Every Man Has His Tale

         In the books and films read this semester, we have seen numerous examples of manipulate, abusive men, who have caused them to lose their respective women in one way or another. Although these works are from the near or distant past, they still have much to teach both men and women of today.

         Heathcliff (Rex Downing/Laurence Olivier), in the 1939 film Wuthering Heights directed by William Wyler and based on Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, assumes the role of an angry, obsessive lover, dying to be reunited with soul mate, Cathy (Sarita Wooten/Merle Oberon). Heathcliff's character is interesting in that he is initially a manual laborer. Cathy denies her love for him and convinces herself that she must find a better husband, Edgar Linton (David Niven), to take care of her. Heathcliff builds a strong life for himself; and, ultimately, after a pathetic love affair and marriage with Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald), inherits true love at the end of the film as a loving Cathy dies in his embrace. Not all male characters end up this happy.

         Morris (Montgomery Clift), in the 1949 film The Heiress, directed by William Wyler and based on Henry James's 1880 Washington Square, is a manipulative, money-hungry bastard who convinces Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) that he is madly in love with her. His affection is not the genuine love professed by Heathcliff, but rather shallow and selfish. Ultimately, Morris is rejected. Instead of being depended upon by Cathy, he finds himself attempting to be dependent upon her.

         Professor Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison), in the 1938 film Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith/Leslie Howard, and also in the 1964 film My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor, both based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, is no stranger to this rejection and reverse dependency. Higgins manipulates Eliza (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn) and does it so selfishly that his ego blinds him from Eliza's feelings of sadness and neglect towards the end of the film. She leaves him; rejects him in almost the same way as Catherine does to Morris. Luckily for Professor Higgins in the movies but not in the original play, Eliza finds it in her heart to accept his conceited ways, as well as his apology and promise to change. However, the conceited men do not stop here.

         Torvald (David Warner/Anthony Hopkins), in the 1973 films A Doll's House, directed respectively by Joseph Losey and by Patrick Garland, is so self-absorbed in his business, that he fails to recognize the depression and neglect felt by wife Nora (Jane Fonda/Claire Bloom). In Torvald's defense, Nora is kept happy with money and material things. She is a liar, which ultimately leads to Torvald's big explosion. Nora does not deserve to be physically and verbally abused by Torvald, but she does use this as fuel as the incentive to leave him. He knows that their relationship is done, even though he denies it to the very end. Regardless if Nora's reasoning was sound, Torvald, too, is ultimately rejected by his love.

         Stanley (Marlon Brando), in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire directed by Elia Kazan and based on Tennessee Williams' 1947 play, fits the "abusive/neglectful/rejected" mold perfectly. Both Blanche (Vivien Leigh) and Stella (Kim Hunter) incur Stanley's drunken, angry hand. Disturbingly enough, Stanley is married to a woman who is so infatuated with him that she always manages to forgive his fits of rage and hateful words. Blanche is not so forgiving. Stanley hates her, which has probably helped him condone his behavior in raping her towards the end of the film. This act is finally enough for Stella to leave him, or so the audience hopes.

         What then can we say about these men? They are largely manipulative, conceited, and obsessive. Their roles are parallel and in some cases are all to true to real life.

Michael Moreland

Table of Contents