Brando Could Be Heathcliff

     I can see Marlon Brando playing the role of Heathcliff in William Wyler's 1931 film Wuthering Heights, based on Emily Brontė's 1847 novel. The passion Brando was capable of in his younger days could have made the film much better. His performance in Elia Kazan's 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire, was superb, and he could have brought the true spirit of Brontė's Heathcliff to life. Heathcliff and Stanley Kolwalski both had an explosive temper, and both seemed intent on doing or saying whatever to whomever, regardless of the consequences.

     There is no doubt that Laurence Oliver, who played Heathcliff in Wyler's film, is a very talented and accomplished actor. He could play a wide range of characters and do a very passable job at any of them. As we discussed in class, much of this was due to talent; but surely it was his extensive training to be an actor that had given him such range. This is in no way to lessen his great role; and, even as Heathcliff, he gave an excellent performance. Perhaps, no surely, it is his training that gives Oliver range, but not passion. Certainly Oliver had other roles magnificently played with passion and other emotions. But Heathcliff must have demanded more passion than Oliver could "put" into the role.

     Brando was perhaps more talented but less formally trained at the time he played Stanley Kowalsky; but the raw emotion he "gave" the character was one of the high points of the 1951 film, adapted from Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, A Streetcar Named Desire. The tenacity of Stanley as he badgered Blanche (Vivien Leigh,) about Belle Reve and later about her lifestyle in Laurel was amazing. Then the sudden ferocity shocked the audience as he lashed out at Stella (Kim Hunter). And the soulfulness of his cries, "Stella, Stella," is remembered by all who saw the film. In fact, many people (like my wife) were familiar with the scene and had heard one or more references to it without ever having seen the play. Surely this emotion would have improved the portrayal of Heathcliff.

     Stanley and Heathcliff were similar in that they were each from a lower-class background. Stanley did not seem bothered by it and married Stella from a higher caste, bringing her to his level. Heathcliff continually struggled to rise above his past, and this proved to be a major source of his problems. Both characters were meant to be raw, rough, and unrefined. Both used their street-smart savvy, but Stanley did this to greater advantage. Brontė's Heathcliff was a conniving, savage man, even after his apparent transformation into a gentleman. Oliver turned Heathcliff into a dark but likeable gentleman throughout the film. Brando's natural, raw, untrained emotion would have likely kept Heathcliff truer to Brontė's intent

Bradley Haley

Table of Contents