Wuthering Heights Film--A Classic Disaster

      I have just walked in from my weekly kick-boxing class--a place I go to let out my frustrations and relieve a little stress. There is absolutely nothing better than thrust-punching or side-kicking a punching bag after a hard test, a misunderstanding with a professor, or a fight with the boyfriend. Now, as I sit here trying to gather my thoughts and write this paper, only one thought keeps popping into my mind. That is a vivid picture of Emily Brontė beating the dirt out of a punching bag after viewing the disaster that William Wyler created out of her masterpiece in his 1939 film interpretation of her classic 1847 novel, Wuthering Heights.

      First of all, I am totally aware of the fact that books and movies must differ a little for the purpose of audience appeal and "hollywoodinization." However, in the transition from novel to film, the entire story of Wuthering Heights did a complete 180! By knocking out an entire generation of characters, the film makers caused some of the main points of the plot to disappear. For instance, Isabella's fear of Heathcliff raising young Linton in the novel reinforces the idea of Heathcliff's cruel nature and her view of him as an absolute monster. Also, the suffering of young Catherine long after the death of her mother in the novel is another way of portraying the continuous and miserable suffering of Catherine and Heathcliff for as long as one of them lives. By not considering the existence of these characters, the film makers eliminated a crucial part of the story line that Brontė so intricately and cleverly created.

      Another drastic and extremely disappointing change in the film is in the setting. It is my belief that the location of the house known as "Wuthering Heights" is at the very core of Brontė's story (hence the title). Her description of it creates a sort of wonderland of mystery, eternal misery, and ominous gloom. Wyler made the setting much too soft and pretty. In fact, it seems more like a California countryside than the gloomy, windy moors of England. The setting of the film gave it a more fairy-tale type atmosphere than it did to create the feeling of dread and gloom that is so overwhelming in the novel.

      Perhaps Wyler's worst and most obvious mistake is in the casting of the film. When played by Sarita Wooten, Catherine appears a whiny, sniveling, brat who cares only about herself. In the novel, I had envisioned her as a stronger individual who knew what she wanted but who let her head win out over her heart. She thought she had made the most practical decision in marrying Edgar Linton, but money cannot buy happiness. The film portrayed Catherine as a screaming, foolish, self-centered ninny who is too weak to live without Heathcliff. (PUH-leasse). Also, in the novel, Heathcliff and Catherine did not spend nearly as much time cuddling and oohing and ahhing over one another as they did in the film. In fact, they spent more time quarrelling with one another. Therefore, the movie version of Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) is much too soft and mushy. The drastic personality differences between the actors in the film and the characters in the novel were the major downfall of the film.

      The last and most ridiculous scene of the film occurs at the very end. Catherine and Heathcliff, ghost-acted by doubles, are shown walking hand in hand among the clouds toward heaven. HA! When I make that walk up to heaven, remind me to take a large punching bag trimmed in bright red ribbon as a gift to poor Emily Brontė (God knows she will need it)!

Megan Douglas

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