Brontë’s Story Diverges in Two Ways on Screen

        Wuthering Heights, directed in 1939 by William Wyler, and the Mexican adaptation, Los Abismos de Pasio, directed in 1954 by Luis Buñuel, are both good films that go in different directions from Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel.

         One huge contrast between the two films is their use of music in the background. In Wuthering Heights, Alfred Newman’s music fills the scenes and projected a feeling of romance to each scene. The same music played each time Merle Oberon’s character, Cathy, comes into a room. This gives the movie a very positive mood and sets the stage as a more romantic film. However in Buñuel's Los Abismos de Pasion, the music, taken from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, is more solemn, so much that the viewer often does not even notice it. This music, along with the constant death motif represented by the killing of butterflies, birds, and a pig, presents a movie more focused on the tragedy, rather than the unlikely romance of Heathcliff and Cathy’s characters.

         The characters in Los Abismos de Pasion seem more like the personalities that are present in Brontë’s work. Alejandro, portrayed by Jorge Mistral, like Brontë’s Heathcliff, is much more ill-tempered and rude towards Catalina, depicted by Irasema Dilian, who appears to be more like the original Cathy character. In some scenes the viewers see Catalina respond with an eerie smile to some of the hateful, crude things that Alejandro says to her. It portrays just how lovesick the character is. This is quite different from the rather likeable characters portrayed in Wyler’s Wuthering Heights. These characters are kinder to each other than they are in the book and other film version.

         The ending of the book has the two lovers reunited for eternity after many years when Heathcliff finally dies. In the American version, the final scene of the two lovers, as ghosts, walking away hand in hand left me with a happy feeling. This conclusion is much different from the abrupt ending in the Mexican version, in which Alejandro is suddenly shot dead in Catalina’s grave by her brother, Ricardo (Luis Aceves Castaneda).

         There is also the obvious difference of the inclusion of the children as part of the plot in the American version, as they are in the book. The children, Cathy (Sarita Wooten) and Heathcliff (Rex Downing), do play a special role in the film and help depict the progression of the characters. It helps the viewer to understand why Cathy and Heathcliff are as close as they are, and it makes the viewers feel a closeness to the characters that the viewers do not discern in the Mexican version. In that film the young Catalina and Alejandro are not included, although Ricardo’s son, Jorge (Jaime González Quiñones) is abused by his father, like his counterpart, Hareton, in the book, omitted in the Wyler movie.

         I enjoyed both versions of the movie, which were both faithful and unfaithful to the book in their separate ways. Thus, each movie provides a new and different perspective on Brontë’s original tale.

Jessica Heacock

Table of Contents