Wuthering Heights, written by Emily Brontė, is a book that was not popular following its immediate release in 1847. Most critics were repelled by its unlikable characters and plot. Flash forward to today, and it is widely regarded by affluent critics as a "masterpiece" and has been made into movies numerous times. Like fine wine, it seems that Wuthering Heights has gained more appreciation as time has passed on-but is this because audiences like it more, or is it simply because it is the popular thing to like older books, regardless of their quality? Unfortunately for Brontė, I have to side with the latter. Wuthering Heights is a terrible book and was translated into a terrible movie in 1939 that not even famed director William Wyler can save.
Before I begin to criticize the movie, I must first explain the book, from which the movie is translated. Wuthering Heights the book is about cruel and hateful characters experiencing sadness, anger, and above all, the desire for revenge. This by itself does not make Wuthering Heights bad-in fact, there are many films and books about bad people that do bad things which turn out to be incredibly entertaining. The problem with these elements in Wuthering Heights is that they are not the least bit compelling. I may not like the characters; I may not like the plot; but, if I am at least compelled to see what happens next in the book and movie, then it is worth my while.
Wyler is not able to make this movie compelling because nothing happens in it. Most of his camera shots, orchestrated by the cinematographer, Gregg Toland, which are usually known for their striking deep-focus innovation, are boring and still, showing the same room from the same angle over and over again.
A compelling movie usually has lots of conflict, which Wuthering Heights is full of. The problem is that the conflict in Wuthering Heights is so preposterous that it is hard to care. The characters Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), Catherine (Merle Oberon), Hindley (Hugh Williams), Edgar (David Niven) in Wuthering Heights are inhuman-they live for years and years harboring nothing but hatred and revenge in their hearts, which they talk a lot about but rarely actually do anything to make the movie interesting. This lack of action, combined with the lack of humanity within the characters, makes for a boring, boring movie. Inhuman characters can work, but at least make them do something worth caring about.
Real people, no matter how evil, have some good within them. Hitler, one of the most widely known "evil" leaders in our history, had his merits. He was a strict vegetarian, abstained from alcohol and cigarettes, and deeply cared for animals. Yes, his actions did cause the death of millions of people; but, hey, he did care for animals.
The characters in Wuthering Heights are worse than Hitler in a way, in that they have no humor, no forgiveness, and no aspiration to leave their estates of hatred and sadness. They may have not annihilated millions of people like Hitler did, but if boredom killed then they would be mass murderers on the largest of scales.