The Butchering of Wuthering Heights

     I had read Wuthering Heights (1847), by Emily Brontė, many years ago when I was in middle school. But luckily for me, I did not remember a bit of it (even if I had I probably would not have completely understood it at such a young age anyway). I had never seen the 1939 movie, directed by William Wyler, either. Therefore, I was able to go into the novel and movie with a clear mind and with no preconceived notions, unlike the way so many others did.

      I read the book carefully and was not quite sure how I felt about it. I was disturbed at some parts and confused at others. I had never read a book with a character so intense as Heathcliff, or a book with a plot so twisted and complex. I was excited to read the screenplay for the movie Wuthering Heights, by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and perhaps have it clear up some of my puzzlement and confusion. Boy, was I in for a surprise. I have never been one to be extremely annoyed when a movie does not follow the novel closely enough, but I guess that is so because I also have never really been one to both read a novel and watch the movie. I usually just do one or the other. When I sat down and started reading the screenplay, right away I started noting some drastic differences.

     I said that I had never read of such a vile, malicious character such as Heathcliff, and I was assuming to read of the same character in the screenplay, but I did not find the same Heathcliff I expected to. Sure, I found a mean and cruel character, but one that was also hurt and deceived by the people around him. I probably would not use the words "vile" and "malicious" to describe the character I found in the screenplay. There were also other characters I had slight problems with. I do realize that reading a book can be much more descriptive and can create characters vividly, but I was not impressed with the toned-down versions the actors and actresses portrayed in the movie, especially Laurence Oliver as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy.

     The other problem I had with the screenplay was that it left out so many different things. When I had finished reading it, I almost looked back to make sure I had not skipped any pages. There was so much missing. Many characters were missing also. Catherine never gave birth to baby Catherine, and Isabella never gave birth to Linton. She also never left Wuthering Heights in the screenplay unlike in the book where she went off to London. Hindley never married, and therefore there was no Hareton. These may seem like trivial things, but without these, to me, the screenplay cannot justly be called Wuthering Heights.

     The only good thing that has come from this experience is that I have now decided that in the future I will not expect the movie and the novel to correlate exactly. I do not understand why screenplays have to differ so much from the original book. One reason people go see a certain movie is that they enjoyed the book, so what is the point of making the movie so much different or incomplete? I probably would have liked the movie if I had not have read the book, and I probably would have liked the book more if I had not been so disappointed in the movie. I hope, and am almost sure, that I will not get so disappointed in all the movie remakes of classic novels in the future.

Natalie Bringham

Table of Contents