Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights, is undoubtedly one of the great classics of fiction. Yet, I feel that William Wyler's 1939 portrayal of Cathy and Heathcliff in his movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights does not even begin to do justice to Bronte's conception of the characters.
Throughout the course of Brontë's novel, Catherine is portrayed always as loving Heathcliff. Yet, Catherine is seemingly too aware of her circumstances to act on her true feelings. In the film, Catherine (Merle Oberon) is almost portrayed as bipolar (for lack of a better term) in the way that she acts toward both Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) and Edgar (David Niven). One minute she is daydreaming to Heathcliff at their "castle" and asking him to take her away, and the next minute she is dismissing Heathcliff as a dirty servant in front of Edgar. Therefore, instead of being a victim of circumstance, Catherine comes off as a mentally unstable basket case that might fly off the handle at any moment.
On the other hand, Heathcliff is also unfairly portrayed by Wyler. In the novel, Heathcliff is very vengeful, and his love of Catherine causes him to do terrible things to the other characters, such as Edgar and Isabella. In the movie, Heathcliff seems to be no more than a victim of an unfortunate childhood. He parades throughout the film much like a lovesick puppy, and Laurence Olivier never seems to turn Heathcliff into the brooding, Byronic hero that Brontë had crafted him to be. I think the fact that the whole second part of the novel, and the generation that was omitted from the movie has much to do with why Heathcliff seems so different in the film adaptation. Much of his "darker" side is revealed in that part of the novel, and none of this is captured in the movie. I feel as though this made the film much less enjoyable for me, just because Heathcliff was so differently portrayed.
These extreme differences of Heathcliff and Catherine made Wyler's Wuthering Heights a disappointment. If both Heathcliff and Catherine would have been closer to Brontë's vision, I believe I would have enjoyed the film much more. I wanted to see the strong and passionate portrayal of the characters, and all I got was a wimpy excuse for a love story.