I have always thought that it is difficult to rate the best and worst works. This is true mainly because I am sure that every work has some redeeming qualities. If it did not, nobody would have had the faith to publish it. However, if we must make a list of best and last, well here we go.
I am going to create a major oxymoron by starting last, but I would rather end on a positive note. My least favorite work was Wuthering Heights, directed in 1939 by William Wyler. I did not enjoy the book, written in 1847 by Emily Brontë; and watching the movie was like sitting through a boring lecture. Wuthering Heights, for some reason, is a classic though; and I am sure that classics need to go into a class like this. The movie had some redeeming qualities. However, these qualities had to be sought out from the underpinnings of a terrible movie. Obviously Heathcliff (Rex Downing/Laurence Olivier) always put on an interesting show. He was moody, and one never know what the was going to do. William Wyler, the director, did a good job for that time period; but the movie still came off as happy and pointless. When Catherine (Merle Oberon) leaned against Heathcliff and slowly slunk to death, I took the Oscar and put it under the table. Luis Buñuel's 1954 Los Abismos de Pasion kept Wuthering Heights from getting completely wiped off the charts. Although in Spanish, Los Abismos showed more "pasion" than Wuthering eights. This Spanish movie was interesting, and there was a little more action involved. Compared to Wuthering Heights, Los Abismos was "muy bueno."
Coming close enough on the heels of Wuthering Heights is the combination of Henry James's 1898 The Turn of the Screw and Jack Clayton's 1961 The Innocents. Regardless of actors, regardless of effects, these two works had no chance. I thought that they were dark, dull; and, for being ghost stories, they sure were not scary. I did not really enjoy this book, so that makes it difficult to rate the movie.
Patrick Garland's 1973 movie version of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House stays in the middle of this cut list thanks to Anthony Hopkins as Torvald Helmer. To be able to see him at a young age was worth watching the not-so-interesting story line. The story itself was not bad. However, in the other 1973 film, starring Jane Fonda as Nora and David Warner as Torvald, some odd directing decisions by Joseph Losey put unneeded and unwanted information, like the confusing background scenes in the beginning, into the movie.
Becoming a bit more positive in own countdown to the best, I find that my next choice would be Henry James's 1880 Washington Square and William Wyler's 1949 The Heiress. Washington Square was one book that I read that hit me at that time. Washington Square showed the unattractive, unappealing Catherine getting duped by Morris. I say "duped" because that is exactly what a situation like that does to one. When I read this book, I had just recently been duped myself. This book appealed to me on a personal level because I had someone I loved leave one with no explanation. I know how she felt. I realize that her time with no word from Morris ate at her like a virus. I caught the same virus. The movie The Heiress was also rather good. William Wyler did better in this one than in his famous Wuthering Heights. The setting, music and atmosphere were all perfectly picked for the content of The Heiress. I thought that the film makers had chosen the right actress, Olivia de Havilland, to play a good and plain Catherine. She was pitiful and basically reeled the audience in to feel bad for her. The movie did what it reeded to do to make the story come alive. I think my favorite movie moment is the very last scene when Morris (Montgomery Clift) is knocking on the door like mad. Then one sees the stronger Catherine, having just spoken to the maid, Maria (Vanessa Brown) in a deeper voice, carrying herself proudly up to bed, guided by a small lamp. This image is one that only a good director can set up.
Next on the movie list is Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 Pygmalion, based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play. Being an avid My Fair Lady, I found it difficult to watch Pygmalion without already knowing that it could not compare to My Fair Lady, directed in 1964 by George Cukor and based on Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 musical play. Leslie Howard's Henry Higgins was not like Rex Harrison's, and Wendy Hiller's Eliza was not at all like Audrey Hepburn's. The movie, like the play it was based on, was good, however. They had a strong story line and good characters. If I had never seen My Fair Lady, I would how ranked the movie Pygmalion higher; but, for now, it will have to slide safely into third place.
Getting closer to number one, but coming up a little short is A Streetcar Named Desire. This is an unforgettable story and movie. I know this because we once watched Streetcar, directed by Elia Kazan in 1951, during my freshman year of high school. When I began to read the 1947 play by Tennessee Williams, the images of the old movie popped into my mind. I knew right away that I had seen what I was now reading. Aside from reading it and making my own images of the characters, I found that the actors in Streetcar filled those descriptions rather well. Stanley, in my mind was handsome, built and a bit dirty. Marlon Brando in the movie portrayed this image well. Vivien Leigh's Blanche was a bit older in my imagination, but all together it was an amazing achievement.
Finally, I must address the winner of my contest, My Fair Lady. It has been one of those cheer-me-up movies for a while. Although the movie is sitting close to Breakfast at Tiffany's and Sabrina, I begin to realize that Audrey Heyburn is possibly what makes this movie better. She is beautiful and charming, but she could also be a dirty "guttersnipe." Higgins, played by Rex Harrison, is a pompous, older bachelor with no desire to move on. The music, costumes, and actors make this movie fall first on my favorite list. The Embassy Ball was believable and extravagant. The Higgins house was incredible. The whole effect was perfect for me. My Fair Lady would definitely be a keeper for me in a class like this.
So going from the best and the last to best, I began with a joke and ended with a masterpiece. Although it was last to best, every story and play is accounted for and each will be locked away in my mind. I enjoyed this class so much. The context, as a whole, was excellent, and I relished every minute of it.