A Challenge in Transition

         Creating a successful motion picture from a novel takes unique writers, an all-star line up of actors, and a persistent director. These were all present in the 1939 Wuthering Heights adaptation of the 1847 novel by Emily BrontŽ. The film makers were able to produce a film that was created with the same story line but had artistic appeal of its own.

         One of the most obvious challenges of creating a film from a novel is length. Writers are faced with the short attention span of audiences. To accommodate this, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the authors of the 1938 screenplay, chose to leave out the larger portion of the novelís ending, most importantly excluding the next generations. They instead focused on Catherine and Heathcliff as children and their early adult life until death. I found this to be a successful way of handling the situation, the basic story line was present, and a viewer that had never read the novel would not become confused with missing parts.

         Quality actors are a must for a successful film. The actors are responsible for making the novelís characters come to life and meet the audiencesí expectations. Laurence Olivier, cast as Heathcliff, was well known in both England and America, for both his acting and looks. The role of Catherine, played by Merle Oberon, was equally important for the success of the film. Although many reports claim that there were initial difficulties between the two leading actors, it is possible that the stressed chemistry between the two helped aid the love-hate relationship that seems to be present in the characters of Heathcliff and Catherine.

         The director, William Wyler, was possibly the most important reason that Wuthering Heights became such an award-winning film, and that the transition from a novel seemed to occur so effortlessly. As a director he pushed his actors tirelessly to get the perfect scenes. One of the only disjointed scenes of the film was actually not under Wylerís direction, but arranged by his mentor, producer Samuel Goldwyn. Unfortunately, for Wyler the scene up for dispute was the last and therefore had one of the most lasting impacts on the audience. The scene, which involved actors doubling as Olivier and Oberon wandering as ghosts off into the clouds, did not seem to flow as easily as the rest of the film, and seemed to be the farthest removed from the novel.

         The many challenges that the film creators face to create a film from a novel may actually enhance the overall quality. Because, they have to work intensely to create a smooth story line from pieces of a classic novel the makers are even more intent on putting together a superb motion picture.