts for many years. The movie, however, feels as though it was a much shorter period of time. As well, it gives the feeling that nothing happens between the death of Catherine (Merle Oberon) and the death of Heathcliff.

        While Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff might have been a selfish scoundrel, he was nowhere near the scourge of Brontë’s original character. Heathcliff was relentlessly cruel towards everyone. Not even the woman he loved and his own son were safe from his abuse. This simply was there in the film; there was never a time that I thought he would become truly violent’ the character’s edge had been taken away.

Jeremy Workman